Alabama 31, Notre Dame 14: How the Crimson Tide advanced to the College Football Playoff final

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

ARLINGTON, Texas — Taking a 14-point lead in the first 11 minutes was all Alabama needed to put Notre Dame at arm’s distance and keep it there, coasting to a 31-14 win to advance to the College Football Playoff national championship game.

The Crimson Tide will play in the title game Jan. 11 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.

ALABAMA WINS! Commemorate the Crimson Tide’s run to the CFP final by ordering our new book today!

Here are the three most pivotal plays from Alabama’s win in the Rose Bowl College Football Playoff semifinal.

Jordan Battle stuffs Kyren Williams

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly did not hide his intention to keep Alabama’s offense off the field as much as possible with a ball-control offense. There wasn’t much controlling of the ball on the early possessions.

The Fighting Irish’s opening possession lasted five plays, and Alabama scored a touchdown in seven — proving why Notre Dame came to Arlington, Texas, with the offensive game plan it did. The next possession presented a chance to right the ship, and the Fighting Irish were well on their way, converting on a third-and-2 and getting ahead of the chains with a 7-yard run on the ensuing first down.

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Alabama safety Jordan Battle put an end to that, squaring up Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams and forcing him back for a loss. Notre Dame could not convert the third-and-7 and punted, meaning an offense intent on controlling the ball lasted a total of 11 plays on its first two possessions, with both ending in punts.

Najee Harris takes flight 

Alabama’s second possession presented it an opportunity to change the game for good. Already up 7-0, it held Notre Dame to 19 yards on six plays and forced a punt, getting the ball back with more than six minutes left in the first quarter. A touchdown drive for the Crimson Tide would put the Fighting Irish in the tough position of mounting a comeback against one of the nation’s most prolific offenses.

The problem for UA: Tuscaloosa native Jay Bramblett’s punt pinned Alabama on its own 3-yard line.

A 15-yard run by Najee Harris got UA out of trouble immediately, and completions to Slade Bolden and DeVonta Smith moved UA out of dangerous sack territory.

Then Harris busted a 53-yard run instantly made famous by a hurdle over nearly vertical Notre Dame cornerback Nick McCloud. Alabama scored on the next play, taking a 14-0 lead.

The early two-possession lead proved critical, given the only Notre Dame score of the first half came on a laboring 15-play drive that took more than eight minutes.

Christian Harris picks off Ian Book

After a rare offensive breakdown from Alabama, Notre Dame got the ball 90 yards away from a touchdown that could’ve brought the game within a possession well before the end of the third quarter.

Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book, scrambling on a second-and-7, found tight end Michael Mayer isolated one-on-one with UA inside linebacker Christian Harris, but the throw was much easier for Harris to catch than Mayer, resulting in an interception.

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As was the case with the Najee Harris hurdle, Alabama immediately seized its opportunity, this time with a 40-yard pass from Mac Jones to John Metchie to put the Crimson Tide on the precipice of the red zone. The ensuing touchdown turned what could have been a one-possession Notre Dame deficit into a three-possession one in fewer than three minutes.

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson