Well, that hurt. Alabama completely dominated Notre Dame in the National Championship, routing Brian Kelly’s Fighting Irish 42-14. In a season where the Irish found a way to win game in, game out, the end came in a flurry of missed tackles and offensive ineptitude. On both sides of the ball, Notre Dame was outplayed by a nearly flawless Alabama team that put their stamp on the history of college football. And there was some garbage officiating.
I really can’t overstate how stunned I was by our defensive showing. Manti Te’o, ND’s All Everything linebacker and Heisman runner-up, missed more tackles in the first drive than he did all season. And, as Manti went, so went the Irish. Alabama had their way with Notre Dame, running up the gut early and often, gashing the boys in blue and gold seemingly at will. The sight of KLM and Louis Nix writhing on gurneys was sad punctuation to the constant failings of Coach Diaco’s schemes.
Offensively, Notre Dame got nothing done. Drives died before they began as Everett Golson struggled under constant and ferocious pressure. There was no semblance of a running game. Credit to Alabama’s sometimes maligned front four who came in with a chip on their shoulder and held Theo Riddick largely held in check.
The officials had some hand in the early stages, calling a horrific personal foul against Notre Dame that negated a fumble recovery on a punt and deprived the Irish of a possession deep in Alabama territory. That being said, the vaunted Irish defense couldn’t hold Alabama until late in the second quarter, by which point the game was well out of reach. Time and again, Notre Dame’s strengths failed to match Alabama’s and the end result became more and more certain with every tick of the clock.
It would be wrong to suggest that Notre Dame’s season was pointless or that the Irish have been relegated back to irrelevance. Simply being there was, to most, an unthinkable thought back in July or August. The Irish never quit against Bama, but they never had answers, either. The gap between the two teams is not down to some fictitious, conference-based superiority. It may have been down, simply, to experience, for the Irish looked and played nervous from the opening whistle. Whatever the cause(s), there is plenty of time between now and signing day to dissect the mess.
That said, what a season. 12-1 is something of which these young men can be incredibly proud. There is no shame in losing to Alabama – not the way they played. And not in the National Championship Game. For the seniors — for Manti and KLM and Tyler and the rest — these are young men whose careers traced an arc from the nadir of Notre Dame to a point that, while not the apex, is clearly miles beyond where the sane or rational would have predicted but three years ago. Regardless of tonight’s result, we owe them our thanks.