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January 8, 2013

Irish defense can't get a grip

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - Brian Kelly credited Eddie Lacy. Then he questioned himself.

In the wake of Notre Dame’s 42-14 blowout loss to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game, the only thing more shocking than the final score was how the Crimson Tide achieved it.

Alabama didn’t exploit the biggest perceived Notre Dame weakness, the inexperience of quarterback Everett Golson. Instead the Crimson Tide brutalized the biggest Irish strength, shredding a front seven viewed as SEC caliber when it arrived at Sun Life Stadium.

“I have to evaluate whether I did a good enough job as the head coach in getting tackling done for our players,” Kelly said. “I think everything is on the table when you see so many missed tackles.”

The numbers were both alarming and revolting for Notre Dame.

A defense that allowed 92.4 rushing yards per game surrendered triple digits to both Lacy and freshman T.J. Yeldon. They combined for 41 carries, 248 yards and two rushing touchdowns. The Irish had allowed two rushing touchdowns all year before Saturday night.

Alabama finished with 265 yards rushing, a season-high against Notre Dame by more than the length of a football field. The Crimson Tide has now won 50 straight games when it rushes for at least 150 yards.

“We missed a lot of tackles,” said Kapron Lewis-Moore. “That’s a huge reason why the score shows where it is. We didn’t play Notre Dame football.

“I don’t know what you could really point on. I don’t think the layoff really hurt with anything. It’s the national championship, you have to come ready to play.”

Notre Dame hadn’t allowed a touchdown drive of longer than 75 yards all season. Alabama hit the Irish for four of them, thanks in part to the defense’s worst tackling performance of the season or what felt like any season.

“We had hats in a position, and they're pretty good,” Kelly said. “We had some opportunities, and we missed on them.”

Manti Te’o and Zeke Motta were among the worst offenders after being Notre Dame’s standards all season. The results turned would-be tackles for loss into double-digit runs. By the end of the first quarter Lacy already had two 20-yard runs as Alabama rolled to a 202-23 advantage in total offense.

“I don’t know. I really don’t,” said defensive end Stephon Tuitt. “I’m kind of shocked by it that we’re still missing tackles. They did a really good job of being elusive, their backs did. I give them props for that.”

Losing Lewis-Moore didn’t help Notre Dame’s defense, but when the fifth-year senior went down with a serious right knee injury in the third quarter the Irish were already down four touchdowns. Louis Nix played most of the second half with an apparent sprained ankle.

But even at full strength the Irish defense was no match for the Crimson Tide’s mauling offensive line. Alabama won time of possession in the first quarter by more than nine minutes, mounting three touchdown drives against Notre Dame’s one first down.

“We could call the plays that they were going to run,” said linebacker Danny Spond. “We knew what they were going to be doing. We didn’t tackle obviously. That showed itself.
They just proved to be the better team today.”


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