MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Much of the buildup to the BCS National Championship Game centered on Notre Dame’s front seven and its matchup against Alabama’s offensive line.
The Irish never had a chance in the 42-14 loss. Billed as an SEC caliber front seven, instead award-winning linebacker Manti Te’o and company were outclassed by the Crimson Tide from start to finish. Alabama put together three long drives to start the game, scoring on each to put the Irish in a 21-0 hole after the first snap of the second quarter.
A late drive to close the half that made it 28-0 and essentially ended any chance Notre Dame had at mounting a second-half comeback.
While the Tide was hitting on all cylinders, Notre Dame’s defense seemed befuddled. Alabama ran inside, ran outside and even when the Irish seemed to have a good read on plays they missed tackles and gave up yards after contact.
When it was over, Alabama had amassed 529 yards against a defense that allowed only 286 per game through its first 12 games. The Tide achieved an incredible balance, collecting 265 rushing yards and 264 passing yards.
The other key stat was Alabama’s ability to finish in the red zone. Notre Dame had allowed only two touchdowns in 18 red-zone trips. Alabama was a perfect 5 for 5.
“Their defense had been impressive in the red zone, and we knew we’d have to do something about it if we wanted to win the game,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “Our red zone offense had been good most of the season, but it was exceptional tonight.”
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Alabama’s ability to run was critical.
“They ran the football well,” he said. “Our strength all year has been playing physical and tackling and we did not tackle well together.”
AJ McCarron had plenty of time in the pocket to stretch the field as the Irish, with 34 sacks in the regular season, never got pressure on the quarterback. McCarron, who only got hit when he scrambled for nine yards, finished 20 of 28 for 264 yards with four touchdowns, including easy throws and catches of 34 and 19 yards to freshman Amari Cooper. The lack of pressure made it difficult for Notre Dame’s secondary to stay with the Tide’s receivers.
Cooper had 106 yards on six catches, while Kevin Norwood had three catches for 66 yards.
While McCarron was doing his thing, the game’s most outstanding player Eddie Lacy and fellow tailback T.J. Yeldon shredded a defense that was fourth nationally against the rush (92.42 yards per game) with 248 yards on just 41 carries. Alabama finished with 265 rushing yards after Notre Dame hadn’t given up more than 161 in the regular season.
Notre Dame hadn’t allowed a touchdown drive of more than 75 yards this season, but Alabama strung together scoring drives of 82, 61, 80, 71, 97 and 86 yards. They weren’t quick strike drives, either. The shortest was five plays. The longest was 14 plays.
Lacy set the tone on the game’s first drive, bolting 10 yards on his second carry and then finishing off the drive with a 20-yard burst up the middle. Lacy finished with 140 tough yards and one touchdown. He also caught an 11-yard TD pass.
Kelly credited Lacy’s ability to “shake us down” and “make us miss.” At one point, Lacy literally just slung a potential tackler to the ground.
Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker said watching film of Boston College against Notre Dame gave the Tide a glimpse of what was possible on offense.
“When we watched film, we saw Boston College push them around,” Fluker said. “We knew if they could do it, we could do it. They were kind of predictable on defense. We knew what they would do, so it was just a matter of executing. … They are physical but we outplayed them.”
Notre Dame safety Zeke Motta had a big night with 16 total tackles, including nine solos. The problem was that many of his stops came downfield. Te’o, Heisman Trophy runner-up to Johnny Manziel and also claimed seven major awards, finished with 10 tackles but also had a slew of misses that turned potential negative plays into positive ones for Alabama.