Proud Notre Dame defense handled by Alabama from the start

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- A white towel hangs in Bennett Jackson’s locker with the word “D-Boyz” drawn in black Sharpie marker.

“The D-Boyz, we feel we have a certain swagger about ourselves that we come out and dominate,” the Notre Dame cornerback said early Tuesday morning, after the D-Boyz got dismantled. “Unfortunately, we didn’t represent ourselves tonight.”

The images are brutal. Not just emotionally brutal, but the Irish were physically brutalized by Alabama after carrying the program all season with their own brand of physicality.

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There's running back Eddie Lacy chucking linebacker Danny Spond to the ground with one arm, almost as if he stopped in his tracks specifically to dole out the punishment. Tossed him a good three yards, too, and Spond is 248 pounds. This happened midway through the second quarter of a blurry 42-14 national championship loss in Sun Life Stadium, when Lacy, the MVP, turbocharged his way to 157 total yards and two touchdowns.

Lacy is a bad boy, offensive tackle D.J. Fluker said. Don’t mess with him. Attempts at ankle tackles just won’t do. The entire offensive line is laced with bad boys. This might be the best offensive line Nick Saban’s ever coached. It’s hard to imagine any team stopping that line on this day or any other.

But even if Notre Dame looked ready for Bama’s front and battering backfield and A.J. McCarron’s accuracy, which it didn’t, it probably wouldn’t have mattered.

The physical difference between the two programs was jarring. Even a heroic performance would have been good for a 10-point loss.

The bigger, stronger team outmuscled Notre Dame, but this also looked at times like an uninspired effort from a defense that thrived off the spotlight all year allowing two rushing touchdowns through its first 12 games.

“We didn’t represent our school at all today,” Jackson said.

The physical difference had to worry the throngs of Irish fans that descended onto Miami from the piercing northern winds. The storybook season, the hot coach in Brian Kelly and the hotter linebacker in Manti Te’o, the Irish destiny, it all just became a friendly postcard message once 8:31 p.m. ticked and the golden helmets started to crack.

If it wasn’t Lacy’s linebacker long toss, it was Alabama’s entire line parading into the end zone as Irish linebackers fell back.

It was Alabama receivers running untouched through canyon-size holes in the Irish secondary.

It was a Lacy spin move between linebackers Spond and Dan Fox that made the Irish players look allergic to Crimson.

Fluker noticed Notre Dame using the same blitz packages early in the game that he saw on film from the Irish’s regular-season games. Notre Dame was “predictable,” he said.

The Notre Dame defense’s trio of 300-pounders up front had the size to compete with Alabama’s vaunted offensive line.

Irish nose tackle Louis Nix says Alabama didn’t dominate Notre Dame’s front, the Irish just missed tackles that led to big gains from Lacy and company. Te’o certainly missed a few.

Why the misses?

“I can’t tell you. I don’t know why the world turns,” he said. “A lot of things you just can’t answer. You’re human. We didn’t tackle well, and I can’t explain why. … At no point can you say they dominated us up front.”

Maybe so, but the secondary got exposed after the front seven couldn’t stop the run.

On a day the defense needed a lift, the offense failed to convert its first five third downs. Kelly was working quarterback Everett Golson at every turn, running onto the field to personally deliver plays or making close eye contact during timeouts. At halftime, he walked back to the locker room with his arm around his quarterback, trying to create a spark and keep him engaged. Golson (21-of-36, 270 yards, one interception, one touchdown) did all he could.

Down 28-0 at that point, the last 30 minutes became about practicing for the future.

“We needed some breaks to stay in this game, and we didn’t get any,” offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said.

In the final minutes, a group of lower-bowl Irish fans chanted “Manti Te’o,” knowing Te’o’s decorated career was the only way to muster any sort of celebration.

One gray-haired fan in the first row with a blue lei over his neck gripped the orange railing and kept his head down for a good three minutes.

This was the chance Notre Dame had waited decades for. Instead, Kelly couldn’t get off the field fast enough after the postgame handshake, walking briskfully to beat the downpour of white-and-red confetti.

The Alabama loss doesn’t discount the Irish’s improbable season. Notre Dame is back. People care again. And the Irish currently have arguably the country’s top recruiting class, which might deliver them future Chance Warmacks or Barrett Joneses or Eddie Lacys.

Kelly says he wants a physical team. Well, he had Exhibit A right in front of him.

“It’s up to those that return to take it one more step, and we saw that that step needs to happen,” Kelly said.

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