HURT: Alabama football plays the greatest hits and Notre Dame has no answers

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

ARLINGTON, Texas — It didn’t feel like summer at AT&T Stadium on Friday, with slicing, icy winds cutting to the bone outdoors, empty roller coasters rolling at the nearby Six Flags in mocking tribute to 2020’s cruelty.

Inside the Jerry Jones Pleasure Palace, things were a bit different. There wasn’t a full crowd or beach balls being bounced overhead. But like a carefully-packaged concert tour, the Alabama Crimson Tide Road Show was in town and played its greatest hits, just like clockwork.

In the course of a 31-14 win over Notre Dame in the College Football Playoff, Alabama’s offense gave the audience what it wanted: every memorable number from the last season, reprised with uncanny accuracy.

There was the Najee Harris hurdle, perhaps the best version ever, during a 53-yard run. There were those breathtaking solos by DeVonta Smith: Weaving Touchdown, Mid-Air Ballet, Sideline Toe-Tapping.

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

Jan 1, 2021; Arlington, TX, USA;  Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) keeps his feet in bounds and makes a catch for a touchdown with Notre Dame cornerback Nick McCloud (4) covering Friday, Jan. 1, 2021 in the College Football Playoff Semifinal hosted by the Rose Bowl in AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports

They weren’t entirely solos, of course.

Mac Jones did his usual good job of leading the band, making the throws he needed to make, finding the right receiver regularly. There were even those conveniently-timed breaks in the show, like a nine-minute tuba solo, when you could take a much-needed break or stand in line for a couple of brews to inspire the next much-needed break.

Those were called “Notre Dame having the football.” Even when the Irish moved, they moved slowly. Only Alabama rocked, and it didn’t have to rock for the entire 60 minutes.

Jan 1, 2021; Arlington, TX, USA;  Alabama tight end Jahleel Billingsley (19) catches a touchdown pass against Notre Dame Friday, Jan. 1, 2021 in the College Football Playoff Semifinal hosted by the Rose Bowl in AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Saban even had a Saban Rant in the encore, although it frankly seemed mild compared to his nuclear potential. 

The last time a one-sided game happened between Alabama and Notre Dame, there was at least the distraction of Manti Te’o’s imaginary girlfriend and Brent Musberger’s commentary on A.J. McCarron’s real one. 

That’s not faulting Notre Dame’s plan. What else could it do except play keep-away? Technically, it kept the Irish alive for a half. Realistically, the outcome was obvious.

The Irish strategy turned on itself as Notre Dame burned as much clock trying to score as Alabama would have with a revival of Joyless Murderball. And by the fourth quarter, that was that. (Those with a friendly financial stake on the outcome can throw this angrily to the wind.) Alabama slowed down so much that its 23-game streak of scoring 35 points or more came to an end against a team that was good, not great, on defense. 

When the postseason begins, a writer wants to rise to the occasion, to describe the heart-stopping drama in prose that should be read by Malkovich and accompanied by the  Berlin Philharmonic. Perhaps that will come.

The CFP National Championship in Miami should have more life, more give-and-take, more of the uncertainty that creates great dramatic tension. The SEC Championship Game had at least a bit of that.

The Rose Bowl, not so much.

There wasn’t even Heisman controversy to debate. Without revealing my vote until Tuesday night as required, the player previously proclaimed as Alabama’s greatest wide receiver since Don Hutson (at least) scored three touchdowns and did exactly what you’d think the front-runner should do.

There is nothing wrong with cruising, of course. But the chance for a speedboat start and a sailboat finish will not be available. Full throttle must be employed. 

Reach Cecil Hurt at or via Twitter @cecilhurt.