Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend

Tide roll the Irish

Smith, Jones, Harris shine as Alabama advances to national title game

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Alabama once again is in another College Football Playoff championsh­ip game.

DeVonta Smith caught three of fellow Heisman Trophy finalist Mac Jones’ four touchdown passes, Najee Harris ran for 125 yards with a high- hurdling highlight, and top- ranked Alabama beat No. 4 Notre Dame 31- 14 in the relocated Rose Bowl on Friday to reach its fifth CFP title game.

While the location for this Rose Bowl was untraditio­nal, the Crimson Tide ( 12- 0) playing for the national title is a common occurrence in seven seasons of the CFP. Alabama will play the winner of Friday night’s late Sugar Bowl between Clemson and Ohio State on Jan. 11 in Miami.

“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,” coach Nick Saban said.

But Saban and the Tide 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 moving on in the playoff.

Alabama led 14- 0 after

scoring the first two times it had the ball, including on a 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 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.”

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

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

CFP officials moved the Rose Bowl to Texas because of COVID- 19 restrictio­ns in California that would have kept family — or any fans — from attending the game at its normal home in Pasadena.

It was another thud of a finish for the Fighting Irish ( 10- 2), which won all 10 regular- season games but lost its two postseason affairs — 34- 10 to Clemson in the ACC title game and Friday to Alabama.

“Today was about making the plays. They made them on the perimeter. Their skill players showed up today as they have all year,” Irish 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.”

While the Alabama defense kept quarterbac­k Ian Book scrambling, the Tide offense was rolling from the outset. Book, the winningest starting QB ever for the Irish at 30- 5, completed 27 of 39 passes for 229 yards and only his third intercepti­on this season.

Alabama’s opening seven- play, 79- yard drive ended with Smith making his first catch in the left flat, then sprinting past and through defenders along the sideline for a 26- yard score. After the second- longest scoring drive in Rose Bowl history when Billingsle­y scored, Alabama drove 84 yards with Smith making a catch on a crossing route for the 34- yard score.

The closest Notre Dame got was 14- 7 when Kyren Williams plunged in from a yard out on a fourthdown play early in the second quarter to cap a 15- play, 75- yard drive that took just over eight minutes.

 ?? THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Alabama’s Najee Harris takes flight to hurdle Notre Dame’s Nick McCloud in the first half. The Crimson Tide advanced to the CFP title game for the fifth time in the series’ seven seasons.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Alabama’s Najee Harris takes flight to hurdle Notre Dame’s Nick McCloud in the first half. The Crimson Tide advanced to the CFP title game for the fifth time in the series’ seven seasons.
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 ?? THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith gets behind the Notre Damedefens­e in the first half to score one of his three touchdowns in the Crimson Tide’s CFP semifinal victory.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith gets behind the Notre Damedefens­e in the first half to score one of his three touchdowns in the Crimson Tide’s CFP semifinal victory.

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