Skip to content

Five things we learned: Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14

Jan 8, 2013, 2:26 AM EDT

Discover BCS National Championship - Notre Dame v Alabama Getty Images

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — There will be a silver lining in all of this. But for now, Notre Dame’s disappointing performance in their 42-14 loss to Alabama outweighs everything.

“It definitely sucks, to be quite honest,” Manti Te’o said after the game, seated next to his head coach and teammates for a final time as a member of the Fighting Irish. “But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I wouldn’t trade this team for anything. I wouldn’t do anything differently.”

The journey that took this football team from a demoralizing defeat against Florida State last December to the national championship will be one that’s looked at fondly when the dust settles after this disappointing, one-sided defeat. But tonight, it’s a very hard pill to swallow for players and fans alike, with Alabama outclassing the Irish early and often, soundly beating a Notre Dame team that most thought could hang as a heavyweight.

But done in by a uncharacteristically sloppy first quarter and an incredibly thorough Alabama offensive performance, the dream season was just not meant to be.

“Alabama was the better team today,” Kelly said after the game. “They ran the football well. Our strength all year has been playing physical and tackling and we did not tackle well together. They were the better football team and they deserved to win.”

As the maintenance staff cleans up crimson and white confetti from the prestine grass of Sun Life Stadium, let’s take a look at the five things we learned during Alabama’s 42-14 victory in the BCS National Championship game.

***

1. Alabama won the football game because they won the line of scrimmage.

It didn’t take long to understand that the Notre Dame defense was in for a long night against the Crimson Tide. Alabama marched decisively down the field to start the game, going 82 yards in just five plays and 2:57. For the first time, the Irish gave up seven points on an opening drive, and things were only going to get worse from there.

After not allowing a single touchdown drive longer than 75 yards, Alabama put together six scoring drives of 70 or more yards on the evening. The Tide were able to chew up massive yardage against an Irish defense that had been stout all season, effectively ending the game by halftime thanks to a dominant first half that including touchdowns the first three times Alabama touched the football.

We knew it’d be strength versus strength when Alabama’s offensive line battled Notre Dame’s front seven. But nobody saw the Crimson Tide offensive line being such decisive winners.

“I think everybody knows about Alabama’s offensive line,” Te’o said after the game. “They’re very big and they’re very athletic and very strong. You know, we battled. We battled. They just did what Alabama does.”

For the Tide, leaning on their running game and impressive offensive line opened up the passing game as well. And with the media spending much of the last month trying to quantify just how good this Alabama front five was, Nick Saban’s evaluation of the unit might have been the most flattering commentary.

“I think this may be the best offensive line, and I don’t like to make comparisons, that we’ve ever had or been associated with,” Saban said.

That was clear Monday night, when the Alabama offensive front dominated the Irish front seven.

***

2. It may not have mattered in the end, but the Irish doomed themselves with an uncharacteristically slow start.

Notre Dame spent six weeks preparing for a one-game season. And while the coaches and players felt good about their preparation and outlook heading into the game, the Irish laid an early egg, never able to recover from a disastrous start.

“Coach Kelly told us before the game that there are eight minutes that are very important in the game,” Te’o said. “The first two minutes of the game, the last two minutes in the second quarter, the first two minutes of the third quarter and the last two minutes of the game.

“Obviously, the first two minutes of the game didn’t pan out the way we thought it would go.”

That might have been an understatement.

The first two minutes featured AJ McCarron hitting Kevin Norwood for a 29 yard strike, the first of many passes that attacked the edges of the Irish’s zone coverage. They included a personal foul on Dan Fox and an offsides penalty on Louis Nix. That all but marched the Tide into the Irish redzone, where they scored cashed in their first of six touchdowns.

