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Sports

January 5, 2013

Special teams: Notre Dame and Alabama

(Continued)

Crimson Tide principals: K Jeremy Shelley, P Cody Mandell, K Cade Foster.

If the Alabama offense can get within sniffing distance of the end zone, points are almost a virtual lock. Shelley is a mistake-free force inside of 40 yards, and he’s actually a mistake-free force outside of 40 yards — if only because he hasn’t attempted a kick from beyond that distance.

Shelley is 11-for-11 on the season with a long of 38 yards. If the Crimson Tide can make it to the red zone, they’re likely to score. But the apparent “big leg” field goal kicker is Foster, who is 4-of-9 on the season and missed a 49-yarder against Georgia in the SEC title game. Foster is actually 3-of-5 from 50-plus yards, though, with a 52-yarder as his longest.

But in a game where field position may take on great significance, Alabama has a solid weapon in Mandell. His 43.8 yards per punt average should be a top 20 figure nationally — for some reason he’s not listed among the leaders, even with 46 punts to qualify — and he has dropped 17 punts inside the 20.

Put another way: All told, it doesn’t seem as if Alabama is primed for mistakes in this area.

Analysis: Alabama seems in better position to play it safe than does Notre Dame, if that’s the way the game unfolds. Its punter appears more consistent, and its kicker slightly more reliable if the offense sputters in the red zone. But the Irish do have Brindza, who has made kicks under considerable duress. Alabama didn’t attempt a field goal in its biggest victory over LSU, and has missed its last three from 40-plus yards. Consistency edge to Alabama. Pressure-kicking edge to the Irish.

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