It was supposed to be a colossal clash between two of college football’s giants, a slugfest between the nation’s two stingiest defenses.
Monday night’s BCS National Championship Game — played in front of 80,120, the largest crowd in Sun Life Stadium history — turned out to be just another coronation for Nick Saban, Alabama and the Southeastern Conference.
Behind Eddie Lacy’s legs, the Crimson Tide (13-1) pounded and pummeled Notre Dame from start to finish, smacking the previously unbeaten Irish from its No. 1 perch 42-14 to become the first program since Nebraska (1994 to 1997) to win three national titles in four years.
Alabama, which wouldn’t talk about repeating all season as per Saban’s orders, also became the first school to win back-to-back titles since the Huskers did it 18 years ago.
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“They repeated so they can talk about it all they want now,” said Saban, now among a handful of coaching greats to win four national championships in his career (Alabama’s Bear Bryant won six; Minnesota’s Bernie Bierman five; and Notre Dame’s Frank Leahy and Tennessee’s Robert Neyland each won four).
“Whether I look it or not, I’m happy as hell.”
Saban, who once dreamed of taking the Dolphins to such heights in this same building before bolting for Tuscaloosa six years ago, lifted the prized national championship trophy amid a Crimson Tide celebration when it was finally over. Alabama fans capped it by swaying and singing Sweet Home Alabama as the team trotted off the field.
Saban’s team played as complete a game as it had all season.
T.J. Yeldon and Lacy, the freshman-junior duo who became the first pair of 1,000-yard running backs in Alabama history, took turns shredding the Irish while quarterback AJ McCarron, the most efficient passer in the NCAA this season, worked like a surgeon.
In an example of perfect balance, Alabama rolled up 529 yards of offense (265 rushing, 264 passing) against Notre Dame, which came in ranked No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense, fourth against the run and having allowed just two rushing touchdowns all season.
Tide All-American linemen Barrett Jones and guard Chance Warmack dominated their head-to-head battles with Irish defensive tackle Louis Nix and linebacker Manti Te’o.
“They’re big, strong and athletic,” Te’o said afterward of Bama’s line. “They just did what Alabama does.”
The Tide led 14-0 after the first quarter, 28-0 at halftime and was up 35-0 when Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson finally dove into the end zone on a 2-yard with 4:08 to play in the third quarter. The touchdown ended a run of 69 unanswered points in BCS title games dating to Alabama’s win over Texas in 2010.
McCarron finished 20 of 28 for 264 yards and four touchdowns. Lacy, named the Offensive Player of the Game, ran for 140 yards and scored twice — on a 20-yard dash through the heart of the Irish defense on the game’s opening drive and on an 11-yard pass with 31 seconds left in the half. Yeldon finished with 108 yards on 20 attempts and a touchdown.
“For one of the first times this season we came out and played a complete game,” Lacy said.
Former Miami Northwestern High standout Amari Cooper, who led Alabama in receiving this season as a freshman, caught two touchdown passes from McCarron in the second half.
The first was a 34-yarder with 7:34 to go in the third quarter that made it 35-0. The other was a 19-yarder with 11:27 remaining, a diving catch in the end zone down the middle of the Irish defense. Cooper finished with six catches for 105 yards in front of his family and friends.
“It was everything we practiced,” Cooper said. “They didn’t change anything about their defense, in my opinion.”
Notre Dame, hoping to win its first title since 1988 and become the first team since BYU (1984) to win the AP national title after being unranked in the preseason poll, never got its dangerous rushing attack going.
Led by linebackers C.J. Moseley and safeties Robert Lester and Ha’Sean “HaHa” Clinton-Dix, Alabama’s defense stuffed Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood and forced Golson to go to the air early. That plan didn’t work for the Irish.
After falling behind 7-0 almost instantly and surrendering just the third rushing touchdown it had all season, the Irish appeared to catch a break when Christion Jones fumbled a punt and Notre Dame recovered at the Bama 24. But referees ruled Irish safety Matthias Farley had interfered with Jones, who had called for a fair catch, and Alabama retained possession.
Irish fans were angry. The rest of the night didn’t go any better.
Monday night’s title game, the 20th college football championship game decided in South Florida, began with the usual festivities.
Before the Zac Brown Band sang the national anthem, paratroopers from Wings of Blue flew into the stadium carrying the game ball and team flags. The trooper carrying the Crimson Tide’s flag slipped to his backside, while the one carrying Notre Dame’s flag landed perfectly in stride at the 50.
An electric sellout crowd — one decidedly louder for Notre Dame at the start — stood on its feet for nearly all of the pregame festivities. But by the time Yeldon had barreled his way into the end zone on the first play of the second quarter to make it 21-0, much of the fight in the Irish had dissipated.
Alabama, which claims 15 national titles overall, has now won 10 national championships since the poll era began in 1936. Notre Dame, which claims 11, remains second all-time with eight.
“It’s disappointing, we lost the football game,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “But it’s going to make my job very easy when it comes to talking about what we need to do to win a national championship next year.”