Alabama overmatches Notre Dame in joke of a title game
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Can you tell me that joke again? Please? You know the one: "Notre Dame barely beat teams that aren't nearly as good as Alabama, so Notre Dame can barely beat Alabama!" Haha! That's my favorite.
The Crimson Tide beat the Fighting Irish for the national title, 42-14, with the oldest trick in the book: having much better players. Notre Dame was not simply beaten; it was overmatched.
Notre Dame had the fantasy of keeping it close, making a couple of plays on special teams and winning in the fourth quarter, but that was overwhelmed by the reality of having to play Alabama in football. Alabama enjoys football very much. Football is sort of its thing. And now Alabama has won three titles in four years.
Football is also the South's thing, and the SEC's thing, and you might be sick of it, but that doesn't change the truth. The rest of the country is playing catch-up, and not playing it particularly well. Notre Dame earned its spot in the title game, but that just means it earned this butt-kicking.
In the Alabama locker room, as players yelled, danced and hugged ... no, actually, I didn't see any yelling, dancing and hugging. It didn't have a national-title feel at all. It felt like Alabama had just beaten Mississippi State. And so I had to ask Crimson Tide corner Dee Milliner: What's up with that? Is this routine for you now?
"We're gonna celebrate," Milliner said, as though CELEBRATE NATIONAL TITLE was just another task Nick Saban would assign his team. "It's just, in here right now, people do a lot of talking. It probably hasn't gotten to them yet. We're gonna celebrate. But we do expect ourselves to be the best every year."
The Tide were the best this year. Notre Dame deserved its shot; the Fighting Irish went undefeated against a tough schedule. Maybe Oregon would have fared better against Alabama. Probably. But I don't think Oregon would have won.
Saban has built something bigger than a program. It is a machine, and the players are happy to be silent cogs, always grinding. Their collective dedication to greatness is almost a sickness. After the Tide ran for 350 yards in the SEC championship game against Georgia, left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio declared that the offensive line could play better.
"I took that frustration into this game," Kouandjio said.
He was frustrated by plowing for 350 rushing yards. Absurd, but this is how Alabama operates.
We can call this a victory for Saban over Brian Kelly, but the truth is that their game plans had something in common: They both coached like they knew from the opening kickoff that Alabama had a lot more talent.
Saban pounded the right side of the Notre Dame defense with running back Eddie Lacy and sent receivers on corner routes, knowing full well that the Irish could not stop either. Meanwhile, Kelly tried to keep his players as far away from the middle of the Alabama defense as possible. By the second quarter he was sending tight end Tyler Eifert into the stands to catch passes, which were intercepted by Alabama fans.
Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker had challenged Lacy on the team bus. Fluker told Lacy that if he scored two or three touchdowns, Alabama would win. Lacy scored two (one on a reception). "We passed the ball a lot during the course of the game, but we knew that running game was there," Fluker said.
They knew, he said, "before the game started."
Alabama had the better quarterback, a much better offensive line and a dominant defense. The Crimson Tide won this so easily, they even took time to confirm that Heisman voters made the right choice. Remember: Johnny Manziel actually beat this Alabama team. Meanwhile, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, a magnificent player for three years and a transcendent player for one, did very little to stop Alabama.
Irish fans can blame the Pac-12 officials for blowing two calls while the game was in doubt. One was a pass to future Pro Bowl tight end Eifert that was ruled incomplete. The other was an Alabama fumble on a punt return; the zebras ruled that Notre Dame interfered with the returner, and that wiped out the fumble and the Irish recovery deep in Alabama territory.
I applaud Notre Dame fans who make this argument. It's fun to believe your team will win, even after it lost. But come on. The Eifert catch was not a catch -- we've all seen that kind of play 100 times, and I don't think Eifert secured the ball before his foot was out of bounds. The punt-return call was a bad one, and a big one ...
But come on. If this game came down to one or two breaks, then so did Reagan-Mondale. It was 28-0 at halftime. The Irish could not even field a punt properly. The vaunted defense looked slow and small. Alabama running back Lacy looked like a kid who forged his birth certificate so he could dominate Pop Warner. Quarterback AJ McCarron, who has struggled at times to play as well as the rest of his team, was brutally efficient. He even overcame some pregame adversity when the remote-control on his hotel-room TV broke.
Just admit it, everybody. Alabama was the best team in the nation this year, and it wasn't close. The SEC is better, and it isn't close. At this point, the rest of the country's best hope for a national title is secession.
Notre Dame alums can walk out with their heads held high, and not just to avoid the stench. They love their school, and that, ultimately, is the best part of college football: Even when your team loses, you really wouldn't trade places with the other fans, because that would mean trading friends and memories, too. But reality, like Eddie Lacy, hit hard Monday night. Outlined against a blue-black January sky, the Four Horsemen got run over by a locomotive.