Model Behavior

Three years ago, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly set out to build an "SEC-style" defensive front. Mission accomplished.

Saturday January 7, the champions of the SEC West will face off against the champions of the SEC…North?

Not exactly, but phase one of Brian Kelly's plan for sustained excellence in South Bend is in place, and Notre Dame fans can thank Alabama, LSU, and their southern brethren for showing the way to modern collegiate success.

"Controlling the line of scrimmage," said Kelly of step one in his quest for BCS-level accompishment. "We felt like we were in a pretty good position to continue to recruit very, very talented offensive linemen. That seemed to be part of what Notre Dame had shown, had been successful at.

"Where we really took a specific model was the defensive linemen in the SEC, and that physical presence, whether it be against the run or on the edge of your defense, we needed to find guys like that," he noted of the state of the program upon his arrival in December 2009.

"So when I used that SEC model, what we were specifically talking about was developing our defense, and in particular developing our front seven. We went about it with that in mind. If you look hard enough you can find them (talented defenders who'll qualify at Notre Dame). We looked really hard and we found some of those guys and we think that was the first step in helping us move our program to a championship level."

Kapron Lewis-Moore, Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix, Prince Shembo, Sheldon Day, Tony Springmann, Ishaq Williams, and Kona Schwenke -- all in front of Manti Te'o. Notre Dame matches up favorably with any offense thanks to those nine defenders up front. Add in surprise standout Danny Spond and the senior tag-team of Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese and Notre Dame has 12 front seven defenders ready to go pad-for-pad vs. the defending champs next month.

That doesn't mean the Irish are evenly matched across the board.

"There are some similarities, certainly in terms of the line of scrimmage," said Kelly when asked to compare his roster to 'Bama's. "We're continuing to develop the skill level of our football team. But I think there's some more similarities up front on the offensive and defensive line."

Finishing 8-5 over both of the past two seasons and taking over a program that was a combined 16-21 over three seasons prior to his arrival, Kelly is on record in his respect and deference to the SEC and the conference's six-year run of dominance. His players, newly minted No. 1 and 12-0, had no such shackles when asked to compare their success to that of the Crimson Tide or anyone else from the Southeast.

"I just feel like we play Notre Dame defense," said Lewis-Moore when offered that his team plays "SEC-style" defense. "We're Independent, so when people say that, I say 'Hey, we play Notre Dame defense.

"Its a great opportunity for us. Playing a team from the SEC is always going to be a challenge and I think we're up for the challenge.

"What really impressed me about Alabama (offensively) was their running backs; that they run hard and with power," said defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore of the SEC title game last Saturday. "We're really going to have to wrap up."

Never one to back down from a challenge, senior safety Zeke Motta didn't embrace the supposedly-flattering comparison to the nation's top conference, either.

"I think our style is our style, we're not going to compare it to anyone else's," he said. "We're just going to do us, man."

Asked if the SEC had earned the right to be a prohibitive favorite vs. any foe in the BCS championship game after six consecutive titles, Motta responded, "Well…I don't think so. Football is football, man. It can go either way any time."

Its gone Notre Dame's way throughout 2012. Their toughest test awaits.

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