They gave Bama quarterback AJ McCarron time to throw four touchdown passes.
When Notre Dame failed to plug the holes, Lacy plowed through them, leaving Irish defenders lunging. Or Lacy blithely flung aside would-be tacklers, as when he flicked linebacker Danny Spond to the ground like a bothersome insect. Or he hugged a throw from McCarron and spun into the end zone.
When Lacy took a breather, T.J. Yeldon rammed right, jammed left or hammered up the middle.
“You can say it — it was a blowout,” Nix said as running back Theo Riddick sobbed at his locker.
But the one-sidedness of the game did not deny South Florida the pageantry and lovesick foolishness that makes college football so much fun. Be true to your school. Better yet, pretend you are back in school even if you graduated 40 years ago.
There were signs proclaiming: Golden Domers vs. Mobile Homers, Catholics vs. Cousins, From South Bend to South Beach.
There were Irish fans wearing leprechaun caps and fake red beards. Alabama fans wearing plastic red elephants or houndstooth fedoras.
A rare smile
Baton twirlers in crimson-sequined bikinis and white go-go boots. Band members marching in kilts. A pregnant Alabama fan who wrote a promise across her belly to name the baby Saban if the Tide won.
Even stone-faced coach Nick Saban had to smile when presented with the trophy for the third time in four years.
“You take the pot of gold, we’ll take the crystal,” one sign said.
Still, it felt right to have Notre Dame here for this occasion. And with the right coach, Kelly, the son of an Irish-American politician, who can spin a story as if he’s sitting in a pub.
College football has a national team again, much like the New York Yankees. Kelly can recruit anywhere and lure a kid like Hawaii’s Te’o — a lifelong USC fan — to Indiana.
Notre Dame can devise a schedule that keeps viewers intrigued. NBC’s Notre Dame slate was the only network college football programming that saw ratings increase this season — by an impressive 67.4 percent. Four of the eight highest-rated prime time games involved Notre Dame, topped by Notre Dame-USC on ABC. Notre Dame can command curiosity from casual fans.
Who knows? Perhaps Notre Dame and Alabama will lead a mass defection from the NCAA to form their own super tier of teams free to negotiate playoff and bowl deals with the TV titans who make the sports world go round.
Notre Dame has always been the sport’s staunchly independent wild card, an entity unto itself. The school’s 125-year football history, its Catholic affiliation and high academic standards set it apart.
“Our strength has been playing physical and we did not tackle well,” Kelly said. “It looks like now our guys understand where they have to go to meet that bar. We’ll get back to work and be better prepared to be a national champion.”
The game wasn’t close, but at least Notre Dame was back in it.