Notre Dame Football: 'We Aren't There Yet'

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Notre Dame Football: 'We Aren't There Yet'
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Lacy Dominates Notre Dame's defense

Notre Dame had history on it's side:

  • The Irish were 4-0-1 all-time when ranked No. 1 facing the team ranked No. 2.
  • Never in the BCS era had a quarterback successfully led his team to back-to-back National Championships, as AJ McCarron was aiming to accomplish that feat. (Chris Weinke of Florida State in 2000, Ken Dorsey of Miami in 2002 and Matt Leinart of USC in 2005 had all failed in their respective bids for a repeat.)
  • Notre Dame was 5-1 all-time versus Alabama.
  • Rounding out his third season on the Irish sidelines, Brian Kelly seemed poised to join the likes of Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz as Notre Dame coaches who had all won championships in year number three as Golden Domers.

But history---just like destiny and legacy---didn't play a single snap in Miami on Jan. 7. But Alabama runningback Eddie Lacy sure did.

Standing 6"1" and weighing 220 lbs., the Crimson Tide's junior running back met far more resistance from his own game jersey than he did from the Golden Dome defense. Advertised as the strength of a unit that allowed only two rushing touchdowns and a mere 3.2 yards per carry during the regular season, the Notre Dame front seven found itself out-manned and out-muscled from the opening bell.  

Together with backfield mate T.J. Yeldon, Lacy led an Alabama rushing attack that compiled more than 260 yards on the ground, and a pair of touchdowns---including an impressive 82-yard scoring drive that opened the game, and effectively closed the book on dreams of turning South Bend into title town.

It wasn't necessarily that Alabama had scored, it was how they had done so---easily, methodically and strategically, pounding the pigskin right up the proverbial gut of the Irish defense with no regard for Manti Te'o or any of his normally sure-tackling teammates. As the most-decorated player in the history of college football, Te'o was reduced to being simply the most-recognizable pin to be bowled over and broken down by Lacy.  By the end of the evening, several of Notre Dame's star-studded front defenders were hobbled. The rest were humbled.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Manti Te'o had no answer

And when Tide quarterback AJ McCarron chose to take the attack to the air, he was greeted with open passing lanes and a spacious secondary, thanks in large part to a ground game that had already occupied all the Irish attention. For the night, McCarron finished 20-28, for 264 yards and tossing 4 touchdown's, succeeding where Weinke, Dorsey and Leinart had all failed.

Under center on the other side, Notre Dame signal-caller Everett Golson can hang his helmet on the fact that he wasn't the problem. Rendered ineffective by an early deficit (Alabama built a 21-0 lead just four seconds into the second quarter,) and a stalled running game (19 carries, 32 yards,), Golson and the Irish offense was forced to become one-dimensional, attempting to play catch-up against an Alabama team that was simply functioning on an entirely different level. The Notre Dame quarterback completed 21 of 36 passes, tallying 270 yards and 2 touchdowns (one on the ground). 

Tagged with 1 interception, Alabama's third quarter pick was less a function of Golson's mistake, and much more a credit to a dazzling display by defensiveback Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, who hauled in a pass tipped by fellow defensiveback Dee Milliner, while managing to drag the requisite one-foot within the lines of the Orange Bowl turf.

The spectacular play seemingly served as a microcosm of the entire evening, one in which every effort by Notre Dame was met with a significantly more-impressive response by Alabama. Trailing 28-0---but showing real signs of life for the first time all night---the red zone turnover ended the opening drive of the second half.  In effect, it ended the game as well.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix hauls in an acrobatic 3rd quarter interception

Appearing in the title game for the first time since the BCS was created, Notre Dame was visibly unprepared for what the moment had in store. Their signature golden helmets were rendered dull by the spotlight of the season's biggest contest, every flaw exposed on the most public of all stages. Notre Dame just wasn't ready.

But don't blame the Irish. This wasn't about them. This was all about Alabama. They were simply better in every phase: dominant on defense, overpowering on offense and more sound on special teams. Looking every part the dynasty they are being labeled, the Crimson Tide rolled to a third BCS National Title in four years---extending the SEC's string of championships to seven straight in the process.

Was the 2012-13 campaign effectively decided in Atlanta more than a month ago, when Alabama edged-out a significantly more competitive Georgia team in the SEC Championship game? Perhaps. That we'll never know. But after a 42-14 drubbing that featured limited fight---and even less luck---from the Irish, we know that Notre Dame doesn't yet belong amongst ranks of the nation's elite.

In a season that featured 12 wins and the program's first No. 1 ranking in 19 years, the Catholic school from Indiana made major strides in 2012. Sadly; however, there still remain quite a few steps to be taken before Notre Dame arrives atop college football's final standings.

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