MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — When Alabama’s first-team offense came off the field for the final time in the BCS championship game, center Barrett Jones skipped toward the bench like a 302-pound schoolboy, waving his arms toward the cheering Crimson Tide fans.
Jones’ unit went out with a roar Monday, steamrolling Notre Dame from the start to help Alabama win 42-14.
The Tide’s vaunted offensive line blew the Fighting Irish off the ball, and after three possessions Alabama had 203 yards and a 21-0 lead. The most anticipated matchup in the title game — Bama’s running attack against Notre Dame’s stout run defense — quickly became no contest, and so did the game.
“We couldn’t be happier with the way we came out and started the game,” said Jones, who played with torn ligaments in his left foot and will require surgery. “We knew we wanted to run the ball and hit them early, and I think that’s what we did.”
On its first three series, Alabama mounted touchdown drives of 82, 61 and 80 yards.
“Notre Dame had a really highly rated statistical defensive team,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. “I thought a real challenge for us in the game was how we would control the line of scrimmage. That’s probably the thing that was most surprising to me — how we were able to control the line of scrimmage, especially early in the game.”
Alabama dominated with an offensive line that includes three All-Americans — first-teamers Jones and left guard Chance Warmack, and second-teamer D.J. Fluker at right tackle. They created gaping holes against a team ranked fourth in the nation in run defense, and neutralized Heisman Trophy finalist Manti Te’o, who became a nonfactor.
The blocking gave Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon plenty of room to run, and A.J. McCarron lots of time to throw.
“This may be the best offensive line that we’ve had or ever been associated with,” Saban said after leading the Tide to its third national title in four years. “The power, the toughness and how physical they are I think is probably a pretty unique quality.
“And I know we have some really good backs too,” the coach added with a slight smile. “Eddie makes them miss in the line and gains 20 yards, and the linemen are beating their chests about how they blocked. It’s a combination of all 11 players.”
That included McCarron. Facing an ineffective pass rush, he hit eight of his first nine passes, including a 3-yard toss to Michael Williams for the second touchdown.
The early clock-eating drives took Notre Dame’s offense out of the game. The Irish gained only 23 yards before Alabama had 21 points. Time of possession at that juncture was 12:12 for the Crimson Tide to 2:52 for the Fighting Irish.
The first scoring drive — which took only five plays — was the longest the Irish had allowed all season.
But while Notre Dame’s defense wasn’t accustomed to being pushed around in such a manner, Fluker said the Tide saw it coming. The team was encouraged studying when the Irish’s 21-6 victory two months ago against Boston College, Fluker said.
“We saw Boston College push them around,” he said. “We knew that if they could do it, we could do it. They were kind of predictable on defense. We knew what they would do, so it was just a matter of executing.”
Jones missed considerable practice time leading up to the game because of his foot injury, and said his teammates up front took up the slack for him.
“I wasn’t really 100 percent,” Jones said. “It was painful, but you couldn’t have pulled me off the field with a tractor.”
Most of the time in the early going, the Tide ran to the left and away from Te’o, and Alabama’s linemen repeatedly locked him up. When Lacy ran up the middle for a 20-yard gain on third-and-1 to the Notre Dame 3, Te’o was blocked out of play by Warmack and ended up chasing the play from behind.
Jones helped knock Te’o aside when Yeldon ran over right guard for a 1-yard score to make it 21-0. That was the second rushing touchdown allowed by the Irish, matching what they gave up during the entire regular season.
Notre Dame had allowed only two players to rush for 100 yards, but Lacy finished with 140 and Yeldon added 108.
“Everybody knows about Alabama’s offensive line,” Te’o said. “They’re very big, and they’re very athletic and very strong. They just did what Alabama does.”