Notre Dame football: Hard to make sense of Irish performance

Al Lesar Commentary
ND Insider

Look at the bright side. Or, really, the dark side.

The kids at Grace Hall are going to sleep a lot better during the second semester.

That darn #1 sign on the roof that's been glaring every night since November can finally be turned off.

Heck, save some cash on electricity, to boot.

The Notre Dame football team laid an egg of epic proportions Monday night.

Forty-four days removed from an emotional win at Southern Cal, not a shred of momentum made the journey to South Beach. Alabama's 42-14 BCS National Championship Game spanking of the Irish sent a clear and concise message.

The SEC is legit.

The Southeastern Conference champion Crimson Tide left no doubt to its dominance. Alabama did things to the Notre Dame defense that it hadn't experienced since the loss to Stanford to end the 2011 regular season.

Even that wasn't nearly as bad.

Monday's complete collapse was as unexpected as was Notre Dame battling through the regular season without a loss. Hard to make sense of it.

Alabama gained big yards passing at will. Alabama ran the ball for big chunks whenever the mood struck. Defensively, Alabama covered opportunities that had been there all season. Irish linebacker Manti Te'o missed two tackles. He had missed only one all season.

The Tide rolled. And rolled. And steam-rolled. The Irish left with tread marks on their back.

Alabama led 28-0 at halftime. It was over then. If the two teams played all week, the Irish wouldn't score 28 points.

Nothing shy of a nightmare.

Maybe it was the heat and humidity. Possibly the long period of inactivity. Could have been the scope and magnitude of the game. Too loose? Too tight?

Those are just excuses. Nothing to hide behind in this debacle.

The first half was bad enough. What was worse was Alabama's touchdown to start the third quarter -- a 34-yard pass play from AJ McCarron to Amari Cooper. No Notre Dame defender was within five yards of Cooper.

That goes from confusion to packing it in. It's been quite a while since the Irish quit.

"We watched a lot of film," said Cooper. "The outside was always open.

I could visualize the plays that I was going to make. They had a lot of holes in their zone."

The Irish recognized their shortcomings. Safety Zeke Motta said since the Southern Cal game, those out-patterns were a point of concern.

Nothing much got settled in six weeks.

The best hit on McCarron all night was delivered by his best friend and center Barrett Jones. Midway through the fourth quarter, McCarron was flagged for a delay of game penalty and Jones wasn't happy about it. When the huddle assembled, Jones expressed his frustration with a shove that sent McCarron 15 yards back.

Alabama was just that much better -- and then some.

The most important step for the Notre Dame program is the next one: How does coach Brian Kelly frame the experience? What can the Irish learn from the carnage?

They have to get stronger. Somehow, they have to get faster. Tackling? Ugh.

"We've got to get physically stronger, continue to close the gap there," Kelly said. "Overall, they need to see what it looks like. Our guys clearly know what a championship football team looks like.

(Alabama is) back-to-back national champion. Measure yourself against them. It was pretty clear across the board what we need to do.

"I don't want to minimize the incredible strides we made to get to this point. Now it's pretty clear what we need to do to get over the top."

Think back. How'd the Alabama dynasty -- three national titles in the last four years -- get to that point? It took an SEC Championship Game loss to Florida after the 2008 season to point out flaws and provide a

blueprint for success.

Nick Saban had a bunch of quick learners.

Given Notre Dame's top ranking in terms of graduation rates, the Irish should be able to absorb like a sponge.

Just like reaching the BCS finale was a process, recovering from it will also happen in stages. There will be anger, denial, resolution...

Ideally, all that will happen before the start of spring practice when the Irish will finally be able to do something about it.

Until then, Roll Tide.

Notre Dame football: Hard to make sense of Irish performance