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Poor first quarter buries Notre Dame

Matthew DeFranks | Tuesday, January 8, 2013

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Two plays into the game, it all looked okay for No. 1 Notre Dame.

After a 17-yard kickoff return and a 1-yard run, the Irish (12-1) had stuffed No. 2 Alabama on consecutive plays – but then it all unraveled. Three of the next four plays went for at least 10 yards, Notre Dame committed two penalties and the Crimson Tide (13-1) claimed a 7-0 lead on their way to a 42-14 drubbing of the previously undefeated Irish to win the national title.

Alabama stunned the Irish with a game-opening 5-play, 82-yard touchdown drive capped by junior running back Eddie Lacy’s 20-yard romp into the end zone. The quick march down the field was the first drive of at least 80 yards against Notre Dame this season.

“I think [Irish coach Brian Kelly] told us before the game that there are eight minutes that are very important in the game, the first two minutes of the game, the last two minutes in the second quarter, the first two minutes of the third quarter and the last two minutes of the game, and obviously the first two minutes of the game didn’t pan out the way we thought it would go,” Irish senior linebacker Manti Te’o said.

“And so there’s nothing that we can say, but we know now that the first two minutes are very, very important to the momentum and your success in the game.”

After a three-and-out by the Irish and a 15-yard penalty on Notre Dame, the Crimson Tide took over again at its own 39-yard line. The Crimson Tide retained possession of the ball following a questionable fair catch interference penalty on Notre Dame that negated a recovered fumble by the Irish.

“That would have been a nice play to go our way early in the game,” Kelly said. “Obviously it didn’t go our way, but as you mentioned, it certainly didn’t change the outcome of this football game.”

Alabama gained positive yards on all but one play during a 10-play, 61-yard touchdown drive. The Crimson Tide kept the Irish off balance by alternating running and passing plays on the drive. Junior quarterback A.J. McCarron connected with senior tight end Michael Williams on a 3-yard touchdown pass.

Entering the BCS National Championship Game, the Irish defense had allowed just nine points in the previous 12 first quarters. Against the Crimson Tide, Notre Dame yielded 14 points and four ticks in the second quarter, Alabama added another touchdown to go up 21-0.

In the first quarter alone, Lacy had 72 yards on eight carries and a touchdown. Only six players had more than 72 rushing yards in a game against Notre Dame this season. He finished with 140 yards on the ground.

Alabama had 202 total yards in the quarter while holding Notre Dame to 23. In the remaining three quarters, Notre Dame allowed 327 yards.

The Crimson Tide ran 22 plays and held the ball for more than 12 minutes in the period; the Irish, eight plays and less than three minutes. Alabama was also a perfect three-for-three on third downs.

“We didn’t do a good job at all in the first half of getting our defense off the field. They played too many plays and we have to do a better job of getting them off the field,” senior offensive tackle Zack Martin said.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu