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."

Wide receiver Corey Holmes will transfer from Notre Dame

Wide receiver Corey Holmes will transfer from Notre Dame

Redshirt sophomore receiver Corey Holmes will transfer from Notre Dame after graduating in the spring, joining offensive lineman John Montelus and quarterback Malik Zaire in leaving South Bend after earning their degrees.

Holmes, a former four-star recruit from Pembroke Pines, Fla., was the fifth-most targeted wide receiver on Notre Dame in 2016 (21 targets) and caught 11 passes for 96 yards. Holmes played in two games as a true freshman in 2014 but redshirted in 2015.

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Holmes posted this message to Twitter Saturday afternoon:

Holmes had offered from a number of top programs coming out of St. Thomas Aquinas High School in South Florida, including Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Miami, Michigan, Oklahoma, Stanford and Wisconsin. 

Jack Swarbrick shoots down Brian Kelly rumors, says things are 'business as usual' at Notre Dame

Jack Swarbrick shoots down Brian Kelly rumors, says things are 'business as usual' at Notre Dame

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick shot down any and all rumors about Brian Kelly being fired or leaving South Bend for another job on his radio show with Jack Nolan this week, and said things are operating as usual within the Irish football program. 

"I certainly understand the sort of the engagement and the discussion of the program, but it’s been very much business as usual," Swarbrick said. 

Swarbrick, who in an October comment to ESPN gave a vote of confidence to Kelly, said while he was disappointed with Notre Dame's 4-8 season, he evaluated the seventh-year Irish coach from a larger viewpoint. That viewpoint included 2015's 10-3 season, which Swarbrick said was a "remarkable" coaching job by Kelly after Notre Dame lost an unprecedented number of key players to season-ending injuries. 

"It was an extremely disappointing year,” Swarbrick said. “Every player, every coach, myself, other administrators involved in the program, we all share the same view. There's no way around that conclusion. It's not bad breaks, it's not a play here or a play there, we didn't do what we need to do. 

"But I think there’s a danger in overreacting to any one piece of information that you get in the course of evaluating football programs. That begins with — it looks one way from a this season perspective, but it feels a little different for me from a two-season perspective. I thought last year was one of the best coaching jobs I’ve seen, and I’ve been around elite-level coaches for 35 years. I think to achieve what we achieve with the things we faced with the attrition of our roster, which was like nothing I’ve ever seen before, was a really remarkable year as reflected in the contributions that the players and coaches made to collectively achieve that year.

"This year we get a different result. You don’t ignore it, you certainly evaluate it and pay attention to it, but I don’t look at it in isolation. I look at it in the context of where the program is overall."

Swarbrick made clear that Notre Dame's academic violations brought to light by the NCAA's Nov. 22 report are not a factor in reviewing Kelly's status, pointing to there being no evidence of a lack of institutional control or a coach or academic advisor spurring the cheating that took place a few years ago. Swarbrick's vote of confidence to Kelly came four weeks to the date of the NCAA committee on infractions' hearing with Notre Dame, at which Swarbrick and Kelly were present. 

"When in mid-season I made that comment I did about Brian’s future, I already had that information," Swarbrick said. "This wasn’t something new coming late into the season I had to factor in." 

Swarbrick said he and Kelly had a discussion the day after Notre Dame's season-ending loss at USC, after which multiple reports surfaced detailing that Kelly had explored other coaching options outside Notre Dame. Kelly said he "absolutely" wanted to be back at Notre Dame immediately after the USC game and put out an early-morning statement a few hours later pushing back on those reports. 

"I fully understood the background of those reports," Swarbrick said. "Brian and I had clear discussions about his intentions and his future, and of course he clarified those I think both at the press conference after the game and then when his subsequent statement went out."

When asked if Notre Dame's board of trustees could still step in and go over his head to fire Kelly, Swarbrick said "No, no. It doesn't work that way here."

So things are operating normally at Notre Dame, according to Swarbrick, even though end-of-the-season meetings are happening a month earlier than they normally do. Swarbrick said he'll meet with Kelly on Friday to discuss the future of Kelly's coaching staff, but doesn't expect massive changes beyond bringing in a new defensive coordinator. Whatever staff changes do come will flow from the new coordinator hire. 

"I think we have a very talented staff of committed coaches and broader staff in the program," Swarbrick said. "So I don’t anticipate wholesale changes."