This wasn’t supposed to be the year for Alabama. Seems foolish, now doesn’t it?
The Crimson Tide returned only four defensive starters from the 2011 title squad. A Heisman finalist, Trent Richardson, left for the NFL.
A year later, a dominant defense and run game sealed a second consecutive Tide championship.
Alabama may be automatic now, fielding a defense whose only weakness is Johnny Manziel. Alabama made easy work of Notre Dame 42-14 to win its third BCS championship in four seasons, holding No. 1 teams scoreless in title games for nearly nine quarters going back to the win over LSU a year ago.
Nick Saban’s fourth national title (including one championship at LSU) was the second most lopsided championship in BCS history after USC’s 55-19 win over Oklahoma for the 2004 title.
Notre Dame ranked fourth in the country in rush defense at 92.4 yards per game. Eddie Lacy topped that on his own. The Irish never allowed a team to march 80 yards for a touchdown. Alabama did it four times, including a 97-yard touchdown drive.
Alabama sealed its spot as the king of college football early with three touchdowns in the first 15:04, earning the first back-to-back BCS championships and first consecutive national titles since USC won the Associated Press championship in 2003 and the BCS title in 2004.
RAPID REACTION: Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14
Player of the game: Eddie Lacy.
This spot could easily belong to Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker, Cyrus Kouandjio and Anthony Steen, who pushed around the Notre Dame defensive line all night. But Lacy put in plenty of work on his own, swatting away 248-pound defensive linemen, spinning through defenders and bullying his way through Notre Dame’s vaunted run D. He finished with 140 yards on 20 carries with a 20-yard TD run and 11-yard TD catch.
Turning point. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s interception.
It would be too easy to say the turning point was when Alabama took the field, though the final score indicated as much. Instead, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s interception of Everett Golson early in the third quarter was the end for Notre Dame. As Notre Dame built momentum on offense in the third quarter, Golson took a shot down the sideline to DaVaris Daniels. Cornerback Dee Milliner tipped the ball away when Clinton-Dix swooped in to intercept the pass inside the 5-yard line. Alabama capitalized with a 97-yard touchdown drive to take a 35-0 lead.
Unsung hero: Amari Cooper.
With a run game and defense like Alabama had Monday, the Tide didn’t need an overwhelming effort from the passing game. They got it anyway. Alabama’s freshman wide receiver Amari Cooper turned in clutch catches for a six-reception, 105-yard, two-touchdown night. In one of the few miscues for Alabama, Cooper failed to lay out for a diving catch on a deep pass for a potential touchdown from A.J. McCarron. The Tide quarterback finished 20 of 28 for 264 yards with four touchdown passes.
Needed more: Manti Te’o.
The Notre Dame defense missed tackles all evening, and Te’o wasn’t the only culprit. But the Irish needed more out of their Maxwell Award-winning linebacker. He was invisible for most of the night, and when he did show up, it was for the wrong reasons. Te’o whiffed on a handful of tackles, most glaringly late in the second quarter on a potential stop in the backfield on T.J. Yeldon, a freshman. The Alabama running back still had a seven-yard gain. Alabama finished with 265 rushing yards and 5.9 yards per carry.
Questionable call: Kick catch interference in the first quarter.
With the way Alabama took control all evening, the penalty that negated an Alabama fumble deep in its own territory may not have made a difference in the grand scheme. But a Notre Dame scoring chance to answer Alabama’s 7-0 lead may have slowed the Tide for a moment. Christion Jones fumbled a punt, recovered by Notre Dame, but officials ruled kick catch interference even though an Irish player never made contact with Jones. Rogers Redding, the national coordinator of officials and a former SEC coordinator of officials, told the ESPN broadcast crew the call was correct as Jones did not have room to make the fair catch.
Stat that matters: Third down conversions.
This may say it all: Notre Dame started 0-for-5 on third down and 0-for-1 on fourth while Alabama started 6-of-8. Notre Dame finished 2-of-8 on third down, Alabama 8-of-13.
Three snap judgements:
Saban’s run is one for the ages. Teams have been dominant over stretches of time, most recently USC. But Alabama’s run may the most impressive we’ve seen in several decades. Three national titles in four years at Alabama matches Nebraska’s run from 1994-97 and Notre Dame’s from 1946-49. Throw in the 2003 title at LSU, Saban has four titles in nine years.
With or without Eddie Lacy, Alabama’s loaded at the skill positions. Lacy’s been the team MVP of championship season against Georgia and Notre Dame, which may push him to declare for the NFL Draft. If he leaves, Alabama still has freshmen T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper working with rising senior A.J. McCarron. If there’s a question mark it could be offensive line, which will lose Barrett Jones and Warmack. Fluker and Kouandjio are also draft eligible.
Notre Dame can’t let this loss define the Irish. Plain and simple, Notre Dame was outclassed Monday, but the Irish can’t let this rout spill into next season. Brian Kelly’s team reached the national title stage ahead of schedule, but Golson and many key cogs on the defense return in 2013.