Luck of the Irish finally runs out for Notre Dame

Wed, Jan 9, 2013, 00:00

AMERICAN FOOTBALL:They called the football game played here Monday night a national championship, a title clash for the ages, epic, 1monumental, historic.

Then Notre Dame kicked the ball off. Then Alabama drove down the field, unimpeded, as if out for a night-time stroll. It all went downhill from there, for Notre Dame and for those interested in the most overhyped college football game in years.

Instead, this national championship ended early, in a flurry of Alabama touchdowns that allowed the Crimson Tide to seize their third title in four seasons, 42-14, with all the ease predicted by the oddsmakers, sapping this game of all drama.

Alabama jumped to a 14-0 lead after one quarter and opened up a 28-0 advantage by the half, as Notre Dame fans streamed for the exits and the beer lines. The whole exercise brought to mind a famous quote from Mike Tyson. Everybody has a plan, he said – until getting punched in the face.

On Monday, Alabama bludgeoned Notre Dame, repeatedly. They controlled the game with both lines, on offence and defence, putting on a clinic in power football. It ran all over a defence known for its ability to stop the run. Alabama so dominated that it reminded sports fans that NBA games were also available for viewing Monday night, and that Notre Dame’s best chance for a national title is in women’s basketball.

This only strengthened the claim few at Alabama dared to make before Monday night: that coach Nick Saban, has created a college football dynasty. This was his fourth national championship and third since he left the Miami Dolphins to return to college football at Alabama. One could easily argue it was also his most impressive.

Only two other college coaches can claim at least four titles. One is John McKay of Southern California. The other is Paul “Bear” Bryant, the legend who made Alabama football famous.

33rd NFL team

Now there is Saban, a coach who must contend with fewer scholarships than afforded Bryant and who faces far stiffer competition. Yet despite those limitations, Saban runs a program that resembles a 33rd NFL team as closely as a college football powerhouse. This season, despite the close loss to Texas AM, only reinforced that notion.

Saban spent all of last week scoffing at any comparison between himself and Bryant, and this from a man with a 9-foot-tall statue of himself outside his office. Monday was another step, for Saban’s legacy and for Alabama’s program and for the Southeastern Conference, from which a team secured the national championship for the seventh-straight season.

The suspense ended almost immediately. Almost. Notre Dame stuffed the Crimson Tide on their first play from scrimmage. On the next snap, quarterback AJ McCarron found receiver Kevin Norwood for a 29-yard gain. Notre Dame compounded that with a facemask penalty, then compounded that with a defensive offsides. Its vaunted defence, led by linebacker Manti Te’o, was generally ineffective.

Running back Eddie Lacy finished off the drive with a 20-yard touchdown, his path largely unchallenged, his body largely untouched. It was the first time this season Notre Dame allowed a first-quarter touchdown. The 82-yard drive was the longest this year against the Fighting Irish.

Got worse

The worst start Notre Dame could have imagined only worsened from that point. Officials ruled a completion incomplete, and when the Irish appeared to recover a fumble on the ensuing punt, officials flagged them for catching interference.

Alabama simply resumed its rush to judgment. McCarron continued to hand the ball to Lacy, who continued to plunge forward, mostly at the right side of Notre Dames defence, which looked like a matador, with Lacy playing the bull.

By the time Alabama scored its second touchdown, on a pass from McCarron to tight end Michael Williams, the Crimson Tide boasted a 123-8 advantage in total yardage. By the time Alabama scored its third touchdown, a TJ Yeldon run on the first play of the second quarter, the Fighting Irish had 23 yards – and the Crimson Tide had 21 points.

As the game approached, the hype ballooned so as to dominate the national conversation about sports, until this felt less like a national championship game and more like a history lesson. Here they stood: Notre Dame and Alabama, golden helmets against red elephants, storied tradition opposite storied tradition, football in the heartland v football in the South.

If college football released an encyclopedia, these schools would occupy two of the larger volumes. Alabama claimed 14 national championships before Saturday; Notre Dame 11.

Before Saturday, the most-watched college football game took place between Texas and Southern California, in 2006, and it averaged 35.6 million viewers. This contest was expected to challenge and ultimately trump that number, at least until they played it.

Notre Dame did score in the third quarter and ended the shutout. It will eventually celebrate a 12-1 season that brought the return of Notre Dame to college footballs elite.

But not on Monday night. In this dud, Notre Dame flopped and Alabama triumphed.

New York Times

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