With title on the line, hapless Irish throttled by Alabama

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With title on the line, hapless Irish throttled by Alabama

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- It took five plays for Alabama to assert its dominance over Notre Dame and wipe out any chance the Irish had of winning their first championship since 1988.

Notre Dame was blasted 42-14 by a thoroughly dominant Alabama team Monday night at Sun Life Stadium. Notre Dame was sloppy, too, playing by far the team's worst football in long, long time.

Defensive tackle Louis Nix, though, bristled at the notion that Alabama was dominant.

"We just didn't play our ballgame, man," Nix said. "We didn't make tackles. Everything we did or had lined up should have worked. But guess what, we didn't make tackles. That's the ballgame."

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The Irish defense, which allowed an average of 10.3 points and 92 rushing yards in its previous 12 games, was bowled over for 14 points and 202 rushing yards in the first quarter. Eddie Lacy -- who safety Matthias Farley said was "by far" the best back Notre Dame faced all year -- led that charge, looking unstoppable against a shell-shocked defense.

"We thought, alright, this was a wakeup call," cornerback Bennett Jackson said. "And we were all waiting for everybody to step forward."

That step forward didn't happen. Notre Dame's physical and emotional leader, a guy who finished second in Heisman Trophy voting, missed tackles. Manti Te'o wasn't the only culprit, though. It was a collective struggle by a defense that hadn't been punched in the mouth like the haymakers Alabama threw early in the game.

"We were too complacent," Jackson said. "We didn't push forward how we needed to, and they just out-physicaled us, and they wanted it more."

"We didn't match their level of play, and they just took over," Farley added.

The success Alabama's offensive line had against Notre Dame's front seven wasn't exactly surprising. What was surprising, though, were all the whiffs on tackles, the product of a defense taken completely off its game by an Alabama team with a lethal combination of physicality and speed.

"They have one of the best O-lines in the country, probably the best, but they did not dominate us," Nix repeated. "We missed tackles."

There was no comeback in the cards in the BCS Championship. Notre Dame had started slow a few times this year and lived, but those games came against far, far lesser competition.

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"Against weaker teams, sometimes we started off flat, but we'd rally back," Jackson said. "When you play a great team, you can't start off flat. That's what happened with us."

Already down two touchdowns so quickly into the game, Notre Dame abandoned its rushing game despite hoping to establish it early. Everett Golson struggled early but wound up holding his own, completing 21 of 36 passes for 270 yards with a touchdown and an interception. But any strides he made were too late to matter against an Alabama team which wound up cruising to its third title in four years.

Nick Saban doesn't like the word, but Alabama moved into the realm of being a dynasty Monday night. Saban's teams are impeccable when given five weeks to prepare. Look no further than last season, when Alabama beat LSU 21-0 in the BCS Championship after losing 9-6 to the Tigers in the regular season.

"They're better than us right now," offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said. "We gotta continue to close the gap -- we've closed the gap a lot this year, we've got to close it a lot more."

When the dust settled, Lacy and Yeldon both ran for over 100 yards and accounted for three touchdowns. McCarron threw with deadly precision, completing 20 of 28 passes for 264 yards and four touchdowns. Meanwhile, Notre Dame barely cracked the 300-yard barrier for total offense.

Ultimately, what happened in the first quarter was the knockout blow Notre Dame should've feared. There was no getting back off the mat after being hit by a constant stream of haymakers, ones thrown by the most powerful program in college football.

After 15 minutes, there was no question. The Crimson Tide would raise the crystal ball for the third time in four years, while Notre Dame would return to Northern Indiana trying to figure out how to get on Alabama's level.

"They're back-to-back national champs," coach Brian Kelly said. "So that's what it looks like. Measure yourself against that, and I think it was pretty clear across the board what we have to do."

Notre Dame announces new WR, strength coaches

Notre Dame announces new WR, strength coaches

Notre Dame on Thursday announced the formal hiring of two new assistant coaches, one of which featured a somewhat surprising postscript. 

The program's new wide receivers coach will be DelVaughn Alexander, who joins the Irish from Arizona State. Alexander coached tight ends for the Sun Devils in 2016 and spent 2012-2015 as ASU's wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator.

Prior to his stint in Tempe, Washington was Wisconsin's receivers coach from 2007-2011 and also spent time at UNLV, Oregon State and San Diego State. 

"I’m excited to officially get on board, hit the road recruiting, and to find and develop the best student-athletes in the country,” Alexander said. “Notre Dame is a special place, and I’ve been able to the see the power of its brand on the recruiting trails across the country for the last 15-20 years. I’m honored and humbled to serve this University, this program and these remarkable young men.”

“I was looking for an experienced teacher, mentor, recruiter and developer of student-athletes,” coach Brian Kelly said “Del not only met the criteria, but he exceeded it. He also understands, respects and values the type of young men we want to bring to this University and football program.”

In addition to Washington, Notre Dame announced the hiring of Matt Balis as strength and conditioning coach, with Balis replacing longtime Brian Kelly lieutenant Paul Longo in that position. Longo has "taken a leave of absence" from the Irish, according to the program's press release. 

Balis has served in strength coach roles at Houston (2001-2002), Utah (2004), (Florida 2005-2006), Virginia (2007-2008), Mississippi State (2009-2013) and UConn (2014-2016). At UConn, Balis worked under former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco; while at Utah and Florida, Balis worked with current Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. 

Whatever changes Balis brings to Notre Dame strength and conditioning will be necessary, as the Irish frequently ran out of gas late in games in 2016. By S&P+, Notre Dame had the second-best first quarter offense in college football last year, but ranked 90th in the fourth quarter. Similarly, Notre Dame's defense had its lowest ranking (61st) in the fourth quarter. 

Granted, some of those struggles were due to poor playcalling and gameplanning, but far too often did Notre Dame's players hit a metaphorical brick wall in the final 15 minutes. Perhaps an infusion of new energy into the weight room will help reverse that trend. 

"It's an honor and dream come true to be part of the Notre Dame football program," Balis said. "I'm humbled by this opportunity and I'll work hard everyday to give our players and program my absolute best."

"Matt comes to Notre Dame with impeccable credentials and incredibly high praise from the likes of Urban Meyer, Mickey Marotti, Dan Mullen, Bob Diaco and Al Groh," Kelly said. "He's already instituted a strength program built with a foundation that focuses on hard work, discipline and top-notch competition. Matt will demand the best from our players, not only in the weight room, but in many other areas within our program. I couldn't be more excited to have him in place moving forward."

Notre Dame officially hires Clark Lea as linebackers coach

Notre Dame officially hires Clark Lea as linebackers coach

Mike Elko's first coaching staff as Notre Dame defensive coordinator is beginning to take shape, with the Irish announcing Thursday the hiring of Clark Lea as linebackers coach. 

Lea spent 2016 as Wake Forest's linebackers coach -- under Elko -- and previously held positions on coaching staffs at Bowling Green, Syracuse and UCLA. 

"Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” coach Brian Kelly said. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system -- having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”

In 2016, Lea coached Demon Deacons linebacker Marquel Lee, who was the only FBS player with 100 or more tackles, 20 or more tackles for a loss and 7 1/2 or more sacks last fall. Nationally, Lee ranked 62nd in tackles (105), 10th in tackles for a loss (20) and 53rd in sacks (7 1/2).

Lea also worked with former All-American linebacker Akeem Ayers at UCLA. 

The Nashville native and Vanderbilt alum (he earned both Bachelors and Masters degrees in political science) was also nominated by FootballScoop for its linebackers coach of the year award in 2012 while working with Elko at Bowling Green. 

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”