The final two minutes of the half were no kinder to the Irish. With Alabama already up 21-0 and looking to put the game away, McCarron led the Tide down the field again, executing a two-minute drill to perfection as he found Christon Jones for 27 yards on 3rd and 6. From there, Eddie Lacy did the rest, dancing in for an 11 yard touchdown catch, ulling away in the half’s final minute.

Add in three tough breaks for the Irish on suspect calls by the Pac-12 officiating crew, and Notre Dame all but shut down a crowd that was almost a two-thirds majority for the Domers.

***

3. For 40 days, Notre Dame worked on getting good enough to play with Alabama. For 40 days, Alabama built a game plan to defeat Notre Dame.

When Brian Kelly set out to plan Notre Dame’s 42 day layoff, he focused on building his team into a unit that could go toe-to-toe with the nation’s most impressive program. That meant a focus on strength and conditioning to go along with the fundamentals and a commitment to improving young quarterback Everett Golson from the ground up.

In the end, it wasn’t enough, as the Irish couldn’t match the physicality that Alabama possessed. But the Irish were also done in by a masterful game plan designed by Nick Saban, and his two coordinators Doug Nussmeier and Kirby Smart.

It’s no surprise that Alabama limited the Irish’s ability to run the football. Falling behind early, there weren’t too many opportunities to run the football, but the Irish only netted 32 yards on 19 carries, a meager 1.7 yards a tote.

But the biggest surprise of the evening was the Tide’s excellent offensive game plan, showing incredible balance by running for 265 yards and throwing for 264. With Alabama consistently beating the Irish on the edges of their defense, Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon had great success getting around the corner, stretching the Irish defense out before attacking them in the north-south run game.

Just as impressive was AJ McCarron’s evening, as he consistently attacked the deep corners of the Irish zone coverage, exploiting the holes that emerged in Bob Diaco’s young secondary.

“I watched a lot of film on these guys and they play a lot of zone defense,” freshman wide receiver Amari Cooper said. “Both touchdowns came from big holes in their zone defense.”

Giving Nick Saban six weeks to game plan usually spells trouble for the opposition. And while the Irish had to spend the layoff working on getting better, Alabama worked on scheme. Along with their physical talents, it was just too much to overcome.

4. While it wasn’t Manti Te’o’s best game in a Notre Dame uniform, the senior’s legacy will remain intact.

After missing only two open field tackles all season for the Irish, Te’o missed more than that in the first half alone. Needing a perfect game from the team’s star linebacker, Te’o struggled making plays against Lacey and Yeldon, getting caught up in the wash created by Alabama’s monstrous offensive line.

And after a postseason awards haul crowned Te’o one of college football’s finest ever, it seemed popular to try tearing Te’o down after he had been propped up for the past month. Part of that is the nature of the beast, playing football in a world of Twitter and a tidal wave of social media and opinions. Part of that is fair game, the byproduct of a subpar game for Notre Dame’s best player, who made many uncharacteristic mistakes as the defense struggled to contain Alabama.

But any worries that Te’o may have hurt his legacy — or his draft stock — are probably overblown. With four seasons of game film and off-the-charts character and leadership, some team is going to take a gamble on Te’o in the first round of the NFL Draft.

While the end of Te’o’s career came in a way many never saw possible, the senior had no regrets after his final game in a Notre Dame uniform.

“We wish the night could have ended in a different way, but the season, the year, my career here, I’ve been truly blessed to be at Notre Dame,” Te’o said. “I’ll forever be proud to say I’m a Notre Dame Fighting Irish and I’m proud of my team.”

Te’o wasn’t the only player to miss tackles, a plague on the Irish that was a combination of really impressive work by Eddie Lacey and the long layoff. But it was surprising to see from a player that played near perfect football all season.

***

5. Monday night’s results proved the Irish weren’t the best team in the country. But there’s plenty to be proud of after a tremendous season.

With the SEC’s dominance still intact and Alabama out-classing Notre Dame throughout the evening, it was clear that the best team in the country didn’t enter the game ranked No. 1. But that doesn’t take away anything from Notre Dame’s 12-1 campaign. The Irish may not be the best team in the country, but they’re not all that far away.

