Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith keeps his feet inbounds as he catches one of his three touchdown passes during a 31-14 win over Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl in Arlington, Texas. Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

ARLINGTON, Texas — A truly untraditional Rose Bowl setting, a very 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 played 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,” Alabama 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 against No. 3 Ohio State, which beat No. 2 Clemson 49-28 in the Sugar Bowl. 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 knocked 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.

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 on which Smith, with 16 TD catches his last seven games, turned short passes into scores of 26 and 34 yards. Smith finished with seven catches for 130 yards, including a toe-tapping 7-yarder in the front corner of the end zone in the third quarter.

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, just a bit higher than attendance for the Cotton Bowl game there two nights earlier when Oklahoma beat 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 to the Tigers in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game.

“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.”

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

While the Alabama defense kept quarterback Ian Book scrambling, the 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 fourth-down play early in the second quarter to cap a 15-play, 75-yard drive that took just over eight minutes.

THE TAKEAWAY

Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish have gone 32 seasons since winning their last national title with a 12-0 record under Lou Holtz in 1988. The Irish were down only 21-7 when they got the ball for the first time in the second half. But any chance to get some momentum evaporated when Book threw an interception under pressure, and Alabama turned that into another TD catch for Smith.

Alabama: The outcome really wasn’t unexpected, with Alabama entering the game as a three-TD favorite. Alabama is 5-0 at AT&T Stadium, with a pair of convincing CFP semifinal wins there. Alabama beat Michigan State 38-0 in the Cotton Bowl five seasons ago.


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