One year ago, I wrote about how Utah’s beatdown of Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl was more about Utah being prepared and having an excellent game plan than the fact that the Tide was missing left tackle Andre Smith. In that article, I wrote:
Great coaches and great teams make adjustments when there is a major change in the depth chart and starting lineup. If Alabama was really that good, then the Tide would have made the necessary adjustments and executed a gameplan that would have played out better. But the shallowness of the Alabama depth chart really showed and Alabama had no answer for Utah’s defense (which was more impressive than the Utes’ offense). . . . EVEN IF Smith was in the lineup, the fact that Utah jumped up so quickly would have changed Alabama’s offensive mindset. Basically, Utah did what Alabama did to Clemson and Georgia — jumped up early and make the opponent go against their “comfort zone.”
I also noted that Alabama’s offensive line last season was an excellent run blocking line and only an average pass blocking unit. So, when the Utah blitzkrieg put them ahead, Alabama had to change the game plan and throw the ball more. And it hurt them in the end.
But the main point from that article is this: great teams adjust. And great teams are more than one good player. Last season, Alabama showed that they overachieved and losing arguably their best player [Smith] proved it. Nevertheless, it does not take away from Utah and what they did. Again, from the same article:
I think that to [claim Smith’s absense is] the only reason Utah won is an injustice to the gameplan of Kyle Whittingham and the Utah coaching staff.
So, the same argument applies to last night’s BCS title game. The injury to Texas quarterback Colt McCoy was a brutal blow to the Longhorns’ chances to win the game…almost a deathblow. But to state that his absense is the only reason the Tide won, or to play the “what if” game with McCoy diminishes not only Alabama’s gameplan and execution, but also what Texas was able to do in the second half.
When Alabama running back Mark Ingram had a dismal performance against Auburn, people bashed him as not being a top player. Many of those who thought he did not deserve the Heisman trophy pointed to that game as proof.
But what his injury and inept performance proved was that Alabama had depth and the Tide was more than one player. Freshman RB Trent Richardson, QB Greg McElroy and WR Julio Jones stepped up and proved that.
So in the BCS title game, Alabama’s depth at running back carried the day offensively. On defense, it was typical Alabama and Nick Saban defense. Pressure and confusion, especially once there was blood in the water (and there was plenty once McCoy went out).
As for McCoy and Texas, it proved that the team revolved around him. Texas was a middle-of-the-pack running team, but even that was predicated on the passing attack led by McCoy. Without him, they could not run the ball (save two sweeps by D.J. Monroe). Again, great teams adjust and overcome injuries.
Ah, but before you claim that I do not think Texas is a “great” team, then you are incorrect. The first half was abysmal for freshman Garrett Gilbert. But after halftime, Texas did make adjustments. They let Gilbert throw a bit more and did so with short passes — three yards here; five yards there. It started to build confidence. He found security in Jordan Shipley.
And then, the post to Shipley for the score. From there, Gilbert’s confidence soared. He went 1 for 3 for -1 yard after the onside kick, but after Alabama’s missed field goal, Gilbert went 7 for 8 for 64 yards, including the 28 yard touchdown strike to Shipley. A two-point conversion later, and Gilbert is on fire!
But after a P.J. Fitzgerald punt pinned the Longhorns deep, a well-timed blitz blindsided Gilbert, forcing the fumble that sealed the game. Yes, Alabama still needed to do something with the ball and Texas had another chance.
But you could tell that once Texas got the ball back down ten, Gilbert was trying to do too much. It was an interesting progression. When he came in, the play calling was very conservative, attempting to stay on the ground. Gilbert was doing too little (by design) and it was not working.
After halftime, they eased Gilbert in more and let him throw some quick hits that build his confidence. He was comfortable. He was doing exactly what he needed to do and it worked.
But once they were down late, he seemed panicky and forced his throws. His first pass was a poorly thrown pass; the second he rushed the throw and it was picked off by Javier Arenas. He was trying to do too much, and it ended Texas’s chances.
From too conservative to just right to too aggressive. Gilbert’s progression was dramatic. Without that progression and maturation, Texas would have been destroyed. That is why they are still a great team, even without McCoy they were able to come back and have a good look at winning the game.
Certainly the loss of McCoy hurt. It was sad for him, too. He had worked so hard to get to this point only to go out on a clean hit that, as he noted, he had taken many times before (with no problems). Until Texas started to come back, the game felt empty and I was prepared to write about how it was not a fulfilling win for Alabama.
But give credit where credit is due. Alabama came out defensively and took out McCoy. That is what a defense is supposed to do (not intentionally, but neutralize the opponent’s best player). Remember, Alabama had to adjust to the loss of McCoy as well and did so with authority.
And, while some pointed to Jordan Shipley and the return game being an x-factor, I commented that P.J. Fitzgerald would offset Shipley’s return game with smart punting. Result? Zero returns for Shipley; three punts inside the 20 for Fitzgerald.
The two mistakes on kickoffs aside (letting the ball bounce and the onside surprise), Alabama executed very well. People blast the fake punt, but had it succeeded then Saban would have been a genius. Need proof? Boise State pulled their fake punt deep in their own territory and it was “brilliant.” But, that is the nature of fakes and gimmicks — it works and the coach is a genius; it fails and he is a jackass!
Nevertheless, props to Alabama. They had a better game plan and the running game and defense carried the team as it had all season. Alabama did not rely too much on one player and that they were a total team. They were the better team on that night.
But also, big ups to Texas. They still played very well and Gilbert has a bright future with the ‘Horns. And, not surprisingly, McCoy and Texas coach Mack Brown were classy in defeat. But do not cry about the “what ifs” and Colt McCoy. Be proud of your season and how well the Longhorns played last night rather than sour your team’s accomplishments.