MIAMI, Fla. — Red and white confetti rained down on D.J. Pettway as he charged across the field with a pole in hand, an Alabama flag waving behind him.
Less than 20 feet away, Louis Nix limped into the tunnel, the last Notre Dame player to quietly leave the crimson celebration behind them.
“You can say it,” Nix said in the locker room. “It was a blowout. It was a blowout for sure.”
As Alabama head coach Nick Saban hoisted the crystal Coaches’ Trophy for the third time in four years, Notre Dame tried to make sense of losing 42-14 on the biggest stage of the year.
The cause wasn’t hard to find. From the opening drive, Alabama exerted its will on a Notre Dame (12-1) team caught flat-footed.
The Crimson Tide (13-1) didn’t just end Notre Dame’s 12-game winning streak. It crushed it, rolled it up and threw it away.
Head coach Brian Kelly said his Irish learned what a national championship caliber team looked like on Monday night. And it wasn’t his own.
“Our guys clearly know what it looks like,” Kelly said. “When I say ‘know what it looks like,’ a championship football team. They’re backtoback national champs. So that’s what it looks like. Measure yourself against that, and I think it was pretty clear across the board what we have to do.”
Alabama set the tone painfully early with an 82-yard march that ended in a 20-yard rush by Eddie Lacy, who waltzed untouched into the end zone.
The Tide kept rolling, scoring three more times in the first half.
Manti Te’o said Kelly told the team that the most important eight minutes of the game are the first two minutes, the last two minutes of the first half, the first two minutes of the second half and the last two minutes of the game.
The Irish bellyflopped at every increment.
“Obviously the first two minutes of the game didn’t pan out the way we thought it would go,” Te’o said. “But you know, we had a lot of opportunities, and we didn’t capitalize on those opportunities, and Alabama did.”
After Lacy’s opening touchdown, Alabama stuffed the Irish, got the ball back and scored off a 3-yard touchdown pass from AJ McCarron to Michael Williams.
Another Notre Dame punt, another Alabama touchdown to open the second quarter — this one on a 1-yard dive from tailback TJ Yeldon.
Suddenly, the defense who had only allowed two rushing touchdowns in 12 contests had allowed two rushing touchdowns 15 minutes and four seconds into the game.
“Alabama came out and executed,” safety Zeke Motta said. “You can’t put it on one person or the other, it’s just a team thing. And we just need to fight and learn from it.”
While the Tide were scoring at will, their defense wasn’t letting Notre Dame cross the 50-yard line.
Kapron Lewis-Moore hobbled off the field in the second quarter and came back after halftime on crutches. Kelly said the senior defensive end suffered a “serious knee injury.”
The battered team showed a breath of life for a moment in the third quarter.
Just when Everett Golson looked to be gaining some momentum, just when the Irish finally broke the barrier into Alabama territory, safety HaHa Clinton-Dix dove for an interception on the 3-yard line.
Alabama then marched 97 yards to score its 34th and 35th points.
Golson finally strung together two scoring drives one on a 2-yard keeper and one on a 6-yard toss to Theo Riddick but by then it was too little, to late.
His efforts, and the efforts of receivers TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels, were a beacon of hope for Kelly on an otherwise bleak night.
Kelly said the lessons Golson and other younger players learned on Monday will be crucial in next year’s development.
“The experience that (Golson) is able to take from this game, you can’t duplicate it if you’re sitting home or playing in a bowl game,” Kelly said. “When you’re playing for a National Championship, that stuff doesn’t leave you.”
Players like Te’o won’t have a next year at Notre Dame. While Te’o said it “sucked” for the game to turn out the way it did, he wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.
“I wouldn’t do anything differently,” Te’o said. “Obviously we wish that the night could have ended in a different way. 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, I’m proud of my team.”
McCarron finished 20-28 for 264 yards and four touchdowns. Lacy finished with 20 carries for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Golson finished 21-36 for 270 yards with one interception, one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown.