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Photo by Robert Franklin | South Bend Tribune
Notre Dame Football

Effort Good, But Not Enough For Notre Dame's Defense

January 1, 2021
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Notre Dame battled in Friday's Rose Bowl, but effort wasn't enough as Devonta Smith and Alabama rolled 31-14 at AT&T Stadium. 

The Irish had a goal of not giving up big plays and somewhat accomplished it. Alabama didn't have guys streaking down the field for long scores as they have for most of the year and Smith's longest play was 34 yards. 

However, Alabama's elite skill position talent shined bright as Smith had seven receptions for 130 yards and three scores while running back Najee Harris ran for 125 yards and had 30 yards receiving. 

"We weren't misaligned, but we felt we could get and rally to them a little bit more physically," said Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly. "As you know, they exploited some matchups into the short field where we thought we could get out and box that a little bit better and it didn't happen."

The Crimson Tide scored touchdowns on its first three drives to take a commanding 21-7 lead at the half. 

"We went into the game wanting to play physical," said Notre Dame captain Shaun Crawford. "We tried to eliminate all of the explosive plays. I think as a unit in the second half -- or as a unit in the first half, we were playing physical. We let a run slip. We let an explosive run slip, but I think overall in the game, we held the line of scrimmage. We tackled the running back, forced him to get the ball on the perimeter, throwing the ball.

"In the second half, I think we stepped it up as a group, as a unit, to try to eliminate the run game completely and just try to make them one-dimensional as an offense." 

Butkus Award winner Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah didn't feel the Irish played timid to start the game, but admitted they failed to follow through on Clark Lea's advice.

"I don't really think it was us being shy or any tension of us holding back," explained Owusu-Koramoah. "I think it just wasn't the execution deal. I don't think we executed well in those first few drives, and we just had to settle down.

"Coach Lea always preaches to us to start fast. When you don't do that, you see what happens. So I don't think it was us being timid or shy or anything, but just the deal where we didn't execute to the fullest of our ability." 

Crawford, who played his final game in the blue and gold, wasn't going to take any moral victories as some had pointed out Alabama was held to a season-low of 31 points. 

"As a unit, our job is to go out there and limit the offense to zero points if we can," stated Crawford. "We don't try to take moral victories by holding them to 31 points. If our offense can't get it going, then our job is to go out there and limit them to no points, if we can, limit them to field goals in the red zone.

"We stepped it up as a defense in the second half, and we fought to the end as a defense, but this unit, we don't believe in moral victories. So we pride ourselves on trying to shut out teams. So if our offense can't get it going, then 3-0 should be the game-winning score for us."

For Notre Dame, the loss hurts as 2020 was a fine season and every player showed they could beat adversity as they played 12 games in the middle of a pandemic. 

"The loss is hurtful to all the guys on the team," linebacker Drew White said. "We battled through a lot of stuff, but a lot of adversity through 2020. In August, going back, we didn't even know if we were going to have a season. So having a successful season, going undefeated in the regular season is special.

"Coming up short hurts. We came in looking to go to the National Championship, but looking back at it through 2020, I'm extremely proud of what we accomplished and how this team is heading into 2021."

Notre Dame and Brian Kelly will now turn attention to finding a defensive coordinator as Lea is off to Vanderbilt. 

"I know into the hiring process, we got full trust in Coach Kelly to sit down and interview a bunch of candidates," explained White. "I'm sure me and Kyle (Hamilton) will be in the room for some of those meetings as well. I'm just excited to see who the next DC is because he's got a unit here that is super close with each other, that plays for the ball and hunts.

"I really think Coach Kelly has done a great job in his hires through my four years here, so I have full trust in him to pick the right candidate." 

As for Owusu-Koramoah's future, he hasn't made a public decision in terms of the NFL and he's grateful for the opportunities Notre Dame has afforded him.

"I haven't yet announced anything, but what this university means to me is just the people who are in this University," said Owusu-Koramoah. "I think that's what makes up such a prominent place. I've been here for four years, and I love the brotherhood that came through here, love the coaches that have coached me and just the process in which we've always worked to fulfill not only -- as Kyle said, not only the football player, but also the man himself.

"I'm thankful for the coaches, thankful for my teammates, and also thankful for all my professors and things like that."

 
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