“We’re close. Obviously we’re not there,” Te’o said. “If we were there, we’d be holding the crystal ball. But we’re close.”

With disappointment showing through his voice, Kelly talked about the gap between his program and the one that just completed their third championship in the last four years.

“I measure success as a head coach with consistency. And some people use the word dynasty. I look at it as program consistency,” Kelly said of Nick Saban’s Alabama program. “It starts at the top and filters its way through the entire program. And what Coach 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.”

For those worried that it might be another 24 years until the Irish find themselves in this position again, fear not. Watching Everett Golson throw for 270 yards against the Tide was a promising step in his development. Watching TJ Jones catch seven balls and battle tough coverage gives you hope for next season. And DaVaris Daniels held his own with Alabama’s star freshman receiver, coming back from his collarbone injury to catch six passes for 115 yards.

Sure, the Irish will need to replace Manti Te’o, a hole that’ll be tough to fill both on and off the field. And with Tyler Eifert likely announcing his intention to head to the NFL and graduate, the passing attack will need to find a new leading man. But the future is bright in South Bend.

Even if it doesn’t feel that way tonight.

 

Latest Posts
  1. Notre Dame’s post-spring depth chart: Offense

    Apr 17, 2014, 1:08 PM EDT

    Everett Golson

    The Blue-Gold game is done and spring’s 15 practices are complete. With Easter break around the corner and summer workouts still a few months away, let’s take a look at the moves and shakes on the Irish offensive depth chart.

  2. Core of Irish defense beginning to emerge

    Apr 15, 2014, 1:40 PM EDT

    Brian Kelly,Brian Van Gorder Brian Kelly,Brian Van Gorder

    Making an impact during a spring game is always a good thing. But sometimes, the not making one is a good thing, too. The core of the Irish defense didn’t play a lot in the Blue-Gold game.

  3. The good, the bad, the ugly: 85th Blue-Gold game

    Apr 14, 2014, 2:59 PM EDT

    Everett Golson Everett Golson

    Spring football is done, with the Blue-Gold game already in the rearview mirror. Let’s recap Saturday’s festivities with a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from the offense’s 63-58 win.

  4. FieldTurf announcement comes at the right time

    Apr 13, 2014, 7:15 PM EDT

    Last Grass

    During the first half of the Blue-Gold game, athletic director Jack Swarbrick joined Alex Flanagan on television to break the game’s biggest news. After years of struggling to maintain the natural grass surface inside Notre Dame Stadium, the university will be installing a synthetic surface inside the stadium.

  5. Five things we learned: 85th annual Blue-Gold game

    Apr 12, 2014, 3:41 PM EDT

    Malik Zaire Malik Zaire

    A new quarterback depth chart. A new surface coming to Notre Dame Stadium. Unseen weapons making their presence felt all afternoon. There are plenty of takeaways from the 85th annual Blue-Gold game.

  6. Live Blog — 85th Annual Blue-Gold game

    Apr 12, 2014, 12:07 PM EDT

    Getty Images - Jonathan Daniel Getty Images

    It feels like forever since we gathered in late December to watch the Irish finish the season in rather painful fashion against Rutgers in the House that Steinbrenner built. But we’re back for the 85th annual Blue-Gold game, and another live blog of the festivities.

  7. WATCH LIVE: Notre Dame’s Blue-Gold game

    Apr 12, 2014, 12:59 AM EDT

    Brian Kelly - vs. Michigan Getty Images

    It’s the final practice for the Irish until they return to the field for fall camp in August. With kickoff scheduled for 12:30 p.m. EDT, you can watch the game on NBCSN or via the steaming link below.

