The Beat Goes On: Alabama Thrives, Notre Dame Cowers In Spotlight at 2021 Rose Bowl

The Alabama Crimson Tide and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish meet in Arlington, TX for the 2021 Rose Bowl Game. Photo by McGillen

ARLINGTON, Tx- In a Rose Bowl like no other, the result looked pretty familiar for Alabama.

After the game was moved from its traditional Pasadena home to allow for a limited number of fans in attendance, the No. 1 ranked Crimson Tide rolled to a win over No. 4 Notre Dame to clinch a spot in its fifth national championship game in the past six seasons.

There’s a stark contrast between the direction and caliber of these two heavyweights- and that was on full display in Friday’s 31-14 romp.

Alabama entered the game as a heavy favorite, and for good reason. The Crimson Tide ranked at No. 1 every week since Clemson’s Nov. 3 loss to Notre Dame., and won the Southeastern Conference in dominant fashion, including a six-point win over No. 7 Florida in the Championship Game.  Notre Dame got the controversial playoff nod over No. 5 Texas A&M despite a lackluster loss in an encore performance against Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.

The mismatch was clear early. Alabama raced out to a 14-0 first quarter lead behind two of quarterback Mac Jones’ four passing touchdowns on the day, including one to Heisman hopeful Devonta Smith- one of four finalists for college football’s most prestigious award to be awarded Tuesday night.

“(Smitty) has done as much for our team as any other player who has won the Heisman,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said on the possibility postgame. “I don’t like to make predictions, but it’d be great to see another one of our players win one.”

The loss marks another chapter in a series of concerning results in BCS or College Football Playoff Games for Notre Dame. After an undefeated 2012 regular season, Alabama whitewashed the Fighting Irish in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game, 42-14. Notre Dame also lost its only other prior playoff appearance to eventual 2019 CFP champion Clemson, 30-3. In BCS and Playoff games dating back to 2000, Notre Dame has lost every time and been outscored by a margin of 161 points including Friday.

Some were quick to criticize the College Football Playoff Committee’s decision to include Notre Dame over Texas A&M, but despite another let down, head coach Brian Kelly defended his team’s selection.

“We felt like we were as good as any other team on any given day in the country,” head coach Brian Kelly said postgame.

As for Alabama, the ebbs and flows of the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season have been proving grounds for one of its most dominant groups ever. Quarterback Mac Jones, a Heisman finalist along with Smith, recorded another fantastic game on par with a fantastic season.

Alabama got strong performances from its background performers as well. Wide recover John Metchie and “Swiss Army Knife” tight end Jahleel Billingsleycombined for 93 receiving yards on the big stage, while defensive back Christian Harris recorded an interception of Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book, which all but squashed any momentum the Irish built after forcing consecutive Alabama punts.

Nonetheless, Smith was the clear standout- together perhaps his strongest performance yet, recording three touchdown catches on 100-plus receiving yards, marking the seventh time in 2020 he’s broken the century mark. His 20th touchdown catch also tied an SEC single-season record.

Alabama’s Patrick Surtain was named defensive MVP of the game.

“We ask our corners to do a lot,” Saban said. “It’s good to see him get recognized tonight.”

Kyren Williams scored Notre Dame’s only touchdown prior to Ian Book’s late sneak into the end zone. Notre Dame’s offense was held completely in check by Alabama’s vaunted defense, recording just 139 rushing yards and punting four times. Book also left the final game of his storied Notre Dame career in the third quarter due to an injury.

Notre Dame finishes its season at 10-2, while Alabama moves on to play the winner of No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Ohio State in the 2021 CFP National Championship Game Jan. 11 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.

“Alabama made more plays at the end of the day,” Kelly said. “We’re going to keep getting back here. We’re going to keep winning games, and we’re going to break through.”