Alabama is #1

Special to CFN
Posted Jan 8, 2010


The following is a live journal composed during the Citi BCS National Championship Game between Texas and Alabama. All times listed are Pacific Standard Time.


Author's e-mail: aaron.calhoun451@gmail.com

PREGAME

5:00 – There is no shortage of superlatives that apply to this game; two unbeaten, complete teams are about to go to war.

FIRST QUARTER

5:38 – Nick Saban wants the ball right away; no deferment tonight!

5:44 – Did the real Nick Saban get kidnapped before the game? A fake punt after a disastrous first series? Sure, it probably caught Texas off guard, but it doesn't matter if your punter can't get any muscle behind his throw.

5:47 – The Longhorns better hope that that injury to Colt McCoy isn't serious; the backup, Garrett Gilbert, is just a freshman, and is, in no way, ready for a stage like this.

5:50 – Of course, if Texas is able to continue to run like it has been on this drive, then it won't matter who is under center.

5:53 – Big time goal line stand for Alabama; the Crimson Tide may have yielded a field goal, but that should hardly phase them. As long as Nick Saban stops trying to make his team be Boise State—and Colt is unable to fire his pistol—‘Bama should be able to take control of this game early on.

3-0 Texas

5:57 – Right now, the Tide are playing like McCoy is the only star for the Longhorns; make no mistake about it, this Texas team is more than capable of hanging in there.

5:59 – That's what ‘Bama needs; the Tide can survive a few mistakes as long as the defense can keep the Longhorn run game contained and, thus, force Gilbert to throw.

6-0 Texas

6:05 – Get rid of the ball, Greg McElroy! If you're not careful, then the stage-frightened freshmen signal caller on the opposite side is going to start outplaying you.

6:07 – What we've learned so far: 1) Texas, a mostly one-dimensional passing team is being forced to become a mostly one-dimensional running team. 2) Alabama's offense, save one good run from Mark Ingram, is making Texas' defense look like the Alabama defense. 3) Alabama's receivers aren't getting open
6:13 – Ingram came into this game having gained sixty percent of his rushing yardage after contact; that stat will be helped if his offensive line can keep winning the battle in the trenches. Linebackers and safeties are much easier to bowl over than linemen.

END FIRST QUARTER. TEXAS LEADS 6-0.

SECOND QUARTER

6:20 – Ingram will get the touchdown in the stat sheet, but it should be credited to the offensive line; any back with two legs could've walked through that hole.

7-6 Alabama

6:23 – Personal foul penalties aren't going to help your young quarterback, Longhorns; you've got to have his back right now.

6:26 – That will probably be one of the few punts Javier Arenas catches all night; the last thing Texas needs is to get burned for a punt return.

6:29 – That is a demoralizing image: Colt McCoy returning from the locker room without his gear on.

6:31 – Texas needs to keep bringing the pressure on defense; not only do the sacks push ‘Bama back, but they're also uplifting to team morale.

6:36 – The Longhorns have not moved the chains since McCoy left; the defense is going to have to come up big if Gilbert can't settle down.

6:41 – It doesn't matter how many sacks the Texas defense acquires if there are holes that big for Trent Richardson to run through; the Longhorns need to make something happen on this drive or this game could be out of reach at halftime.

14-6 Alabama

6:45 – Sending Monroe to the edge has been a good play for Texas; the more running plays that they can still execute, the better.

6:47 – What Garrett Gilbert is thinking: "Okay, I loft a perfect pass to the end zone and its dropped by Malcolm Williams, then throw a pick on the next play! Is Colt better yet?"

6:50 – Don't gamble here Nick Saban; you have a chance to pin an offense with a freshman quarterback inside the ten yard line. Do it.

6:51 – ‘Bama has yet to be successful on third down, so if Texas' defense can keep forcing them, then points will be kept off the board; the Longhorns, as they stand, are better served if the game remains a low-scoring one.

6:54 – Gilbert is going to have to hit one of those throws; the Tide secondary is playing off because they don't buy the deep threat. Make ‘em pay, Garrett.

6:56 – ‘Bama punted, held on defense, and are now driving after getting great field position; this is why it's sometimes better to punt the ball away even when you're in your opponent's territory.

