I've always said it's easier to write a recap after a loss. It's always easier to be negative and point out all the things that went wrong.
It's been a while since this team lost. For that I am happy. But tonight...tonight was one of those games that is instantly humbling. The chips were down on the table and we got roughed up.
We have to move on from this but before we do here are a bunch of thoughts from the 42-14 loss.
***My God, Alabama. What a performance by the Crimson Tide. A complete tip of the hat to a program that has proven to be the gold standard in college football.
3 titles in 4 years is ridiculous, especially in an era of parity in college football, 100+ teams, and the pressure that comes with not being able to lose more than 1 game a year.
When you get beat like this it's not hard to dish out the praise, and Alabama deserves a truck load of it.
***Speaking of praise, Alabama won in all phases of the game---from coaching to special teams. We saw what it's like to run in to the finest talent in the country and it wasn't pretty. As long as Nick Saban is in Tuscaloosa this is where the bar is set, and we'll know that for any future games.
I'll get to the Irish defense in a bit, but the Alabama offense executed perfectly all night.
We knew if we couldn't stop the run it would be an uphill battle all night and it was even worse than we thought. 265 rushing yards, both Bama backs go over 100, and both scored a touchdown.
Before the game in writing a preview for this tilt I said that Lacy could be the first running back taken in the NFL draft. I'm sure no one will disagree with that opinion now. We thought Lacy (and Yeldon) were in the same neighborhood as Stanford's Stepfan Taylor.
Yes, our defense played terrible. Yes, they tackled more poorly than anyone could have imagined. But watch how talented Lacy is when he runs. It's freaking phenomenal. He sheds tacklers and jump cuts his way out of trouble on nearly every single run. We had him bottled him on a lot of his runs but he won individual battles and made us look silly.
This is why you'll see me being hard on George Atkinson. Being fast with size isn't enough. Running behind a great offensive line isn't enough. Players need to do the little things and win battles on their own and Lacy---along with most Alabama players---did that all night long.
***Okay, let's talk about this Irish defense.
Boil it down and Alabama pretty much did whatever they wanted to, and that hurts. I actually think the scheme was there, the plays were there to be made, but the players just didn't execute. There will probably be a ton of criticism heaped on Bob Diaco for this, and some of it justifiable, but when your team misses 74 tackles (roughly) in one game I'm not sure what a guy up in the booth is supposed to do about that.
I actually thought the defensive line was doing an okay job against the run. But once Alabama established that they could run, it was night night time for the Irish linebackers. We knew this going in. Don't stop the run and it opens up the playaction passing game for McCarron. Notre Dame did enough to slow down the Tide rushing attack, and maybe hold them to 170 yards or so, but there were so many missed tackles.
And when you can't tackle on defense, you'll lose every time.
***That was a tough game for Zeke Motta. I'm not going to pile on but I feel bad that the staff put a lot on his plate and expected him to be so aggressive near the line of scrimmage. He ended up with a lot of tackles but he was abused and missed a lot of tackles too.
***We'll be asking a lot of questions about this defense over the offseason. How much will we miss Te'o? Was our front seven really that great? Was this truly an elite defense this season?
After tonight, it's tough to say this was an elite defense.
As the minutes of this game ticked away I thought about the talent level and recruiting for the Irish. We've developed some players really well. There are elite talents at a few positions. The coaching is strong and the future is bright.
But tonight proved Notre Dame needs more than that.
I kept thinking about someone like Dan Fox coming back. He's had a nice career and would provide good leadership and stability for the defense next year. But he's just not good enough. And I don't even mean to say that he played poorly in the title game, it's just when you get to this level you need difference makers at every position---or damn near every single one.
Bringing Fox back is wonderful if you want to beat Purdue, but even after tonight's huge loss this program is reaching higher and needs to find difference makers on defense. I think that's just the reality when there are Amari Cooper's out there streaking through the middle of the field in your zone coverage.
Being okay at a position isn't good enough.
***I feel terrible for Manti Te'o and all the seniors. Te'o really didn't affect the game in any way and it's heart wrenching to see his last game happen like this.
