For the fifth time in the seven-year era of the College Football Playoff, Alabama will compete for the national championship.
The undefeated Crimson Tide, the CFP’s No. 1 seed, made relatively easy work of No. 4 seed Notre Dame in the Arlington, Texas, edition of the Rose Bowl. Alabama stormed out to a quick 14-0 lead on its first two drives and never looked back in a 31-14 victory.
Like most Alabama victories this season, Friday night’s game featured a heavy dose of DeVonta Smith.
The Heisman Trophy favorite was the best player on the field, routinely torching Notre Dame defenders with his precise route-running and explosive burst after the catch. Mac Jones, Alabama’s other Heisman finalist, found Jones seven times for 130 yards and three touchdowns.
And if Smith’s 26-yard touchdown catch that capped off Alabama’s first drive set a tone for the evening, the absurd 53-yard run by Najee Harris on the team’s second drive served as a pretty apt metaphor for the talent discrepancy on the field.
On Harris’ run, he pulled off a remarkable hurdle over Irish cornerback Nick McCloud and was off to the races for a huge gain.
On the very next play, Jones found a wide-open Jahleel Billingsley for a 12-yard touchdown to give Alabama a 14-0 lead.
Notre Dame managed to reach the end zone on the ensuing drive, but the approach the Irish had to take to put points on the board reflected the difference between the two sides. Notre Dame needed 15 plays to go 75 yards before it finally scored on fourth-and-goal to cap off a drive that took more than eight minutes off the clock.
The touchdown, a one-yard plunge from Kyren Williams, made it 14-7. But any momentum that Notre Dame may have had quickly dissipated.
Alabama’s next drive was a breeze. The Tide went 84 yards in just six plays, taking just 2:27 off the clock. The end result was another touchdown for Smith, this time a 34-yard catch-and-run, and Alabama’s lead was back to 14.
Notre Dame doomed by lack of explosiveness
Though Notre Dame’s defense would muster a few stops along the way, the Irish offense just had no way of generating any explosive plays. Ian Book completed 26 of his 35 throws, but for only 226 yards. And a significant portion of those yards came in garbage time.
Most of Notre Dame’s production in the passing game came via running backs and tight ends. Book didn’t target a wide receiver until Notre Dame’s fourth series and he didn’t complete a pass to a wide receiver until the team’s fifth offensive series.
Simply put, the Irish had no threats on the outside that presented a challenge for the Alabama defense. That allowed the Tide’s defense to key in on the Irish’s ground attack, which was limited to just 3.6 yards per attempt.
Alabama tacked on only 10 second-half points. But with Notre Dame unable to do much of anything offensively, the fact that Alabama fell well under its season scoring average (49.7 ppg) had no effect on the outcome of the game.
Alabama will now move on to the College Football Playoff title game against the winner of Friday night’s No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Ohio State semifinal matchup.
For Notre Dame, it’s the latest example of the program coming up small on the sport’s biggest stage.
The Irish were trounced 30-3 by Clemson in the CFP semifinals in 2018 and, of course, were blown out 42-14 by Alabama in the BCS title game back in 2012.
Brian Kelly has consistently had Notre Dame among the nation’s top programs, but there is still a considerable gap between the Irish and programs like Alabama. It’s an incredibly difficult gap to close.
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