Leading up to Friday night's Rose Bowl contest, Alabama’s triumvirate of star quarterback Mac Jones, running back Najee Harris and wide receiver DeVonta Smith helped the undefeated powerhouse knock off each of its prior 11 opponents.
“I think they all have lots of goals and aspirations for our team,” head coach Nick Saban said earlier this week of the trio. “And they also have lots of goals and aspirations for themselves.”
Against Notre Dame, not surprisingly, the three helped the Crimson Tide near another of their goals: A possible third championship in six seasons.
Jones finished Alabama's (12–0) 31–14 victory over the Fighting Irish (10–2) with 303 yards and four touchdowns, tossing just five incompletions on his 31 pass attempts. Harris added 125 yards on 15 carries. The Fighting Irish also had no answer for Smith, who was recently named the AP Player of the Year, as he finished the win with seven catches, 130 receiving yards and three scores, tied for the most in Rose Bowl history.
“Probably one of the most selfless guys that I've ever had the opportunity to coach in terms of whatever he can do to help the team he wants to do,” Saban said of Smith prior to the victory.
On the opening drive, the Heisman Trophy finalist's first catch went for a 26-yard score. A second Crimson Tide score on their ensuing series gave the SEC champions a 14-point cushion. While the Fighting Irish broke through for a touchdown early in the second quarter, Alabama answered with another Smith touchdown—on a 34-yard reception—and took a 21-7 lead into halftime.
Smith added his third score with just under five minutes to go in the third quarter, stretching Alabama’s lead to three touchdowns, a deficit that proved to be too insurmountable for senior Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book and the Fighting Irish offense.
Book, the winningest quarterback in Notre Dame history, had thrown just two interceptions heading into his team's matchup with Alabama, but he tossed one in the defeat. For the game, Book completed 26 of 38 passes for 226 yards.
The loss also marked the latest BCS and New Year’s six bowl defeat for the Fighting Irish, who came into Friday’s game being outscored by 144 combined points in such games since 1998.
Alabama added a field goal early in the fourth quarter, extending its streak of scoring 30 or more points to 25 straight games. A one-yard rushing touchdown by Book inside two minutes to play in the contest proved no difference in the final outcome.
As a result of the victory, the Crimson Tide will play the winner of Ohio State and Clemson’s Sugar Bowl contest on Monday, Jan. 11. Regardless of its opponent in the national championship, Alabama's offensive stars will surely be prepared.
“Those guys came back and kind of put the 'we’ before ‘me,’” Jones said before the win. “And they wanted to win a national championship. We're where we want to be.”