I'm not mad or upset with him or the seniors. They did so much for this program and they deserve so much respect. You never know what the next few years are going to look like and how the current players who will have to pick up the pieces and march on will credit players like Te'o with building something positive.
I know Jack Swarbrick is singing that tune and he's good with these things.
***Also, what a punch in the stomach for Kapron Lewis-Moore and his knee injury. I've heard it isn't pretty but let's pray that it isn't that bad. I can remember him as a skinny redshirt freshman and wondering if he'd ever buy in to this program after joining the class so late in his recruitment.
Boy, did he ever. Love you, Kap.
***I'm an optimist by trade so it's hard to really lash out at the Irish defense. But 529 total yards seemed impossible---even against this Alabama offense.
Give the Tide credit, they deserve it but we are better than that. I know we are. But that doesn't matter. What matters is what happened out there on the field and it wasn't pretty.
I actually thought the pressure on McCarron was decent. Herbie kept saying there was no pressure but the pocket was shrinking considerably on most passing plays---plus we stopped rushing 4, 5, or more players after it was abundantly clear Alabama was having their way through the air.
You know Diaco and he wasn't going to get hyper-aggressive in that situation. We blitzed players and filled gaps and were still missing tackles. Not much Diaco can do about that.
It was just Saban & Co. found all those soft spots in our zone coverage and exploited them to death. I mean, yeah we clearly weren't harassing McCarron in to bad throws but he was getting rid of the ball perfectly right before something bad could happen.
What was concerning is that McCarron had players wide open. I mean WIDE OPEN. He was in that area where he wasn't being super pressured, but dudes were definitely coming, but it was just enough time to find players wide the frick open.
We missed a bunch of tackles that could have slowed down the Bama running game, at least made that look respectable. But we were dropping 7 and 8 defenders and Alabama was still tossing the ball around like no Irish players were on the field.
***Offensively, there is a lot of positives to take away from this game.
However, Alabama shut down our running game. Aside from Riddick's 20-yard run from deep in Irish territory we got zlich out of this aspect of the offense.
I'm sure there will be people out there who will say we didn't commit enough to the run. I'd counter that it wasn't going to happen tonight and we were smart to open things up and throw the ball more.
Alabama's defense played perfectly with their gap control. We gave the ball to Riddick, a hole looked to be open for a split second, and he was swiftly met by an Alabama linebacker and unable to Lacy his way for a solid gain.
You want to to do that 30 times a game? We would have lost by 60 points.
***I'm not sure how the Irish offensive line graded out for this game. They gave Golson enough time to throw the ball I thought. The pass protection was decent enough---then again that wasn't Alabama's strength on defense.
We do need to get better on the offensive line though. Having an "okay" right side won't cut it at this level. Struggling against Purdue, having some ups and downs all year, and not really kicking butt in 95% of your games won't cut it. We're making strides but the line needs more size and skill. Even against Alabama, getting virtually nothing out of your running game is unacceptable.
It's just another humbling aspect to the loss. Notre Dame needs to be able to run the ball and could not.
***Cierre Wood is likely gone and with him just 4 carries to end his career. Such a strange year for the California native. He had a great 7-yard run early in the game followed up by a sprint draw that was sniffed out for a big loss and two meaningless carries late in the 4th quarter. I loved so much about his talent but it's so mystifying to see him slowly fade away at Notre Dame.
***We're going to miss Theo. I know it, you know it, everyone knows it. Riddick and Wood are good, really good. But it helps to have a Eddie Lacy back there. Hopefully Greg Bryant could be that type of back.
***All things considered Everett Golson played pretty well. 21 completions, 270 yards, all with no running game help. Things obviously weren't perfect, and there wasn't a whole lot of positives to take away from not scoring for so long, but you couldn't ask for a better environment for Golson to grow in.
I've bought in to Golson from day one and at points tonight it was kind of surreal to see him out there in the national title game. He's already played a ton of football for the Irish but it felt like just yesterday that we were drooling over his high school highlights, telling people not to sleep on him, and hoping he'd put the starting job on lock down. Well, he just performed pretty well against Alabama on the game's biggest stage.