7:00 – Nick Saban has two backs who never go down on the first hit and only one yard to go for a first down, yet he opts for a field goal; that was a big opportunity to put the game out of reach—barring a McCoy comeback—that was just passed up.

17-6 Alabama

7:03 – A shovel pass into traffic coming out of the hand of a freshman quarterback with fifteen seconds remaining in the first half in the biggest game of the year. The logical thing to do was run out the clock and regroup in the locker room; instead, the Longhorns may have just cost themselves any chance of coming back.

24-6 Alabama

7:05 – Texas cannot win this game unless McCoy returns in the second half; even then, he'll be less than 100%. Alabama may have been the team that affiliated itself with the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team, but it's Texas that is in serious need of a miracle.

HALFTIME. ALABAMA LEADS 24-6.

7:12 – Make no mistake about it, this game has been all about the injury to Colt McCoy. His absence has obviously been demoralizing to the Longhorns and it's unfair to expect a freshman who's seen little action to be able to step in and put up a similar performance. Nonetheless, where have the short passes and screens been that Texas usually runs? Sixty percent of McCoy's throws throughout the season traveled less than five yards; that kind of strategy is tailor made for an inexperienced quarterback, but, for some reason, the Longhorns have not gone that route.

7:15 – Of course, Alabama's passing game has hardly been clicking either, as Greg McElroy is only 2/4, but the difference is the Tide doesn't have to be dominant through the air because they have a Heisman Trophy winner in the backfield and another capable runner behind him. Simply put, Texas is going to have to do everything right in the second half to have a chance while Alabama just has to hold steady and not sink to a level of play displayed by them in the early stages.

7:29 – Colt McCoy. Out.

THIRD QUARTER

7:30 – On the slightest of bright sides, the Longhorns do get the ball to start the second half; hopefully some short passes and screens have been inserted into the game plan.

7:33 – That's the second time Williams has dropped a catchable ball from Gilbert and they've both been critical errors; this last one would've gone for another first down—after a short pass got one for Texas—and instilled more confidence in the young gunslinger.
7:34 – A screen pass goes for a first down on 3rd and 25; this should've been the game plan all along for the ‘Horns. As painful as it may be to simplify things, it is the best chance for Gilbert to succeed…
7:35 – …while penalties by the Texas offensive line are not; Gilbert is doing what he can in a very bad situation, but his teammates aren't elevating their games to make the situation better.

7:46 – Williams can't handle a third offering from Gilbert. Here's an idea: Stop throwing to him.

7:48 – Now Jordan Shipley makes a contribution to the dropping box; there could not have been a worse time for Texas' receivers to get a case of the butterfingers.

7:55 – That ball should've come out, but Richardson somehow held onto it; that takes strong hands and quick reflexes, just like FedEx…oh, wait, that's what FOX would've said if it were airing this game.

8:00 – It's 11:00 pm on the East Coast; this writer wouldn't be surprised if Alabama was the only state to still have lights on.

8:06 – ‘Bama has officially gotten too lax; Shipley burned Arenas on double move and Gilbert hit him in stride for a touchdown that keeps this a game. It isn't over yet.

24-13 Alabama

8:08 – That is the time to call something unexpected; the Tide better wake up or a Longhorn comeback will be entirely possible. Imagine if Texas had just run out the clock at the end of the first half; this would be even more of a game.

8:10 – The onside kick doesn't pay off in the form of points, but now the ‘Bama offense is inside their its own ten yard line; a stop here gives Texas good field position again.

END THIRD QUARTER. ALABAMA LEADS 24-13.

FOURTH QUARTER

8:18 – Alabama converts on third down for the first time and the timing couldn't have been better. The Tide are looking to kill as much time as possible, so more can come off the clock if three downs are needed to move the chains.

8:20 – It's not pass interference if the ball is underthrown by a good five yards!

8:21 – That's back-to-back penalties on the Longhorn defense, except this one was called correctly; these units—O-Line and defense—are not freshmen, but they have hardly stepped up in response to the loss of their leader.

8:24 – Leigh Tiffin's been pretty reliable this season, but that could be a crucial miss; surely Texas feels better about a tie only requiring one touchdown, a two-point conversion, and a field goal—considering Hunter Lawrence is no slouch when it comes to booting field goals—then asking Gilbert to lead two drives all the way to the end zone.

