Irish run defense prepared for toughest challenge yet

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Irish run defense prepared for toughest challenge yet

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Only two players scored rushing touchdowns against Notre Dame during the regular season. Alabama scored at least two rushing touchdowns in 10 of its 14 games this year.

So something's going to give when Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon and a strong offensive line meet Notre Dame's front seven on Monday.

Pittsburgh's Ray Graham was one of the few running backs to have some sustained success against Notre Dame's defense this year -- and, not by coincidence, his team came closer than any other Irish opponent to winning in 2012. Graham averaged 7.2 yards per carry on Nov. 3, with a 55-yard run to open the game setting the tone for Notre Dame's worst defensive performance of the season.

"The rushes they had came off missed tackles or things like that," safety Matthias Farley said. "Just to make the tackles and be more assignment-sound across the board."

Farley was a main culprit in those missed tackles, with one on Graham's 55-yard run and another on a 16-yard touchdown run by the Pittsburgh back. But it wasn't all on Farley -- Pittsburgh's offensive line gave Notre Dame's front seven some different looks, and a lot of Graham's success was paved by keeping Manti Te'o out of the defensive equation.

"He's the leader and the heart of that defense," Lacy observed. "If you can somehow get him out of his game or something like that, I think we have a pretty good chance of being successful."

That's not to say the rest of Notre Dame's defense is populated with a bunch of slouches. In particular, the Barrett Jones-Louis Nix matchup will be key in either carving out yards for Lacy and Yeldon or allowing Notre Dame's defense to limit Alabama's ground attack.

RELATED: Alabama offense holds Irish 'D' in high esteem

Against Pittsburgh, though, part of Notre Dame's problem was a lack of effort. Players thought they didn't have to play their best to beat Pittsburgh, and that's a lesson they nearly learned the hard way.

"We're not good enough to overlook a team," defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said.

Effort won't be an issue Monday with the stakes as high as they've been in nearly a quarter century for Notre Dame. But Pittsburgh showed, at least for about 30 minutes, that there is a way to neutralize Te'o and the Irish defense. And that was done with an offensive line nowhere near as talented as the one possessed by Alabama.

"They're the finest collection tackle to tackle, group of players that we've faced so far," defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said. " The backs are really the battery of that team, the battery of that offense, which is the battery of that team. But they're facilitated by the offensive line. The offensive line is really the marquee position group of that pretty marquee offense."

If Alabama's running backs are chewing up yards, it'll open up play-action passes for A.J. McCarron, who's often been lethal throwing on fakes. If Alabama can't sustain success on the ground, though, their offense is beatable against a good defense.

"This proves our biggest challenge yet," safety Zeke Motta said. "Both those running backs are great running backs, and they hit the hole with intensity and they're aggressive, and they're patient, too. It'll be a good challenge for us, and I'm looking forward to that."

DePaul basketball program on the rise after landing 5-star recruit Tyger Campbell

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AP

DePaul basketball program on the rise after landing 5-star recruit Tyger Campbell

DePaul hoops received a huge boost this week as five-star recruit Tyger Campbell committed to the university.

The elite point guard recruit out of La Lumiere, will join the Class of 2018, choosing DePaul over schools like Michigan State, Illinois and Memphis.

"I like DePaul and honestly my coach (Shane Heirman) just went there and we have a great connection and he's always had my back," Campbell told Scout.com. "I like [DePaul] coach Dave Leitao, too. I like his program and he's an intelligent guy.

"Mainly what I like about the school is I want to help bring it back. I love Chicago; it's a great city. I want to bring the city a college back to cheer for."

Campbell also said the Blue Demons' new Wintrust Arena at McCormick Place Event Center, which is slated to open this fall, is a big draw for him.

The Blue Demons are a combined 18-45 the last two seasons and hasven't had a winning season since 2006-07 when they went 20-14 and made the NIT Quarterfinals.

The program last made the NCAA Tournament in 2003-04 during Leitao's first stint as the team's head coach.

Northern Illinois adds running back Fotis Kokosioulis

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USA TODAY

Northern Illinois adds running back Fotis Kokosioulis

Northern Illinois University added it's fourth known verbal commitment today in its growing Class of 2018.

Maine South junior running back Fotis Kokosioulis (5-foot-8, 165 pounds) added an offer from the Huskies on Tuesday after making a spring practice visit, and today he gave head coach Rod Carey his verbal commitment.

"I chose NIU because it's been a school that I've liked for awhile now," Kokosioulis said moments ago. "I like the facilities at NIU, the stadium and everything else they have to offer. I also really like all the coaches at NIU. I felt that even if I got more offers I would've still chose NIU over other schools. I know that there are bigger school and programs but I feel that I just fit in well at NIU, so I committed."

Kokosioulis, who was an All-State performer for the Class 8A state champion Maine South Hawks in 2016, is now the fourth known in-state verbal commitment for Rod Carey and the Huskies and the fifth known commitment overall. Kokosioulis joins Andrew defensive end Mike DeHaan, Plainfield East defensive end Jack Sullivan and Danville tight end Julian Pearl in the NIU Huskies in-state Class of 2018.