How did Notre Dame grade out against Alabama?
PASS OFFENSE: B-. You know you’re in trouble when your most effective players are a pair of sophomores on the offense on a team boasting the top scoring defense in the country. Everett Golson tried his darndest to sidestep the relentless Alabama pass rush and still ended up getting knocked down twice. Once he found his groove, Golson hit TJ Jones seven times for 90 yards, DaVaris Daniels six times for 115 yards and Tyler Eifert six times for 61 yards. The downsides to Golson’s performance? He was 8-16 for 93 yards at the half and threw an interception deep in Alabama territory to open the second half. By the time he hit his stride, Notre Dame was in a 35-point hole. It’s good that Golson is only a redshirt freshman. He should be a lot of fun to watch these next few years, barring another quarterback controversy with Gunner Kiel.
RUN OFFENSE: D-. Theo Riddick had one really nice run, a 20 yard beauty that dug Notre Dame out of a rut deep in its own territory. But that was about it. Four of his 10 carries ended in one yard or less. Cierre Wood was even less effective, diving forward with the ball more often than he carried it. Riddick, Wood and the offensive line were crucial elements in a Notre Dame victory. They were supposed to provide a one-two punch. Instead, they put up their worst numbers since Michigan State in Week 3. Both tailbacks have been huge for the Irish this season, which makes their final games (though Wood hasn’t made up his mind yet) in Notre Dame uniforms all the more disappointing.
PASS DEFENSE: F. AJ McCarron’s 264 passing yards aren’t back-breaking alone. It was his four touchdowns and nearly effortless 71 percent completion rate that sank Notre Dame on Monday night. How many times were Alabama receivers wide open in the end zone? The Crimson Tide receivers burned Zeke Motta and Matthias Farley on nearly every corner route they ran. Motta himself said Notre Dame was prepared schematically and that the Irish just “needed to execute better.” That lack of execution burned up the scoreboard early and finally exposed the inexperience that everyone thought Notre Dame’s secondary had blown past. Like with Golson, I’m interested in seeing how Farley, Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell shake out these next couple years.
RUN DEFENSE: F. We could smell trouble early when Louis Nix jumped offsides in the opening drive of the game. Barrett Jones outplayed Nix all night, and the Notre Dame nose guard looked severely gassed by the third quarter. Notre Dame suffered a tremendous blow when it lost Kapron Lewis-Moore in the second quarter with what head coach Brian Kelly later called a “serious knee injury.” The Irish wouldn’t have been in Miami without Lewis-Moore. Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon were every bit the dual nightmare they were hyped up to be. Lacy’s effortless 20 carries for 140 yards and two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving) earned him game MVP honors. When Lacy went to the sidelines, Yeldon’s mop up duty brought another 108 yards and another touchdown. This Irish defense had given up two touchdowns all year. It gave up two in the first 15:04 on Monday. It had given up 94 rushing yards a game. It gave up 265 on Monday.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D. Davonte Neal had been ineffective all year as a punt returner, but he didn’t truly hurt the Irish until tonight, when every role needed to be played nearly perfect. Neal continues to field punts with his heels pressed against the Notre Dame end zone, giving the Irish a long field instead of the 20-yard touchback. On one instance, Neal even lost the ball. Thankfully, it rolled out of bounds before Alabama could recover. Ben Turks punts were solid, but there was no Kyle Brindza to save the day with dramatic field goals. Brindza was held to just two extra points.
COACHING: D. Notre Dame was out-coached from the opening drive through the final play of the game. To Kelly’s credit, he acknowledged that his team learned what a championship team looked like: And it’s Alabama through and through. Kelly and staff have been able to pull Notre Dame out of some sticky situations throughout the year, but not against a team that plays like its in a separate solar system from Notre Dame. As disappointing as it is that Kelly couldn’t complete the “third year charm” that came with other Notre Dame coaches, Kelly should be encouraged with the level of talent returning next year.