  8. Pregame Six Pack: 85th annual Blue-Gold game

    Apr 11, 2014, 1:07 PM EDT

    Everett Golson

    Spring is here. Football is in Notre Dame Stadium. As the Irish get ready to do battle in the 85th annual Blue-Gold game, here’s a pregame six pack to get your ready for the action.

  9. Finding Five: Shuffling offensive line pieces still possible

    Apr 10, 2014, 4:57 PM EDT

    USA Today Sports USA Today Sports

    As Notre Dame tries to replace long-time starters Zack Martin and Chris Watt, Brian Kelly and Harry Hiestand are still tinkering with finding their five best offensive linemen.

  10. Blue-Gold game: Ten Irish players to watch

    Apr 9, 2014, 2:31 AM EDT

    Elmer AP

    With Notre Dame’s Blue-Gold game scheduled for this Saturday, we’re taking a closer look at 10 players you need to watch.

  11. Notre Dame-Georgia series in the future?

    Apr 8, 2014, 1:53 PM EDT

    Brian Kelly podium

    After finalizing an ACC scheduling pact that begins in 2014, a CBS Sports report has Notre Dame and Georgia on the verge of agreeing to a home-and-home series that begins in 2018.

  12. Blue-Gold game an important progress report for Golson

    Apr 7, 2014, 4:10 PM EDT

    Everett Golson

    Nobody will confuse Saturday’s Blue-Gold game with a real football game. But for the first time since that fateful January night against Alabama, Everett Golson will be taking snaps that count.

    Sort of.

  13. Defensive back Nicco Fertitta commits to the Irish

    Apr 5, 2014, 10:15 PM EDT

    Fertitta

    Notre Dame received their sixth recruiting commitment of the 2015 class on Saturday, with Las Vegas safety Nicco Fertitta pledging to the Irish. He’s the third recruit to pick Notre Dame in the last week.

  14. Spring Practice: Practice 11 breakdown

    Apr 4, 2014, 8:32 PM EDT

    Notre Dame v Air Force Getty Images

    After two practices outside, the Irish head back inside Loftus, for another practice in their friendly indoor facility. Here’s your overly in-depth look at the latest (and final) UND.com practice video from April 4.

  15. Rashad Kinlaw dismissed from Notre Dame football program

    Apr 4, 2014, 12:04 PM EDT

    Matt Cashore / Irish Illustrated Matt Cashore / Irish Illustrated

    Brian Kelly announced Friday that rising sophomore cornerback Rashad Kinlaw has been dismissed from the Irish football program.

  16. Spring brings new challenges to Elston and defensive line

    Apr 3, 2014, 1:44 PM EDT

    Mike Elston

    Tasked with installing a new system and replacing potential first round draft picks Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt, Mike Elston has a lot on his plate this spring. Made available to the media on Wednesday, Elston gave us a progress report.

  17. Next generation on offensive line is ready to contribute

    Apr 2, 2014, 8:28 PM EDT

    Elmer AP

    Notre Dame’s offensive line has been anchored by Zack Martin and a stable of veterans since Brian Kelly arrived. But with Martin and Chris Watt gone, a new generation is picking up the slack. And anchored by Ronnie Stanley, Steve Elmer and Mike McGlinchey, the future looks bright.

  18. Spring Practice: Skill position breakdown

    Apr 1, 2014, 1:18 PM EDT

    Steffon Batts, Corey Robinson AP

    With Notre Dame halfway through their spring practices leading up to the Blue-Gold game, it’s time to over-analyze another UND.com practice report video.

  19. Remembering Rockne, 83 years later

    Mar 31, 2014, 5:48 PM EDT

    Knute Rockne

    On this day 83 years ago, college football’s most iconic coach died in a plane crash.

  20. Making sense of middle linebacker

    Mar 31, 2014, 5:45 PM EDT

    ncf_i_schmidt_600x400

    Even without the news that Jarrett Grace underwent more surgery to try and heal his broken right leg, Notre Dame’s plans at inside linebacker are far from clear.