FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – It might not have been intended as a slight, but it was the first salvo fired in the war of words between second-ranked Alabama and top-ranked Notre Dame.
Players and coaches have been on their best behavior, knowing anything they say can be twisted in all types of directions.
Notre Dame tailback Theo Riddick apparently didn’t get the memo urging him to say the politically correct answers and avoid being candid. When asked Thursday morning whether Alabama’s lone loss this season to Texas A&M gave the Fighting Irish any ideas for Monday’s BCS National Championship Game, such as playing an up-tempo style, the senior tailback blurted out, “It’s more their secondary,” going on to describe the “mismatches” Notre Dame can create in its passing attack against the Tide secondary.
Alabama senior safety Robert Lester refused to get drawn into the verbal battle.
“We’re just going to go into this game and do what we do best,” he said. “That’s go and play Alabama football. You know, execute the game plan and cover the receivers. That’s our job and that’s what we plan on doing.”
Notre Dame receiver T.J. Jones said the Tide secondary was “without a doubt the best secondary that we’ve seen,” but tight end Tyler Eifert pointed out the Alabama defense “have their weaknesses, too,” going on to say the Alabama secondary has “good cover corner guys but sometimes they may not play the ball as well as the receiver would in the air.”
Lester might not be defending his unit, but All-American cornerback Dee Milliner took exception to the comments.
I’m glad they would say something like that just because it makes me want to play even better, go out there and make plays,” Milliner said. “We’ve been hearing it all season that we can be exploited. They think we're the weak link? Hopefully they'll try to exploit us like they said and we’ll make plays and change their mind.”
Alabama has the top-rated total defense in America but has shown a penchant for giving up big plays through the air at times this season. After surrendering 210 passing yards or less in each of the first eight games, the Crimson Tide gave up 296 to LSU, 253 to Texas A&M and 281 to Georgia.
The Tide lost to the Aggies and barely escaped with narrow wins over LSU in Baton Rouge and Georgia in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game.
“We’ve just been priding ourselves on becoming one of the best secondaries in the country,” Milliner said. “I think we’ve been doing a great job with it so far.”