Rapid Reaction: Tide roll into CFP final, await Ohio State-Clemson winner
Alabama is getting yet another shot at a national championship.
Mac Jones and DeVonta Smith, Alabama’s Heisman Trophy finalists, made sure of that in Friday’s College Football Playoff semifinal at the relocated Rose Bowl in Arlington, Texas.
The duo hooked up for 3 touchdown passes and the Crimson Tide defense limited the Fighting Irish offense as Alabama defeated Notre Dame 31-14 in front of about 16,000 spectators. Southern California is on lockdown and the actual Rose Bowl in Pasadena would not have allowed any fans, so the game was moved out of the venerable stadium for just the second time.
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Alabama moves on to the national championship game on Jan. 11, where Nick Saban will try to win his 6th championship at Alabama and 7th overall. The Tide will face the Clemson-Ohio State winner. The Buckeyes and the Tigers were playing in the second CFP semifinal later Friday in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
Jones finished with 4 TD passes and 303 passing yards.
Smith took the national lead with 20 TD catches this season with his 7-yarder early in the third quarter to give Alabama a 28-7 lead. That total also tied the SEC record set last year by LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase.
In the fourth quarter, Will Reichard remained perfect on the season with a 41-yard field goal for a 31-7 Crimson Tide lead. Notre Dame drove deep into Tide territory later in the fourth quarter but had a touchdown wiped out by a penalty and was denied on 4th down from the Alabama 13-yard line. Fighting Irish quarterback Ian Book scored on a TD run late in the fourth quarter for the final margin.
Earlier in the second half, Christian Harris picked a great time for his first career interception. The Crimson Tide’s sophomore linebacker grabbed Ian Book’s pass intended for tight end Michael Mayer to end Notre Dame’s opening drive.
On the next play, Jones hit John Metchie on a short pattern that Metchie took toward the left sideline for a 40-yard gain. Smith led the way, waving to Metchie to follow his block. That set up the 3rd Jones-to-Smith touchdown connection, a perfect pitch-and-catch just inside the pylon.
Kyren Williams, who rushed for 1,065 yards in the regular season plus the ACC Championship Game, got Notre Dame on the board with a 1-yard run on 4th-and-goal early in the second quarter, getting the Irish within 14-7. But the Crimson Tide struck right back, with Smith catching a short crossing pattern and running the rest of the way for a 34-yard score.
Jones, whose 76.5% completion percentage led FBS, found Smith for a 26-yard TD and a 7-0 Crimson Tide lead less than 5 minutes into the game. Smith caught a swing pass, tiptoed up the left sideline and got a big block downfield from Metchie on his way to the end zone. Smith came into the game leading the nation in catches (98) and receiving yards (1,511). He was second with 17 TD catches but took the lead from Jaelon Darden (19) of North Texas on Friday.
Bama’s second drive showed everything that this offense, averaging nearly 50 points a game coming in, can do. The Crimson Tide started on their 3-yard line after a Fighting Irish punt. But Najee Harris gained 17 yards in a first-down run, Smith caught a 9-yard pass, Slade Bolden caught an 8-yard pass, then Harris hurdled a defender on his way to a spectacular 53-yard run. Jones capped the drive by hitting tight end Jahleel Billingsley for a 12-yard score. That was 97 yards in 5 plays, taking 2:11, against a defense giving up just 18.6 points per game.
Drew Pyne came in to replace Book at quarterback for a drive in the 3rd quarter with the Irish trailing 28-7. But very little that Notre Dame tried on offense really worked against a Tide defense that had clearly shaken off a tough outing against Florida in the SEC Championship Game.
Bama’s offense was missing center Landon Dickerson (out injured) and running backs coach/associate head coach Charles Huff, who didn’t make the trip.
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, the Butkus Award winner as the nation’s best linebacker and the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, wasn’t much of a factor as Jones found several receivers and Najee Harris ran for more than 100 yards.