With title on the line, hapless Irish throttled by Alabama

With title on the line, hapless Irish throttled by Alabama
January 8, 2013, 4:45 am
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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."