MIAMI – Defense carried Notre Dame all the way to Miami and the BCS Championship. The lack of any cost the Irish once they got there.
Notre Dame’s fifth-ranked defense was no match for Alabama’s offense, as the Crimson Tide rolled to its second consecutive national title in a 42-14 victory on Monday.
The previously undefeated Irish had arrived in South Florida as the top team in the nation and the best in eight different defensive categories, but right from the get-go, Alabama showed it didn’t care what the gaudy stats said.
“Our offensive tempo was the key to the game,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “We were able to establish and maintain the run with our backs and line doing a great job and then AJ [McCarron] and our receivers converted third downs and maintained drives. We were able to possess the ball, and it limited their opportunities.”
Alabama’s bruising offensive line overpowered the Irish front seven.
“They were kind of predictable on defense,” Alabama tackle D.J. Fluker said. “We knew what they would do so it was just a matter of executing. They are physical, but we outplayed them. Every time we play, we bring our best.”
A rushing defense that entered allowing only 92 yards per game on the ground, was gashed for 33 yards on the first Bama possession alone, ending in Eddie Lacy’s 20-yard touchdown run less than three minutes into the game. The Crimson Tide finished with 90 in the first quarter and 265 in the game.
If a score against Notre Dame in the first quarter doesn’t sound familiar, it’s because it didn’t happen to the Irish all season. Lacy’s score was the first touchdown Notre Dame allowed in the first quarter, and by the end of the first frame, Alabama’s 14 points were five more than the Irish had squandered in the first quarter in their first 12 games combined.
Things only got worse, as Alabama scored touchdowns on its first three possessions.
By the end of the first half, Alabama’s 28 points were the most Notre Dame had given up in any game this season, which came against Pittsburgh – it took three overtimes for the Panthers to hang 26 on the Irish.
Just how bad did things get? Notre Dame yielded the longest scoring drive in BCS National Championship Game history, as McCarron connected with Amari Cooper for a 34-yard touchdown strike in the third quarter to make it 35-0. The drive went 10 plays for 97 yards and was the longest scoring drive against the Irish in 678 consecutive snaps.
If that’s not bad enough, the defense had allowed just two touchdowns to opponents in 18 red-zone chances prior to seeing Alabama go a perfect 5-for-5 in those situations.
“Their defense had been impressive in the red zone, and we knew that we would have to do something about it if we wanted to win the game,” Saban said. “Our players focused on it and turned our yards into points. Our red zone offense had been good most of the year, but it was exceptional [Monday].”
Notre Dame’s star linebacker Manti Te’o was mainly kept quiet, finishing with 10 tackles as he saw his college career come to an end with his unit allowing 529 yards of offense.
“I think everybody knows about Alabama’s offensive line,” Te’o said. “They’re very big and they’re very athletic and very strong. We battled — they just did what Alabama does. We had opportunities to make plays, we just didn’t capitalize on those opportunities.
Lacy was responsible for 157 of those yards – the fourth-most in a championship game and 14th 100-plus yard rushing performance.
For the nation’s top-scoring defense, allowing 42 points is something that Notre Dame hadn’t done since Nov. 28, 2009, in a 45-38 loss at Stanford – well before head coach Brian Kelly arrived in South Bend.
“Alabama was the better team [Monday],” Kelly said. “They ran the football well. Our strength all year has been playing physical and tackling and we did not tackle well. I give all the credit to Alabama. They were the better football team and they deserved to win.”
While Notre Dame’s defense was held at bay, Alabama’s was above and beyond dominant, holding the Irish to a season-worst 32 yards on the ground.
Dating to the 2009 BCS Championship against Texas, the Crimson Tide held opponents scoreless for 107:07 in BCS championship games – 6:15 vs. the Longhorns, a full 60:00 against LSU, and 40:52 against the Irish.
The streak was finally snapped at the 4:08 mark of the third quarter when quarterback Everett Golson scored on a 2-yard run to make it a 35-7 game.
Golson’s run also ended Alabama’s streak of unanswered points in BCS title games at 69. The Crimson Tide entered Monday night having scored 34 unanswered points in title games after shutting out LSU 21-0 and scoring the final 13 points in its 37-21 win against Texas.
With its defense and rushing attack, Alabama could sit on a small lead and milk the clock. The Crimson Tide’s 35-0 lead wasn’t only too much for the Irish to overcome, it was record-breaking.
McCarron’s first touchdown pass to Cooper gave Bama a five-score lead in the third quarter, and is the largest shutout lead by any team in a BCS National Championship Game. Nebraska’s 34-0 deficit against Miami (Fla.) in 2002 was the previous record.
Saban moved to 62-3 when his team held a lead at halftime and Alabama moved to 51-0 in the past five seasons when rushing for at least 150 yards to become the first back-to-back national champions since Nebraska in 1994-95.
Monday night’s attendance at Sun Life Stadium of 80,120 is the largest crowd for any event in the stadium’s 26-year history. … Lacy and T.J. Yeldon each posted 100-plus yard rushing games, becoming the third duo to accomplish the feat and second Alabama pair. … McCarron threw four touchdown passes, matching the second-most in a national title game. He is the first Alabama quarterback to throw a touchdown pass in a BCS national title game.
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