January 8, 2013

Swept away by the Tide

II Game Story With Sidebar

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - Before the final seconds ticked away, Alabama defensive lineman Damion Square grabbed a massive flag declaring the Crimson Tide the kings of college football, the sport’s first back-to-back national champions of the BCS era.

Like with everything else on Monday night at Sun Life Stadium, Alabama came prepared. Their championship experience is vast, taking three titles in four years. It showed in the 42-14 blowout.

Notre Dame’s experience was not, making its first showing on this stage in nearly a quarter century. That showed too.

So as Square circled the field making clear what was obvious from nearly the opening kickoff, Notre Dame kicked its way through confetti, shuffling back to the locker room without answers.

“They’re where we would like to be,” said All-American tight end Tyler Eifert, who said the BCS National Championship Game would be his last at Notre Dame. “We know what a championship football team looks like now.

“They were the same team they’ve been all year.”

Notre Dame was not.

“It’s heart breaking,” said running back Theo Riddick through tears.

The Irish were gouged by the Crimson Tide ground game at historic levels, bludgeoned by running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, who combined for 41 carries 248 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Notre Dame barely got a hand on either, the entire starting Irish front seven having missed a tackle by halftime, often when in position to make stops behind the line of scrimmage.

Notre Dame had not allowed a touchdown drive of more than 75 yards all season. Alabama finished the game with four.

The Crimson Tide scored touchdowns on their first three drives, punted twice in the second quarter, then scored another three straight touchdowns to pull ahead by 35 points early in the fourth. If that score held it would have been the biggest bowl blowout loss in Notre Dame history.

“It felt like we just kept sinking in quick sand,” said guard Chris Watt. “We couldn’t get out.”

A severe knee injury to Kapron Lewis-Moore didn’t help, nor did the ankle sprain suffered by Louis Nix. Lewis-Moore said he didn’t know the extent of the damage to his right knee, only that it was “not good.”

Two controversial calls in the first quarter - the non-review of an apparent Eifert first down catch and a potential fumbled punt return ruled fair catch interference - could have closed the gap. But Notre Dame didn’t argue reversing those moments would have changed which team accepted the crystal ball.

“Some people use the word dynasty,” said head coach Brian Kelly.  “I look at it as program consistency, starts at the top and filters its way through the entire program. 

“And what coach (Nick) Saban has been able to do has really put an exclamation point on consistently putting elite programs and football teams together at the University of Alabama.”

Notre Dame trailed 28-0 at halftime after A.J. McCarron hit Lacy for a 11-yard touchdown pass with 31 seconds left in the second quarter. Lacy eluded attempted tackles from Danny Spond, Dan Fox, Bennett Jackson and Zeke Motta on his way to the end zone.

McCarron finished 20-of-28 for 264 yards and four touchdowns. He picked apart Notre Dame’s secondary by working deep corner routes, putting freshman receiver Amari Cooper in favorable match-ups. Cooper finished with six catches for 105 yards and Alabama’s final two scores.

Notre Dame finished without a sack for just the second time all season. The Irish weren’t even credited with a hurry of McCarron.

“You can't put it on one person or the other, it's just a team thing,” said safety Zeke Motta. “And we just need to fight and learn from it.”

The lessons figure to be most critical for quarterback Everett Golson, pinned in by Alabama’s speed but able to hit a few shots downfield to DaVaris Daniels and TJ Jones. Daniels finished with six catches for 115 yards, making him Notre Dame’s only 100-yard receiver this season.

Golson finished 21-of-36 for 270 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also rushed for a two-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter that snapped Alabama’s scoreless streak in BCS championship games at 108 minutes. The Crimson Tide had scored 69 unanswered points in title games dating back to their championship win over Texas four years ago.

The Irish offense abandoned the ground game early. Riddick finished with 10 carries for 37 yards. Cierre Wood was a non-factor at four carries for two yards.

“Just got to go back to the drawing board this off-season,” Golson said.

Minus Manti Te’o, Eifert, Motta, Lewis-Moore, a couple offensive linemen and likely both top running backs, what sketch Kelly crafts next season may not resemble this edition.

But after watching Alabama roll his program in person, Notre Dame’s head coach will at least have an image to copy.

“It's a great, great opportunity that we had here,” Kelly said. “It's disappointing we lost the football game, but it's going to make my job very easy when it comes to talking to players about how you win a National Championship.”





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