The 2013 BCS National Championship Game was, for all intents and purposes, over when the horn sounded for the end first quarter. Alabama was a play away from going up 21-0 to start the second and Notre Dame had only ran eight total offensive plays to the tune of one first down and 23 yards.
Alabama, on both sides of the ball, snuffed out the Fighting Irish in the first 15:04. Between the Tide's game plan, execution and their physical punch, they were able to lay the blueprint for the beatdown early and never look back.
We'll take a look at how they constructed this effort from the first snap of the first quarter through that initial snap of the second quarter that finished off an eight-play touchdown drive.
Nick Saban's team, first and foremost, helped itself, but it also was helped by the Fighting Irish's poor execution. Missed tackles and getting caught peeking in the backfield characterized the Irish defense's early showing.
On offense, the play-calling, albeit eight plays, was less than inventive. Two run plays in eight chances, no establishing of Everett Golson as a run threat to work the safeties or use of the zone-read to find openings.
When the Tide got the ball, they stuck to their well rehearsed plan of attack. An early run was stuffed by the Irish, but it also got the team from South Bend sucked up enough in its run responsibilities to make the second-down play-action pass a big success.
Kevin Norwood was wide open as safety Matthias Farley was peeking in the backfield instead of taking his drop and getting off the hash in a hurry.
Next we see Alabama go back to the run and Notre Dame's initial aggressiveness has been tempered. There is less attacking and more reacting as Te'o takes a poor angle to the football and misses on a tackle.
Te'o is not the only guy to miss a tackle, though; Zeke Motta is the next person to whiff as Lacy keeps his legs churning. Then, Kapron Lewis-Moore, one of the fifth-year players and a defensive captain, misses a tackle before Dan Fox finally corrals Lacy.
After the 10-yard gain, Fox adds insult to injury, thanks to a 15-yard personal foul penalty for grabbing the facemask. Louis Nix III compounds the problem by jumping offsides. The next thing you know the Tide is knocking on the door of the red zone, thanks to a timely play-action pass, a solid run and 20 free yards.
After a well-defended TJ Yeldon run, we see the first big play that rocked the Irish's base: Eddie Lacy's 20-yard touchdown run. This was the type of play that the Irish had stopped like clockwork all season long and in an area of the field that they had defended remarkably well. Lacy's run changed all of that.
You can see here Anthony Steen, No. 61 for Alabama, is out of his stance heading for Manti Te'o. The Tide use Cyrus Kouandjio and Chance Warmack to double-team the play-side defensive end. Barrett Jones handles the front-side defensive tackle on his own.
Dan Fox, the "pass specialist" linebacker for the Irish, jumps outside to avoid the block, leaving a massive run lane for Lacy. Steen gets just a small piece of Te'o. Steen's on the ground as the linebacker is trying to shuffle across the top to make the tackle.
Unlike most of the season, Te'o doesn't get there, he misses the tackle and Lacy takes off, breaking two more tackles on his way into the end zone.
Alabama's offense has done the heavy lifting. It had squared up in the alley for this street fight against the Irish's toughest part and decked them with relative ease. The Irish fans, the Irish offense, the Irish coaching staff and team all viewed that defense as tough, and Alabama made light work of it.
So, if you're Brian Kelly, you could come out and prove that you've got some toughness of your own. Use your offensive line to prove you too can block, run the ball and win battles. Or, you could come out and throw three straight passes before punting the ball away.
Two of those three passes were to Tyler Eifert, the big-time tight end. That's a plus. Except, as Alabama showed for much of the game, its own Dee Milliner was more than up to the task. After forcing Eifert out of bounds on 2nd-and-2, Milliner does another brilliant job of making the play difficult.
Instead of keeping a drive alive, Notre Dame is punting the ball away.
There is of course the hullabaloo with the kick catching interference and the muff that, while wrong, ultimately results in Alabama getting the ball with 61 yards to go for a score. Ten plays later, five runs and five passes, and the Irish are staring at each other wondering what happened.
On the plus side, Notre Dame forced AJ McCarron and Alabama to convert third downs; the Tide obliged the Irish by picking up all three third-down tries with relative ease. If the first 20-yard run by Lacy was a punch in the Irish's face, his second run was fist to the gut—a fist that doubled the Irish over.
After the Zeke Motta missed tackle, Lacy had a delightful jaunt through the levels of the Irish defense, including running past the Heisman finalist who was attached to a blocker like his mission on the play was to stay blocked.
Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier had the Irish on a string, as evidenced by the play-action touchdown pass to tight end Michael Williams. Manti Te'o is under Nussmeier's spell as he gets sucked up to play-action and McCarron makes the easy toss.
Enter Brian Kelly, with points a must for his team. Things start out all right with 15 yards on the first two plays and a first down. Perhaps now is when the Irish come alive.
It's not. They gain zero yards after that. Running back Theo Riddick is stuffed by the Tide on first down. Then two incompletions put the ball back into the Tide's hands as they are chasing after Golson, keeping the young quarterback under duress.
Four drives into the game and everything Alabama has done, has worked. On offense Alabama is humming like a machine. On defense the Tide clearly have Notre Dame rattled and out of sync.
The first time the Tide had the ball, they set the Irish up for play-action merely to knock them down with the run. The second time Nick Saban's team had the ball they toyed with Notre Dame, yo-yoing them up and down on a string. Now, on their third drive, with the Irish essentially guessing on every play, it was time for a dagger.
This eight play drive had a little bit of everything: two big play action passes for first downs, a fresh running back in TJ Yeldon carrying the ball and ultimately, another touchdown. The big play came on an AJ McCarron to Amari Cooper pass this time, not on the ground.
Unlike the previous pass plays that were big gainers, Nussmeier and Alabama do not bother with trying to dupe the Irish; the Crimson Tide go right after Zeke Motta with a simple corner route. The senior safety, who has been involved in run support all game long, is slow off the hash and McCarron to Cooper becomes an easy pitch and catch.
Then, to cap things off the Tide go to the youngster, TJ Yeldon to finish the drill. The offensive line does their job, but as you can see, the Fighting Irish are diving at legs and getting dragged around by the freshman running back. Not exactly the chest puffed out effort they showed in goal line situations like USC or Stanford.
The only thing that stops this from being a 21-0 first quarter is the clock, and Yeldon gets his touchdown on the first snap of the second half.
Regardless of the side that you cheered for, this was most certainly a masterful performance to watch. Perfect play calling. Outstanding execution. Just from top to bottom a brilliant show put on in the early going to get out in front and suck every ounce of confidence out of the Fighting Irish.
Not every script or gameplan comes out perfectly, but for the Tide, on Monday night, that was most certainly the case. They sucked the air out of the Irish's sales before Kelly's team could get anything going and they never looked back.