Fast start helps Tide beat Irish for title, 42-14
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The Tide sure did roll.
Alabama proved unstoppable from the outset of the BCS championship game Monday night. The Crimson Tide mounted touchdown drives of 82, 61 and 80 yards on its first three possessions and went on to beat Notre Dame 42-14.
The lightning-quick start gave the Tide a 21-0 lead one play into the second quarter, and Alabama built it by blowing the Fighting Irish off the ball.
"We knew we wanted to run the ball and hit them early, and I think that's what we did," center Barrett Jones said. "We couldn't be happier with the way we came out and started the game."
Alabama dominated with an offensive line that includes three All-Americas - first-teamers Jones and left guard Chance Warmack, and second-teamer D.J. Fluker at right tackle. They created gaping holes against a team ranked fourth in the nation in run defense, and neutralized Heisman Trophy finalist Manti Te'o, who became a non-factor.
"I love this group of guys" said Jones, a senior. "They're by far the best O-line I've ever played on - very physical and very assignment-oriented."
Notre Dame entered the game with 34 sacks, but A.J. McCarron was given plenty of time to throw. He hit eight of his first nine passes, including a 3-yard toss to Michael Williams for the second touchdown.
"The running game was a big key," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "When you run the ball, it opens up the offense and gives you more options."
The early clock-eating drives took Notre Dame's offense out of the game. The Irish gained only 23 yards before Alabama had 21 points. Time of possession at that juncture was 12:12 for the Crimson Tide to 2:52 for the Fighting Irish.
The matchup of Alabama's ground attack - with 1,000-yard rushers Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon - against Notre Dame's stout defense was expected to be pivotal. It was, and like the game, it quickly became no contest.
Alabama had 74 yards rushing before Notre Dame attempted a running play.
"The O-line came out and got great push," Lacy said.
Notre Dame's defense wasn't accustomed to being pushed around in such a manner, and the Tide was surprised to be so dominant.
"I never saw that coming," tackle Cyrus Kouandjio said, "but it happened."
"Notre Dame had a really highly rated statistical defensive team," he said. "I thought a real challenge for us in the game was how we would control the line of scrimmage. That's probably the thing that was most surprising to me - how we were able to control the line of scrimmage, especially early in the game."
The first scoring drive - which took only five plays - was the longest the Irish had allowed all season.
"Alabama was the better team," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "They ran the football well. Our strength all year has been playing physical and tackling, and we did not tackle well together."
McCarron threw downfield on the second play to Kevin Norwood for 29 yards. Three plays later, Lacy found lots of room up the middle and ran through the grasp of a cornerback en route to a 20-yard touchdown.
Most of the time in the early going, the Tide ran to the left and away from Te'o. Part of the game plan?
"It just happened," Kouandjio said.
"The coaching staff did an excellent job game-plan-wise breaking down Notre Dame's defense," McCarron said. "They really had a great game plan for us coming in tonight, and my teammates did a great job of executing."
Alabama's linemen repeatedly locked up Te'o. When Lacy ran up the middle for another 20-yard gain on third-and-1 to the Notre Dame 3, Te'o was blocked out of play by Warmack and ended up chasing the play from behind.
Jones helped knock Te'o aside when Yeldon ran over right guard for a 1-yard score to make it 21-0. That was the second rushing touchdown allowed by the Irish, matching what they gave up during the entire regular season.
Notre Dame had allowed only two players to rush for 100 yards, but Lacy finished with 140 and Yeldon added 108.
Leading up to the game, Jones missed considerable practice time with a foot sprain, and he said his teammates up front took up the slack for him.
"They had to help me out a lot tonight, because I wasn't really 100 percent," Jones said. "I had to get help on plays I don't usually get a lot of help on. They helped me get through this game. It was painful, but you couldn't have pulled me off the field with a tractor."