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Sports >  NCAA football

No. 1 Alabama rolls past Notre Dame 31-14 in Rose Bowl

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 1, 2021

By Stephen Hawkins Associated Press

ARLINGTON, Texas – A truly untraditional Rose Bowl setting, a common result for Alabama in the College Football Playoff.

With Heisman Trophy finalists DeVonta Smith and Mac Jones, the top-ranked Crimson Tide rolled into their fifth CFP championship game in six seasons.

Smith caught three of Jones’ four touchdown passes and Najee Harris ran for 125 yards with a high-hurdling highlight in a 31-14 victory over No. 4 Notre Dame in a CFP semifinal Rose Bowl played inside about 1,400 miles from Pasadena, California.

“I don’t think there’s anything quite like the Rose Bowl, the tradition, the setting, the mountains. It’s just a phenomenal experience … wish our players had gotten that opportunity,” head coach Nick Saban said.

But Saban and the Tide (12-0, No. 1 CFP) will take yet another win in the home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, which the coach called one of college football’s finest venues, and advancing again in the playoff.

The Tide earned a spot in the Jan. 11 championship game in suburban Miami. Alabama missed the CFP last year for the only time since the four-time playoff debuted at the end of the 2014 season.

Notre Dame (10-2, No. 4 CFP), in football’s final four for only the second time, has lost seven consecutive New Year’s Six games since 2000.

Alabama scored TDs on its first three possessions, including an 97-yard drive on which Harris leaped over 6-foot cornerback Nick McCloud just after crossing the line of scrimmage, landed on both feet and then sprinted for a 53-yard gain before getting run out of bounds.

“I don’t know why I’m surprised every time he does it. I’ve seen it for three years, but still, ‘Geez!’ ” tight end Miller Forristall said.

“I actually try to teach him not to do it, and it didn’t work,” Saban said, laughing. “Anyway, for a big guy, it’s pretty amazing that he can do that. He’s kind of got a great feel when a guy’s going to try to cut him. … When he sees that head go down, he’ll go over the top of them in a heartbeat.”

Jones, who completed 25 of 30 passes for 297 yards, threw a 12-yard TD to tight end Jahleel Billingsley on the next play.

That came between drives when Smith, with 16 touchdown catches his past seven games, turned short passes into scores of 26 and 34 yards. Smith finished with seven catches for 130 yards, later adding a nifty toe-tapping 7-yarder in the front corner of the end zone right on the pylon.

CFP officials moved the Rose Bowl because of COVID-19 restrictions in California that would have kept family – or any fans – from attending the game at its normal home. There was a limited capacity crowd of 18,373 at AT&T Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys, just a bit higher than attendance for the Cotton Bowl game there two nights earlier, when Oklahoma routed SEC runner-up Florida 55-20.

It was another thud of a finish for the Fighting Irish after winning all 10 regular-season games, including a home victory over Clemson.

But Notre Dame then lost 34-10 in the ACC title game to the Tigers.

“Today was about making the plays. (Alabama) made them on the perimeter. Their skill players showed up today as they have all year,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “We battled. I thought we did some of the things that we wanted to today but we simply didn’t make enough plays.”

Notre Dame lost 30-3 to Clemson in the CFP semifinal Cotton Bowl two years ago at AT&T Stadium. It was the first time the Irish had played Alabama since the Tide beat them 42-14 in the BCS national championship game eight seasons ago.

The Alabama defense kept quarterback Ian Book scrambling. The winningest starting QB for the Irish at 30-5, Book completed 27 of 39 passes for 229 yards and only his third interception in 353 attempts this season.

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