We have 3 more years of Golson. That's pretty exciting. And the thing is we don't know how much better he'll get even during this offseason, let alone in 2 years from now. He has the arm and accuracy, to say nothing of his athleticism^, to really obliterate some school records.
^I've seen some mild criticism of Golson's athleticism and running ability. That's fair. I think he needs to get upfield more quickly and really work this offseason on being a real threat when he takes off. The improvisational stuff is great, especially when it buys time for the passing game, but he needs to be fast as a runner as he is as a fast-twitch athlete. The two are often not the same thing. Like a running back, he needs to make one move and BOOM, get yards. I'd even stress him running the ball more and not looking to pass so much this offseason because it will ultimately make him better.
Even in this loss where our defense was dominated, it's nice to know that some day soon Golson will be the type of quarterback who can slice even the top defenses up and bring the hurt right back to an opponent. At least I think that's where he's headed. He wasn't there tonight and that's okay.
***Huge games for Daniels and Jones---even Eifert too. They combined for 19 receptions and 266 yards---pretty much the entire offense through the air.
TJ Jones has improved so damn much this year it's incredible. I loved this kid as a prospect and thought he'd be our own little slot demon but he's done even more and turned in to a great outside receiver with such toughness and amazing hands.
It's clear we're just scratching the surface with Daniels. A Jones-Daniels 1-2 punch on the outside is going to be really, really productive next year.
SO HOW UPSET/ANGRY/DISAPPOINTED SHOULD WE BE?
Everyone copes in their own way, right? Do what you have to do.
The Notre Dame football program will move on in to the future.
Let's just take a look at this tweet:
Almost 2900 FBS team performances over the last two seasons. Alabama's BCS title games per FEI rank No.1 and No.2.— Brian Fremeau (@bcfremeau) January 8, 2013
What do you do about that?
Sure you can say that Notre Dame didn't play it's best but they ran in to a crazy talented team that literally played the perfect game. And yes, tonight's loss was No. 1 per those rankings.
Notre Dame got to the mountain top and found out it needs to be better. A lot better in some instances.
Still, a lot of teams out there would love to be 12-1, wouldn't they?
So we lost a title game in convincing fashion to what could be one of the biggest dynasties in sports history. Could be worse I think. Plenty of teams have lost like this and came back and won their own title, so remember that.
I'm pretty disappointed by this effort but there was a lot of progress made this year. We'll miss the seniors but the talent level is still really high and the recruiting class is special. Work needs to be done, the program needs to get better but despite a nice tail-whippin' in the title game it's still a good time to be a Notre Dame fan.
We'll have to endure an offseason of "overrated" comments and the like, but so what. Ain't nothing we haven't heard before. Grin and bear it because Notre Dame can easily win 10 games next year and that's a whole lot better than the future envisioned a few years ago.
Let's move on, tip our caps to the Alabama dynasty, and make these double-digit-win season a thing we can get used to. Something we should get used to.
Many times in the past I've mentioned that this program has to go through hell before we get back to heaven. I think maybe deep down we knew this wasn't our time. The run to 12-0 was too sudden and we hadn't paid enough dues at the top level of college football. God knows Alabama fans felt that way!
Some of these players witnessed the Syracuse debacle in 2008. Say what you want but I don't think the program could be lower than that moment. We dealt with the first Navy loss under Kelly and then Tulsa. It was never easy, but still the program kept getting better.
Tonight we reached for the skies hoping to find heaven but we're smacked in the face and sent to another hell in a blowout loss.
Good programs learn from this moment and Brian Kelly has done enough to make me feel secure that every single player is going to be that much more hungry this spring and in the fall.
I know it's not what a lot of people want to hear, but sometimes losing like this is good. We know where the bar is set and it's another goal to achieve.
So we'll deal with the overrated comments for the coming months, but we're now a program where 12-0 truly isn't good enough anymore---and it's not hyperbole and an empty comment based on history from decades ago. It was nice to print those tee-shirts this year (bad idea, btw), but things are different now in South Bend even with this loss.
Now, we're headed to the long offseason.
Congratulations to Alabama on their victory, it was well earned in every way.