DeVonta Smith, Alabama Dominate Notre Dame, Advance to 2021 CFP Title Game

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 2, 2021

Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) and wide receiver John Metchie III (8) celebrate Smith's touchdown catch as Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton (14) walks away in the first half of the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game in Arlington, Texas, Friday, Jan. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)
Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

Alabama will compete in the College Football Playoff National Championship for the fifth time in six years after beating Notre Dame 31-14 in the Rose Bowl.

The Crimson Tide opened as a three-score favorite and delivered a dominant performance to justify that status.

For the Fighting Irish, this is yet another overwhelming defeat on the big stage. Despite that big win over Clemson in November, the gap between them and the Power Five elite seems to be as wide as ever. 

Sports Illustrated @SInow

Y I K E S https://t.co/HvXhy7OD34

It was the Najee Harris and DeVonta Smith show. Harris went for 100-plus yards for the sixth time this season, and Smith tied a Rose Bowl record with three touchdown receptions.

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

DeVonta Smith now has 20 receiving touchdowns, making Alabama the first team in FBS history to have a player with 20 receiving TD (Smith) and 20 rushing TD (Najee Harris) in a single season. https://t.co/dmYhV6uA4u

Smith earned MVP honors on offense, while Patrick Surtain II was the defensive MVP.

In general, the night unfolded almost exactly as everybody expected the moment Alabama and Notre Dame were paired up in the semifinals. The Crimson Tide averaged 7.9 yards per play compared to 4.7 for the Fighting Irish.

Notre Dame at least covered, so that was something.


Notable Performers

Mac Jones, QB, Alabama: 25-of-30, 297 yards, four touchdowns; five carries, 12 yards

Najee Harris, RB, Alabama: 15 carries, 125 yards; four receptions, 30 yards

DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama: seven receptions, 130 yards, three touchdowns

Ian Book, QB, Notre Dame: 27-of-39, 229 yards, one interception; 15 carries, 55 yards, one touchdown

Kyren Williams, RB, Notre Dame: 16 carries, 64 yards, one touchdown; eight receptions, 31 yards


Smith, Harris Prove Unstoppable

Notre Dame's first scoring drive required 15 plays to go 75 yards and ate 8:03 off the clock. Alabama responded by needing just six plays to go 84 yards in less than two minutes, 30 seconds. There's simply no respite against this offense.

Dan Wolken @DanWolken

Perfect kind of drive for Notre Dame to be in this game - made third downs, ate up clock, got 7 in the red zone. Now they just have to do it 5-6 more times and find a way to get a couple stops. Good luck!

Brian Kelly probably had flashbacks to the 2013 BCS National Championship Game when he watched Harris' 53-yard run in the first quarter.

SportsCenter @SportsCenter

THIS NAJEE HARRIS HURDLE 😱 #SCtop10 https://t.co/3qiYJq9wPi

That BCS title game is a helpful reminder of how Nick Saban has evolved. T.J. Yeldon and Eddie Lacy combined to run for 248 yards on 41 carries. In a previous iteration of the Alabama attack, Harris may have logged a similar workload.

Instead, Saban made sure to set up situations where the ball could wind up in Smith's hands.

ESPN @espn

DeVonta Smith made them miss and found the end zone ⚡️ https://t.co/ybWaWBdzNT

SportsCenter @SportsCenter

DeVonta Smith has no trouble finding the end zone 😳🔥 https://t.co/m0mie5Tby0

We've seen what Alabama can look like with its foot on the gas (a 45-14 halftime lead against LSU). You got the feeling Saban was holding something back once it became clear his players were dialed in. When your offense is nearly getting a first down on every snap, you can seriously embarrass your opponent if you're committed enough.

It's theoretically possible to beat Alabama—Florida almost did it in the SEC title game. And this probably isn't even the best team Nick Saban has had in Tuscaloosa. Good luck trying to take down the Tide, though. 


New Year, Same Notre Dame

The CFP selection committee faced a conundrum when it put together its final rankings. On merit, Notre Dame was as deserving as any other contender for the fourth seed. But the Fighting Irish still looked to be below the level at which Alabama played during the regular season.

When Chris Tyree fumbled the opening kickoff, it set the tone for a story college football fans have seen numerous times before.

Rodger Sherman @rodger

You can really tell how Notre Dame is improving as a program. In the 2013 national championship game Alabama went up 14-0 in 9 minutes and 46 seconds. This time it took Alabama 10 minutes and 41 seconds. that's almost a whole minute better

Falling behind by two scores was what Notre Dame couldn't afford to let happen.

The Irish offense is generally pretty deliberate, with that eight-minute drive that spanned the first and second quarters a prime example. A 14-point first quarter deficit required not only leaving that comfort zone but also getting defensive stops and turning those into points.

Bryan Fischer @BryanDFischer

Notre Dame has two defensive stops against Bama. Irish offense has responded with a missed FG and an interception that was later turned into a touchdown.

Chris Vannini 😷 @ChrisVannini

Alabama's four TD drives have spanned 9:37 combined. Notre Dame's one TD drive spanned 8:03.

Friday's game was a total disaster, and Notre Dame never looked competitive. There wasn't a point after Smith's second touchdown when you thought a comeback might be in the cards.

At some point, Notre Dame's luck in New Year's Six bowls will turn around. When that happens is anybody's guess.


What's Next?

Alabama awaits the winner of the the Sugar Bowl between Ohio State and Clemson. The Crimson Tide will meet the victor on Jan. 11 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.