Coming into the BCS Championship game, Notre Dame’s defense had surrendered only two touchdowns in the regular season on plays longer than 15 yards. Alabama had three in its 42-14 win at Sun Life Stadium.
Notre Dame's defense had a hard time wrapping up Alabama running backs T.J. Yeldon and Eddie Lacy in a 42-14 loss to the Tide.
Long, broken plays kept the Tide offense rolling all night against a surprisingly porous Irish defense. Notre Dame gave up 29 plays of 20 yards or more in its first 12 games, and then gave up seven of them against Alabama. Missed tackles land at the top of the list of culprits and explanations for the dramatic increase.
“I have to evaluate whether I did a good enough job as the head coach in getting tackling done for our players,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “I think everything is on the table when you see so many missed tackles.”
Alabama running back Eddie Lacy (20 carries, 140 yards) didn’t make Kelly’s job any easier. He broke countless tackles in dominant physical fashion. He and fellow running back T.J. Yeldon both weigh more than 215 pounds and aren’t the type that go down easy.
Notre Dame’s defensive linemen bristled at the word "dominated." They insisted the line didn’t yield ground regularly to an Alabama group touted as one of the best offensive lines in school history. Fifth-year defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said he wasn’t getting blown off the ball but he and his teammates just failed to wrap up and make plays when they had the chance.
“We didn’t play Notre dame football,” said Lewis-Moore, who missed the second-half with a knee injury. “It was evident that we missed a lot of tackles out there I wouldn’t say that Alabama really dominated the line of scrimmage. We just missed a lot of tackles. A lot of guys were out of their gaps.”
Alabama’s success in the run game forced Notre Dame’s safety to linger in the middle of the field and opened up the passing game for more big plays. Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron and his receivers connected several times on corner routes that found the soft spot in the Irish Cover Two defense.
Notre Dame’s cornerbacks are taught to protect the deep part of their outside zone before guarding any player in the flat — an extension of the defense's bend-don't-break philosophy. The Irish came out a little too fast and aggressive, which allowed the Alabama offense to find holes behind them.
“I’ll blame that on myself. That’s our fault for not talking to the safety on the corner routes,” freshman cornerback KeiVarae Russell said. “In Cover Two we’re supposed to force the low ball that’s what we were doing all year. We rarely give up big plays, but tonight we tried to make the plays ourselves instead of let them come to us.”
Sophomore wide receiver DaVaris Daniels' six catches for 105 yards were Notre Dame's only answer to Alabama's big chunk plays.
The result was 528 yards of total offense and seven plays that went for 20 or more for the Tide in Miami. The defense gave up its first touchdown drive of more than 75 yards this season less than three minutes into the game. Then it gave up three more that were all at least 80 yards long, including a 97-yard trek to start the second half.
That drive was finished by freshman Amari Cooper's 34-yard touchdown reception. Cooper added a 19-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter.
Daniels' Responds For Irish
Sophomore Everett Golson stepped up in the pocket and delivered a strong pass to classmate DaVaris Daniels early in the second quarter for a game-high gain of 31 yards. Daniels’ first catch in almost two full months was the first bright spot on a dim night for the Irish.
He finished the game with six catches for 105 yards — the first Irish receiver to break the century mark this season — and provided the few big-chunk responses the Irish offense was able to muster Monday night. Along the way, he gave Notre Dame a reason to get excited about the future.
“That’s just a show of what’s to come,” Daniels said in the locker room after the game. “Lucky for me I have at least two or three more years with [Golson]. That’s just a glance at the future.”
Daniels broke his collarbone in the second quarter of a 21-6 win at Boston College on Nov. 10. The week prior he caught seven passes from Golson, including a deep ball in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter to help force overtime against Pittsburgh. Wide receivers coach Mike Denbrock was concerned heading into the Alabama match-up that two months away from the field would chip away at the sophomore rookie duo’s chemistry.
““It was coming. It was certainly coming and that was a huge setback,” he said. “Him and Ev were just kind of getting in a little bit of a zone.”
It took only one quarter to get back in the zone. Golson looked for Daniels often, especially when under duress, and they connected for a few more long receptions.
“I think it was good for our confidence going into next year,” Daniels said. “I hate to send the seniors out like this, but the future is bright for us.”