MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Manti Te’o stood perfectly still as he took a long look at one of the giant video screens in Sun Life Stadium, studying the replay of an Alabama touchdown.
It was a pose that Notre Dame repeated way, way too often in the BCS title game.
Te’o – the senior linebacker who was widely considered the nation’s top defensive player this season – was a non-factor early in Monday’s national championship, and that foreshadowed how the rest of the night went for the Fighting Irish. Overmatched from the opening possession, Notre Dame allowed season highs in points and yardage, simply unable to stop the Crimson Tide.
Final score: Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14.
And yes, it was that one-sided of a game, one that even had Irish coach Brian Kelly cracking a joke at his own expense in a televised halftime interview.
“All Alabama,” Kelly said at the time. “I mean, we can’t tackle them right now. And who knows why? They’re big and physical – I guess I do know why.”
Anyone who was watching knew why.
“Obviously we wish the night could have ended in a different way,” Te’o said, “but the season, the year, my career here, I’ve been truly blessed to be at Notre Dame and I’ll forever be proud to say that I’m a Notre Dame Fighting Irish, regardless of what happened tonight.”
The lowlights were stacked high by the time this game was over. Te’o missed a couple of tackles early, something he hardly ever did this season. By halftime, when it was 28-0, the Irish had already given up more points than they had in any game this season, the previous high being 26 in a triple-overtime win over Pittsburgh. The most yards Notre Dame gave up this season was 379; Alabama cracked the 500 mark early in the fourth quarter.
Alabama finished with 529 yards, converted 8 of 13 third downs, got five touchdowns in five trips to the red zone and became the first team since Stanford in 2009 to score at least 42 points against the Irish.
“We just needed to execute better,” safety Zeke Motta said. “It was just a matter of execution and playing the right way.”
Maybe the play that will be most replayed of all was the one where Eddie Lacy essentially tackled Danny Spond.
Well, Lacy was the Alabama ballcarrier at the time, holding the football with one arm and sending Spond – one of Notre Dame’s top linebackers – sprawling with the other as he rumbled past for an extra yard or two.
“Pretty darn good football team, but not good enough,” Kelly said, assessing his team as Alabama’s crimson-and-white-confetti-filled victory celebration was wrapping up on the field. “So it’s clear what we need to do in the offseason.”
Bigger, stronger, faster. By night’s end, it couldn’t be argued that the Crimson Tide held all those titles.
It’s why Alabama will fly home Tuesday with its third national title trophy from the last four seasons, no longer a budding dynasty – but an established one.
“It’s a tough way to go out,” tight end Tyler Eifert said. “We laid it all on the line, but at the end of the day, ‘Bama was the better team.”
Notre Dame arrived at the title game on the cusp of what would have been a fantasy scenario, that of being unranked at the start of the season and the undisputed champions at the end of the campaign.
After one play, it looked as if it might happen when Lacy was stopped after a 1-yard gain, wrapped up just over the line of scrimmage.
One play later, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron connected with Kevin Norwood for 29 yards, placing a pass between two Notre Dame defenders.
Such was the theme the rest of the night. Even when Notre Dame had its moments, they didn’t last long. Lacy ran in from 20 yards to cap that first Alabama drive, the Tide stretched the lead to 21-0 after one play of the second quarter, and the outcome was never in doubt.
Some of the lower-bowl seats at Sun Life were being resold for as much as $10,000 in the days before the game. The majority of those seats were empty long before the finish, those fans for whatever reason deciding they didn’t need to see yet another Alabama coronation.
Notre Dame didn’t have the luxury those early departees did. The Irish had to watch until the bitter end, and Te’o – even though his college days are done – wants his team to remember what happened.
“The best thing about this experience is it creates fire, it creates fuel, for both the guys staying here and the guys leaving,” Te’o said. “Everybody here tonight will be better because of it.”