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Notre Dame should have learned 3 lessons from Alabama

Alabama's Eddie Lacy runs during first half BCS National Championship college football game against Notre Dame Monday Jan. 7 2013

Alabama's Eddie Lacy runs during the first half of the BCS National Championship college football game against Notre Dame Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, in Miami. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Zeke Motta dreamed about it, but never thought it would actually happen. Tyler Eifert said he just wanted to play, and never figured it was a legitimate possibility. Kapron Lewis-Moore said he always knew this Notre Dame group could be special, but that it was a bit far-fetched to expect something quite like this.

Notre Dame went 12-0 in the regular season and played in the BCS national championship game. That in itself is an remarkable accomplishment, and marks a stunning resurgence the Irish.

But the lasting image of the 2012 season, fair or not, will be Alabama tailback Eddie Lacy stomping, slicing and spinning his way through the vaunted Notre Dame defense. It’ll be A.J. McCarron slicing up the Irish secondary. It’ll be the Irish trudging off the field — Lewis-Moore on crutches, Louis Nix in pain, Manti Te’o in tears — after a demoralizing 42-14 shellacking at the hands of the mighty

Crimson Tide.

Alabama took Notre Dame to school on Monday night. Here are three lessons the Irish better have learned, if they want to make the leap to the next level — to Alabama’s level.

1. Get bigger, stronger and faster. All season long, the talk was about how Notre Dame had SEC-caliber talent, SEC-caliber size and SEC-caliber strength on defense. Then the Irish spent 60 minutes getting shoved around by the Tide offensive line and missing tackles on Lacy.

“They were absolutely, by far, the fastest, biggest, strongest team we have played,” ND linebacker Danny Spond.

Irish coach Brian Kelly said he expects this lesson to manifest itself in the offseason.

“We’ve got to get physically stronger, continue to close the gap there, and just overall you need to see what it looks like,” he said. “Our guys clearly know what it looks like. They’re back-to-back national champs. So that’s what it looks like. Measure yourself against that, and I think it was pretty clear across the board what we have to do.”

2. Peak at the right time. Notre Dame had seven long weeks off between the USC game and the Alabama game. Kelly consulted with other coaches to see how they handled the time off and kept their teams fresh but sharp, and repeatedly said the goal was to peak on Jan. 7.

Alabama — who had six weeks off, and who’s done this a few times now — did just that. Notre Dame came out flat and sloppy on both sides of the ball, falling behind 21-0 after barely 15 minutes of play.

“I expected Alabama to play Alabama football,” Nix said. “I didn’t expect Notre Dame to play non-Notre Dame football. That’s what happened. We didn’t play our game tonight.”

Added receiver T.J. Jones: “I think execution was the difference tonight. Alabama executed their plays on offense and defense as good as you could. We messed up a lot of plays.”

3. Experience counts. If the layoff was a big reason for Notre Dame’s poor performance, the pressure might have been, too. Most of Alabama’s key players had been in the national title game before. Nobody on the Irish sideline had.

The moment seemed a little bit too big for the Irish, particularly early on. Interestingly enough, redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson played as well as any ND player, throwing for 270 yards and a touchdown, with one tipped nterception. That’s as big a positive as the Irish will find from this game, and it’s a big one moving forward.

But the experience gap — downplayed all week by both sides — clearly played a role.

“I would say so, yeah,” said ND tailback Cierre Wood. “If you’ve been there numerous times, you know how to act, you know what it takes to be successful in that type of game. We just didn’t have it down pat like they did.”

Well, the Irish have experience now, even if it’s one they’d like to forget. Now they know what it takes to get here, and then what it takes to succeed here. The lessons are clear. If they can apply the first one in the offseason, the second one in the postseason, and the third one should they ever get back to the sport’s biggest stage, maybe they can make that leap.

For now, school’s out. It’s time to go to work.



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