Alabama outclassed Notre Dame from the opening kick and the outcome of today's Rose Bowl wasn't in doubt after about 36 minutes of game play. But there were plenty of reasons to keep watching with the score 31-7 in the Tide's favor, most namely the line, which hovered between 19.5 and 17.5ish pregame. What looked like an easy cover turned into a more stressful affair with Alabama's offense sputtering a bit down the stretch and the Irish continuing to fight hard.
Still, it looked as though the 24-point advantage would be final tally with Notre Dame facing 4th-and-8 from its own 45 yard-line with 3:26 to play. Brian Kelly initially sent his punt team out to give the ball away and was captured repeatedly yelling for said punt team to get the heck out there. In the confusing shuffle, Notre Dame called timeout and Kelly ultimately reconsidered.
Ian Book rewarded this choice by completing a 15-yard pass to Avery Thomas for a first down. At that point, anyone who has ever been crushed or buoyed by a swinging backdoor knew what was coming. Book completed the inevitable by sneaking in for a one-yard score with 56 ticks remaining.
Down 18, Kelly decided to simply kick the extra point because there was no chance of winning anyway. Or one would assume. Notre Dame converted to draw things to 31-14. Then, as if another person was coaching, the Irish lined up for an onside kick, which they of course recovered.
Why would they do this if they'd already declined any possibility to pull within 16 points and two scores? Practice, maybe. Kelly — and I'll point out that none of this really matters — then opted to call a timeout with one second remaining and his offense 15 yards from the end zone. This was a nice thing to do to keep eyeballs on ESPN but ultimately proved fruitless as the contest closed on an incomplete pass.
So, as a summation, in the final 206 seconds of the game, Kelly:
- Sent his punt team out on 4th-and-8 to surrender
- Called a timeout to reconsider
- Sent his offense back on the field to fight for the cover
- Decided to kick a PAT down 18 in the final minute
- Dialed up an onside kick
- Prolonged the end of the contest a few extra minutes by calling a timeout with one second to play
- Ultimately lost 31-14
Now, outside of the extra point, I have no real qualms with any of this. But combined, this amounts to quite a wild, unexpected ride. Like when a director is making one type of movie and pivots late to try something else.