Skip to content

Five things we learned: Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14

Jan 8, 2013, 2:26 AM EST

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. Mailbag: Sanford, running game, the option and getting to 85

    Mar 1, 2015, 7:47 PM EST

    Tarean Folston, Daniel Gonzales, Obi Uzoma Tarean Folston, Daniel Gonzales, Obi Uzoma

    Before Brian Kelly introduces us to his new coaching staff tomorrow, let’s finish the mailbag. More here on what to expect from Mike Sanford, “committing” to the run, and stopping the option.

  2. Mailbag: Spring football, position changes and feeding the trolls

    Feb 28, 2015, 2:48 PM EST

    Joe Schmidt Joe Schmidt

    Well crew, I’ve gotta say… I’m a little underwhelmed by the mailbag question. And in the 150+ comments of people screaming at each other about mostly stupid stuff, I think I speak for everybody when I say:

  3. RIP Father Ted

    Feb 27, 2015, 12:40 PM EST

    Theodore Hesburgh

    Former Notre Dame president Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., died Thursday night on campus. Father Ted was 97. He said his final mass on Thursday, the day he passed away.

  4. Spring Solutions: Secondary

    Feb 26, 2015, 3:24 PM EST

    Matthias Farley

    Gone are Cody Riggs and Austin Collinsworth. Returning is a safety position that’s struggled, another transfer, a young cornerback on the rise, and (hopefully) an exiled potential star.

    Welcome to the Notre Dame secondary. New coaching, same scheme, different players, and one of 2015’s great unknowns.

  5. Mailbag: Now open

    Feb 25, 2015, 2:34 PM EST

    New Mailbox

    As we get a few extra weeks to prep for spring practice, let’s open the mailbag.

  6. Spring solutions: Wide receivers

    Feb 24, 2015, 6:56 PM EST

    William Fuller, Julian Whigham, Durell Eskridge William Fuller, Julian Whigham, Durell Eskridge

    A position that looked like a huge question mark entering the 2014 season ended the year with an embarrassment of riches. After watching Will Fuller emerge with a record-setting sophomore season, the loss of DaVaris Daniels and departure of TJ Jones didn’t do anything to slow the Irish passing game down.

  7. All signs (still) point to Keith Gilmore as defensive line coach

    Feb 24, 2015, 1:34 PM EST

    Keith Gilmore

    None of Notre Dame’s coaching changes are official yet. But more arrows point to North Carolina defensive line coach Keith Gilmore joining the Irish staff in the same role.

  8. Spring solutions: Offensive Line

    Feb 23, 2015, 12:43 AM EST

    Notre Dame v Syracuse Notre Dame v Syracuse

    There might not be a deeper unit on the roster than the offensive line. After a lack of depth made it nearly impossible to practice at full speed heading into the 2012 BCS title game, Notre Dame enters the 2015 season with a two-deep most teams would pay for.

  9. Notre Dame moves back start of spring practice

    Feb 20, 2015, 10:48 AM EST

    C.J. Prosise C.J. Prosise

    Whether it’s the Siberian Express rolling through most of the country (sorry, guys) or the grand reshuffling taking place on Brian Kelly’s coaching staff, Notre Dame announced a delay in the kickoff of spring practice.

  10. Spring solutions: Tight ends

    Feb 19, 2015, 11:44 AM EST

    Notre Dame v Arizona State Getty Images

    After an incredibly impressive run at the position, Notre Dame enters spring practice with nothing but question marks at tight end. After Brian Kelly watched Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Eifert, Troy Niklas and now Ben Koyack churn through his program, he’ll spend spring trying to figure out what exactly he has at the position.

  11. With smoke circling Gilmore and Denson, coaching staff coming into focus

    Feb 18, 2015, 11:47 AM EST

    Autry Denson AP

    On Tuesday, a flurry of reports had Brian Kelly focusing in on the final pieces of his reshuffled coaching staff. They include two likely additions, one transition, and a position shift.

  12. Notre Dame announces graduate transfer of Avery Sebastian

    Feb 18, 2015, 11:18 AM EST

    Mike Jensen, Avery Sebastian Mike Jensen, Avery Sebastian

    A few days after safety Avery Sebastian announced his intentions, Notre Dame made the commitment and graduate transfer of the former Cal safety official. Sebastian will enroll in graduate school and join the team in June.

  13. Spring solutions: Running backs

    Feb 17, 2015, 4:12 PM EST

    Tarean Folston, Daniel Gonzales, Obi Uzoma Tarean Folston, Daniel Gonzales, Obi Uzoma

    After missing out on a running back in the 2014 recruiting cycle, a once crowded depth chart now only features Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant. Two backs that once worried about having to find snaps will now have all the work they could ever want, with the majority of spring spent doing everything they can to stay healthy.

  14. Spring solutions: Quarterbacks

    Feb 16, 2015, 2:20 PM EST

    Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl Getty Images

    One of the most impressive statistical seasons in school history was flushed down the toilet when Everett Golson could not stop turning the football over. With fumbles, poor decision-making and some plain bad luck plaguing Golson’s otherwise exceptional season, Brian Kelly chose Malik Zaire to be his starter for the Music City Bowl.

  15. Mailbag: What to expect from the defense?

    Feb 16, 2015, 8:45 AM EST

    Brian Van Gorder Brian Van Gorder

    Finishing up a holiday weekend with part three of the mailbag.

  16. Mailbag, Part 2: What to do with the QBs?

    Feb 14, 2015, 7:18 PM EST

    Michigan v Notre Dame Getty Images

    Let’s continue with the mailbag, starting with my guess as to how the quarterback battle this spring ends up.

  17. Torii Hunter Jr. joins the Irish baseball team

    Feb 14, 2015, 1:42 PM EST

    Torii Hunter Jr., Corey Robinson, Ben Koyack Torii Hunter Jr., Corey Robinson, Ben Koyack

    Notre Dame has its next two-sport athlete. Sophomore wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr. has joined the baseball team, UND.com announced.

  18. Mailbag: Digging into some big changes

    Feb 13, 2015, 11:55 AM EST

    BSU Practice BSU Practice

    We’re going to break up this mailbag into a few different sections as well. With a lot of changes swirling through Brian Kelly’s football program, there’s plenty to cover on a usually slow February weekend.

  19. Notre Dame lands Cal graduate transfer Avery Sebastian

    Feb 12, 2015, 10:18 PM EST

    Mike Jensen, Avery Sebastian Mike Jensen, Avery Sebastian

    Brian Kelly hinted that Notre Dame wasn’t finished adding players to the roster on Signing Day. And on Thursday night, Kelly and the Irish coaching staff shored up one of their major deficiencies by adding Cal graduate transfer Avery Sebastian.

  20. Boise State’s Mike Sanford reportedly joining Notre Dame’s staff

    Feb 11, 2015, 1:38 PM EST

    BSU Practice BSU Practice

    Just days after losing Tony Alford, it looks like Brian Kelly is making a large move on his offensive coaching staff. Multiple reports have Boise State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford joining Notre Dame’s offensive staff.