In the second of two games held early in 2010 in Pasadena, California, a couple of the most storied college football programs went head-to-head in a good-but-not-great 2010 Citi BCS Championship Game.
What looked like a promising matchup between the Texas Longhorns and the Alabama Crimson Tide and head coach mavens Mack Brown and Nick Saban turned out to be exciting and shocking at first, boring in the middle, and a compelling-but-predictable conclusion as seconds wound down.
Alabama didn’t look strong on its first two drives, as they ran a fake punt pass on fourth down that went wrong, and were not prepared for an early Texas onside kick. As a result, Texas was up early in the ball game on two field goals, 6-0.
However, before Texas retained the ball on an onside kick, the Lornhorns’ star quarterback and 2009 Heisman Award candidate Colt McCoy was sidelined for the remainder of the game when an Alabama defender inadvertently jammed his helmet into the quarterback’s throwing shoulder.
At 45 wins and eight losses as a starter, not to mention a pass completion rate over 70 percent, I did not expect McCoy’s brilliant career to end so abruptly and weirdly in a title game. As he trudged toward the Texas bench, his back-up, true freshman Garrett Gilbert, entered the game.
Although the Longhorns scored two field goals far into Alabama territory, Texas did not score again until late in the third quarter, as Gilbert’s inexperience was put on display in the first half due to a daunting Crimson Tide defense: 1-10 for negative-four yards passing and two interceptions.
(That moment when McCoy never returned and the team relied on the green Gilbert to rally the Texas troops was the blessing that the Crimson Tide needed, most likely the biggest factor in the eventual outcome—Alabama 37, Texas 21.)
With Gilbert struggling in the hands of a vaunted ’Bama D, a 6-0 deficit turned into a 7-6 lead, thanks to Heisman Trophy winning running back Mark Ingram (116 yards rushing and two touchdowns).
Ingram was hurt in the middle of the game, as he battled through hamstring problems, but backup halfback Trenton Richardson provided constant relief and enough of a boost, especially his game-changing 49-yard touchdown run that stretched Alabama's lead to 14-6.
Later on, a Gilbert interception on a shovel pass led to another touchdown for ’Bama. The team went on to score 24 straight points before the first half.
Coming out of halftime, the ’Bama defense was lax in the third quarter, as Gilbert was given enough protection and time to read the coverage, finding receivers, particularly wideout phenom Jordan Shipley, for a pair of crucial touchdowns.
The game became more intriguing at this point, as Texas narrowed a sizable 24-6 gap to a competitive, 24-21 score.
Despite a mediocre performance by quarterback and Rhodes Scholar Greg McElroy, Alabama remained steady, even with a potential momentum shift favoring Texas into the fourth quarter.
The most critical play, though, came when the Lornhorns, deep in their territory, were not prepared for an Alabama blitz, as linebacker Eryk Anders sacked Gilbert on his blind side, leading to defensive end Courtney Upshaw’s fumble recovery and Ingram’s game-winning, one-yard touchdown run.
One of college football's most prolific and efficient passers did not play more than one series in the entire game, which was a big letdown to those who expected a closely played game.
But as one side of the field put on grey champion hats and shirts, we all saw a crestfallen McCoy face the reality of a dream turning into a nightmare, as he and his biggest fans are hoping that his April NFL draft stock won’t dip extremely low.
Fellow Longhorns Shipley and defensive end Sergio Kindle look like sought-after picks in the NFL draft, as they seemingly fit the same mold of current pro players like Wes Welker and DeMarcus Ware.
Furthermore, despite untimely mistakes in his first true test under center and pressure (including the late sack and two bad picks), Garrett Gilbert has a bright future ahead of him and will keep Coach Brown’s squad in Austin a longtime contender.
As the clock wound to 00:00 and having to convey his thoughts into cameras and mics, the speechless yet classy McCoy could do nothing more than think about what could’ve been but didn’t.
Thus, McCoy had no other option than to tip his hat to a deep and well-stocked Alabama team that, amid prior head-coaching scandal and embarrassment, resembles a unit that Gene Stallings (and Paul “Bear” Bryant, perhaps?) would be proud of.
Lucky not to face No. 12 in burnt orange throughout the evening, the Crimson Tide seem to have returned to prominence, taking its 13th national championship back to Tuscaloosa.
The win made the Gatorade-soaked Saban (33-8 record at Alabama, 124-50-1 in his college coaching career) the first head coach to win national titles at two different schools since 1936. If the man from West Virginia can stay a little longer to keep ’Bama at the top, there will perhaps be many more crystal ball celebrations for the Tide on the horizon—like the one on Thursday night.