Alabama center Jones gets much-anticipated green light

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Alabama center Jones gets much-anticipated green light

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Barrett Jones returned to Alabama's offensive line in practice this week, quelling fears the All-American center would miss the BCS Championship against Notre Dame on Monday.

Jones previously had not practiced with the Tide following the SEC Championship as he dealt with a sprained left foot. He's the best player on Alabama's vaunted offensive line, and without him the Tide certainly would've had a more difficult time going up against Notre Dame similarly-vaunted front seven.

"Im just happy for him being back," left guard Chance Warmack told reporters Wednesday upon Alabama arriving in Miami. "Hes practicing with us and hes doing a really good job right now."

Jones has been a stalwart on Alabama's offensive line since its 2009 championship season. Monday will mark his third championship game appearance in the last four years, but he doesn't see experience being a key point in Alabama's favor on Jan. 7.

I think that might be a little overplayed," Jones said. "Once you get on the field its going to be about not necessarily whos the best team, its going to be about who plays the better game that day. Certainly our coaches have been in these situations and have learned how to effectively prepare us for the National Championship game. I think if there is an advantage that might be it.

Brian Kelly, though, feels he's gone through all the necessary channels to prepare Notre Dame despite his inexperience in the championship field. The third-year Irish coach quickly reached out to coaches at LSU and Oregon to get their input on a preparation schedule, and feels he and his staff successfully navigated uncharted waters to get their players prepared for Jan. 7.

"We've used all the models out there at our disposal to make sure that happens," Kelly said.

Notre Dame melts down in embarrassing loss to Duke

Notre Dame melts down in embarrassing loss to Duke

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — This one wasn’t all on the much-maligned Irish defense. It took a total team effort for Notre Dame to fall to 1-3 with an embarrassing loss at Notre Dame Stadium to Duke. 

Three offensive turnovers, a special teams touchdown and more shaky defense sunk Notre Dame in a 38-35 loss to the Blue Devils, which entered Saturday 1-2 with that only win coming over an FCS opponent. 

Duke came to South Bend having scored a combined 27 points against its two FBS opponents this year — Wake Forest and Northwestern, both losses — but eclipsed that mark in the first half. 

After Notre Dame jumped out to a 14-0 lead — seemingly taking to heart coach Brian Kelly’s push to take a better sense of urgency into gameday — Duke’s Shaun Wilson returned a kick 96 yards for a touchdown. On the Blue Devils’ next possession, Cole Luke missed a tackle, Nick Coleman blew a coverage and running back Jela Duncan dashed 18 yards for a game-tying score. 

Things got sloppy after Duke tied it, with Justin Yoon missing a 42-yard field goal and the Blue Devils getting stuffed on a fourth-and-one at the Irish 25. But later in the second quarter, Kizer strangely fumbled while turning around after receiving the snap, giving Duke the ball on the Irish 25. 

Notre Dame’s sudden-change defense, as it did after a turnover against Michigan State, quickly allowed a score when Jones found Quay Chambers for an easy 25-yard touchdown after Chambers beat Drue Tranquill in coverage. 

Dexter Williams tied things up later in the second quarter with an impressive 13-yard touchdown run, but Jones led another stress-free scoring drive near the end of the half. That one ended when Jones hit receiver Anthony Nash for a wide open 32-yard touchdown as Notre Dame’s secondary blew the coverage. 

After Nyles Morgan notched Notre Dame’s first sack of the season — the Irish were the last team at the FBS level to record a sack — Notre Dame drove 83 yards on six plays, with Josh Adams polishing that drive off with a nine-yard score to tie things at 28. 

Freshman cornerback Donte Vaughn came up with a huge play on Duke’s ensuring drive, picking off a pass in single coverage in the end zone to give the ball back to the Irish.

Notre Dame got another fourth-and-one stop at its own 19-yard line early in the fourth quarter and turned that into a go-ahead touchdown when Kizer found Equanimeous St. Brown for a 12-yard score. 

But Notre Dame’s defense — which hadn’t allowed a point in the second half — quickly gave up the advantage. Jones found Nash down the sideline, and freshman Devin Studstill whiffed on a tackle to allow Nash to waltz in for a 64-yard game-tying score. That play erased whatever defensive goodwill Brian VanGorder’s group had built up in the second half. 

The Irish offense, though, failed to come through. Williams was stuffed for a minus-three yard run and Kizer lost seven yards on a sack before throwing an arm-punt picked off at the Irish 45-yard line. 

Duke quickly drove to the Irish six-yard line, though Jones was stopped just shy of the goal line on third down. AJ Reed hit his first field goal of the season, a 19-yarder, that wound up being the game-winner. 

Kizer and Notre Dame had one last shot to tie it up or take the lead, but Kizer’s fourth-and-three pass near midfield fell incomplete.

Three keys and prediction: Notre Dame vs. Duke

Three keys and prediction: Notre Dame vs. Duke

Three keys and prediction: Notre Dame vs. Duke

1. Generate explosive offensive plays. Duke’s defense has actually been pretty good at limiting third down conversions (28.8 percent, 28th in FBS) and ranks 16th in success rate. But they’re prone to explosive plays — an area in which Notre Dame’s offense hasn’t excelled yet this year. Look for DeShone Kizer to take some shots downfield and Josh Adams/Tarean Folston to break off a big-chunk run Saturday afternoon to power the Irish offense. 

2. Force Daniel Jones into passing downs. Jones, the redshirt freshman quarterback who’s replacing an injured Thomas Sirk, has been fairly efficient throwing the ball but hasn’t led a particularly explosive offense. Duke ranks 98th in passing downs success rate, and if Notre Dame can force those second/third-and-long, obvious passing situations, maybe it’ll also lead to the team’s first sack of the season. Duke ranks 85th in passing downs sack rate, allowing one sack for every 10 passing downs they encounter. 

3. Lead early, cruise late. Brian Kelly talked this week about getting his team to strike early and often, as opposed to just early (as they did against Texas and Michigan State before hitting second/third-quarter lulls). Duke lost to Wake Forest by 10 and Northwestern by 11, and on paper shouldn’t be able to hang with Notre Dame even despite the Irish’s two losses thus far. If Notre Dame’s offense can come out with some early haymakers, it’ll take the pressure off its much-maligned defense and allow the Irish to roll to a win over their first mid-level opponent of the season. 

Prediction: Notre Dame 42, Duke 26. Kizer will take Kelly’s sense of urgency message to heart and put together a complete game, while Notre Dame’s defense will do enough to make this a relatively stress-free afternoon.