by Robert Weintraub
For a game that was over at halftime, the BCS Championship Game sure was a thriller. I'll refrain from the Matt Saracen references, but frosh quarterback Garrett Gilbert almost pulled off a miracle comeback for the ages. Then, just when it appeared Texas might mess with Alabama's jog to the crystal trophy, the Tide's defense, the best unit of the team, came up with the big play: a strip-smash by Eric Anders that was recovered at the Texas 2-yard line. Mr. Heisman, Mark Ingram, salted the game away with a touchdown run, and Alabama won 37-21. Nick Saban thus becomes the first coach to win BCS championships with two different schools, and the Tide completes a remarkably efficient and powerful 14-0 season. Saban gets $400,000 in bonus cash for winning it all, none of which should go to quarterback Greg McElroy, who was Rex Grossman-esque in victory. More on that later.
What looked to be a wild bunch of Longhorns were hooked early, when quarterback Colt McCoy was blasted out of the game on a hard hit by criminally underrated Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. Without the franchise in there, Texas was about as potent as a herd of steer (which are castrated cattle, FYI), in the first half.
Saban looked as though he had too much time to think before the game, mind-bogglingly faking a punt on the first possession. Apparently, there was a miscommunication that prevented Alabama from checking out of the fake, but it still goes on the head coach. That set up a Texas field goal, despite McCoy being out of the game. The Longhorns had first and goal, but with no pass threat, they couldn't crack the end zone. On the ensuing kickoff, no one from Alabama bothered to catch the live ball, making it two special teams gaffes in five minutes for Saban, who prides himself on the Third Phase. Another figgie, and Texas was up 6-0. Just like when Carson Palmer was knocked from the wild-card playoff game in 2005, and Jon Kitna threw a touchdown pass to put Cincy up 7-0, dreams of miracles hung above the Rose Bowl.
Then reality punched Texas in the stomach, and in the neck, and brought a knee up to the jaw ...
Indeed, replacement quarterback Garrett Gilbert's first half stat line resembled Palmer's against the Jets in the Sunday night no-show -- 1-of-10 for minus-4 yards and two picks. You can't get too down on the kid -- coming in cold against the nation's top defense in the national championship game is probably not the scenario he dreamt about while throwing balls through a tire in Austin. Looking out at Rolando McClain, Terrence Cody, Javier Arenas, Dareus, et al. is enough to make any quarterback puke in the huddle a la Willie Beamen when he was called off the Miami Sharks bench.
Sure enough, the Alabama defense hammered away at the overmatched youngster (as Kirk Herbstreit said ad nauseum, the game was too fast for him). Meanwhile, after a slow start, the Tide's vaunted running game shredded Texas and its top-rated run defense, which hadn't faced any team with Alabama's combo of plant-and-go Mark Ingram and pure burner Trent Richardson. Guard Mike Johnson threw devastating blocks on three separate occasions, including Richardson's 49-yard touchdown sprint in the second quarter. I've said it before in this space -- Richardson is even better than Ingram, in my opinion, and when he puts on some more muscle, will be a Heisman candidate.
When Mack Brown got suckered by a meaningless nine-yard run with seconds to play in the half and called time out, it appeared to kill Texas off. The ensuing shovel pass was picked off by Dareus, who used an impressive stiff arm and spin move for the pick-6. The scoreboard read 24-6, and that was that. Apparently.
But no. Gilbert took advantage of good protection, the soft bigotry of low expectations, and the inability of anyone to cover wide receiver Jordan Shipley to rally the Longhorns. Actually, it was Texas' defense that kept the team afloat, stuffing the conservative Tide and allowing a comeback. Sergio Kindle and his group were awesome despite being up against it. Here's guessing this Kindle has a better future than those e-book readers (gimme the real thing, and yes I'm writing a book of my own at the moment). Two touchdown passes from Garrett to Shipley, plus a two-point play, and Yellow Jammer Nation was puckering tight from Anniston to Zip City.
But just as Herbstreit was pointing out Texas hadn't given up a sack all night, Eric Anders came unblocked off the blind side and hammered Gilbert to ice the game. That was a little deceiving -- Alabama did get pressure on Gilbert, especially in the first half -- but it was an incredible jinx by Herbie.
Which was fortunate for one Greg McElroy, who would've been the goat in the headlights for his taking sack after sack, completing all of six passes, and doing absolutely nothing to keep his side undefeated. Yet unbeaten they (and he) are.
So the 2009 season ends, a campaign that was supposed to be defined by the three great returning quarterbacks -- Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, and McCoy -- and winds up being defined by injuries to all three. Losing Colt in the title game so soon was a blow, but you can't say Alabama wasn't a deserving champ. That makes four in a row for the SEC, which will only make us southerners even more insufferable. And given the talent load coming back to Tuscaloosa, and the recruiting class coming to campus, a repeat in Glendale next January isn't difficult to fathom.
See you in September when the world begins anew ...