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."

Preview: Eastern Illinois, Southern llinois in action today on CSN

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AP

Preview: Eastern Illinois, Southern llinois in action today on CSN

College basketball is back on CSN on Saturday as two local teams will be featured in live conference matchups.

In the first matchup at 11 a.m., Eastern Illinois will host Austin Peay in an Ohio Valley Conference clash on CSN+ while the second matchup has Evansville hosting Southern Illinois in a Missouri Valley Conference game at 1 p.m. on CSN.

Eastern Illinois (9-8, 1-3) is coming off of a conference loss to Murray State. Junior guard Montell Goodwin leads the charge for the Panthers as he's averaging 14.8 points per game on the season. Austin Peay (5-13, 1-3) just earned a tight win over SIU-Edwardsville to help end an 11-game losing streak. Junior Josh Robinson is having a strong season despite the losing as he's averaging 21.2 points per game for the Governors.

The second game will be on the main CSN at 1 p.m. as Southern Illinois (10-8, 3-2) tries to bounce back from a loss to Bradley. The Salukis are led by sophomore guard Armon Fletcher as the Edwardsville product leads the team at 13.7 points per game.

Evansville (10-8, 1-4) is coming off of three consecutive losses as the Purple Aces are trying to figure things out at home. Senior Jaylon Brown has been one of the Valley's premier scorers this season as he's putting up 20.9 points per contest.

MVC basketball doubleheader on CSN

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USA TODAY

MVC basketball doubleheader on CSN

Missouri Valley Conference basketball is back on CSN on Wednesday as a doubleheader begins at 6 p.m.

In the first game, Loyola will travel to Wichita State to face the Shockers in a 6 p.m. tip while the second game features Northern Iowa traveling to Bradley in a game that tips at 8 p.m.

Loyola (12-5, 2-2) has won two straight games as Chicago products Milton Doyle (Marshall) and Donte Ingram (Simeon) are both playing well. Doyle barely missed a triple-double in a win over Northern Iowa and followed that up with a career-high 35 points in a win over Bradley. Ingram has returned from a knee injury to give the Ramblers a boost as he had 25 in the win over Northern Iowa.

Wichita State (14-3, 4-0) has won five straight as they once again look like one of the Valley's best teams. Junior forward Darral Willis Jr. leads the Shockers in scoring at 12.1 points per game while sophomore Markis McDuffie is putting up 11.8 points per game. 

[RELATED: Complete NCAA coverage]

The second game of the doubleheader features Northern Iowa taking on Bradley. The Panthers (5-10, 0-4) have dropped five straight games as they're struggling to find help for senior guard Jeremy Morgan.

Bradley (7-10, 2-2) is coming off of a home loss to Loyola but they've had a solid bounceback season in head coach Brian Wardle's second year. The Braves only won five games all of last season as the roster has been revamped for this season.

Freshman guard Darrell Brown paces the Bradley offense at 12.2 points per game while junior forward JoJo McGlaston is putting up 9.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.