It proceeded thereafter to lose to a much better football team.
Notre Dame may well be the nation's second best football team, but they're light years removed from the country's current top dog as the college game closes its book on the 2012 college football season.
That mantle still belongs to Alabama, winners of two straight championships, three in the last four years, and likely more by the time college football fans reconvene for the 2013, 2014, and 2015 seasons, or at least until four-time nation champion head coach Nick Saban decides to scratch an itch outside of Tuscaloosa.
"We have to get physically stronger, continue to close the gap there," said Kelly of the disparity between the teams. "And just overall, you need to see what it looks like. Our guys clearly know what a championship football team looks like. They're back-to-back national champs. That's what it looks like -- measure yourselves against that. It was pretty clear, across the board, what we have to do.
"I don't want to minimize the fact that we've made incredible strides to get to this point. Now its pretty clear we have to get over the top. "
Alabama forged a 28-0 halftime lead thanks to a blitzkrieg opening quarter that included a sobering 203-23 total yardage disparity and two touchdown deficit. That grew to 21-0 to open the second period, 28-0 at its close thanks to a third passing score by two-time national championship quarterback A.J. McCarron as Notre Dame suffered its worst half of football this season.
The previously No. 2 Tide amassed 309 first-half yards, more than 10 Irish opponents managed in a game this season.
"I'm obviously disappointed," said linebacker Manti Te'o. "Not necessarily in that we lost, but we didn't represent our alma mater, our school, our team, and our families the way that we could have.
"At the same time I'm proud to be part of this team."
The Crimson Tide's overwhelming offensive line -- most notably its left side -- proved too much for a previously impenetrable Irish front. The vaunted Irish defense was overmatched, with massive Tide left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio owning the edge against the boundary linebacker duo of Prince Shembo and Ishaq Williams early.
Alabama finished with 265 rushing yards and two rushing scores -- the former a season-best vs. the Irish by a 104-yard margin, the latter matching the total Notre Dame's defense allowed all season.
In the end, and completely out of character, Notre Dame was plagued by poor run fits by its best player, missed assignments by many up front, poor execution by those along the back, and unexpected sloppy tackling across the board.
Adding to the carnage was the reality that the Irish failed to rise to the occasion Monday night, losing their collective heads and trademark fundamental excellence while Alabama played with what Brian Kelly referred to in past years as "competitive grace."
Couple that head of a champion with raw power and preternatural athleticism, and a four-touchdown gap is created between Notre Dame's best team in nearly two decades and the college football's best from 2012.
"The best thing about this experience is it creates fire, it creates fuel," said Te'o. "Both for the guys staying here and the guys leaving. And everybody here tonight will be better because of it."
Until then, Alabama left no doubt.