8:34 – Shipley, as usual, has been the best receiving option for Texas tonight; he did have a drop earlier, but he has long since atoned for it.

8:35 – Now Shipley has really atoned for his earlier drop; where was the safety help on ‘Bama's part, though? In other news, Garrett Gilbert is growing up before the eyes of a country; he made a handful of brilliant throws on that drive, including the touchdown pass and ensuing two-point conversion.

24-21 Alabama

8:41 – Clearly the Tide is no longer concerned when it comes to Ingram's cramps; they need him in there and he's delivering again. Doing well in situations like this is what won him the Heisman; now, he needs to put the team on his back one more time.

8:44 – All of a sudden, this is feeling a lot like the 2006 Rose Bowl; Texas is part of the way back from a late double-digit deficit and gotten the big defensive stop it needed. The last piece to the puzzle is a heart-stopping final drive; is it coming?

8:46 – It may have come after a punt, but that was a good timeout by Mack Brown. As much as Gilbert has grown, he's still a young kid and this drive is starting deep in Texas' own territory—talk about a pressure cooker; as much time as possible should be used to get him ready for this.

8:49 – After giving up nine sacks against Nebraska, the Texas offensive line had kept pressure off its young quarterback; unfortunately, it couldn't do it there and the price paid was a heavy one.

8:50 – It's worth noting, though, that the Tide's red zone touchdown percentage ranks 111th in the nation and McElroy only has a thirty-five percent completion percentage in the area; if the Longhorns can stave off the rushing attack, then they will still have a chance.

8:54 – Ingram gets into the end zone with a second effort; barring intervention from a higher power, that is a fitting end to the Heisman winner's season.

31-21 Alabama

9:00 – If there's a quantum of solace to be had for Texas, it's that, based on this showing, it looks like a bright future lies ahead with Garrett Gilbert under center.

37-21 Alabama

9:07 – Your 2009 BCS National Champions: The Alabama Crimson Tide.

GAME OVER. ALABAMA WINS 37-21.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This game will be remembered for all its "what-ifs":

- What if Colt McCoy hadn't gotten injured?

- What if Texas hadn't called a shovel pass at the end of the first half?

- What if Garrett Gilbert hadn't gotten sacked and fumbled the ball late in the game?

Unfortunately, they're called "what-ifs" for a reason; the fact is, Colt McCoy did get injured, the Longhorns did call a shovel pass, and Gilbert did fumble. Nonetheless, Texas should be commended for its performance in the second half. Despite being without their star quarterback—and a freshman taking his place—the ‘Horns battled resolutely and had the nation, if only for little while, believing. Then there's Gilbert himself, who was placed in both a desirable and undesirable position; every college football player dreams of playing in the national championship game, but to do so as an inexperienced freshman against the best defense in the country sounds much more like a nightmare. Even so, despite his stat line showing otherwise—15/40 for 186 yards, two touchdowns, and four interceptions—Gilbert performed beyond his years and made a number of great throws to get his team back in the contest. They may have come up short on this day, but if this performance was any indication, then Garrett Gilbert and the Texas Longhorns will have another chance very soon.

The injury to McCoy should do nothing to detract from the performance of the Alabama defense on this evening. A great college football team is more than its quarterback; the Crimson Tide still had a pack of talented receivers to stop and, for the most part, that is just what they did. It was this defense that led many to believe that the Tide were the team to beat long before they took down Florida in the SEC Championship Game; tonight, with a quarterback who didn't have his best game—McElroy: 6/11 for 58 yards—that belief was validated even after ‘Bama let it become a game again. When a big play was needed most, the Tide came up with it; between Marcell Dareus' interception return and the forced fumble that led to the game-clinching touchdown, the ‘Bama bailouts on defense were timely and crucial—as they have been all season long; from dominant run stuffing to blocked kicks in the waning seconds to pick-sixes just before halftime, the Alabama defense was as clutch as any in recent memory. That's why the Crimson Tide are the 2009 National Champions.

Here's to another season of college football and, hopefully, a playoff in the near future.

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