McCoy Knocked Out, Alabama Fends Off Texas
PASADENA, Calif. - It was the BCS title game that turned into a football ink blot test.
Look at Thursday night in the Rose Bowl and what do you see:
Alabama, rightful national champion?
Or Alabama, No. 1 only because of the sucker punch fate threw at its opponent, and culpable of cheaply tagging on points at the end?
Texas , beaten fairly and squarely 37-21?
Or Texas, the champion of the hearts if not the polls, nearly pulling off a rally for the ages after catching just about the lousiest break a football team could endure?
Who was the team to most admire when it was over?
Alabama, for holding on?
Texas, for coming back?
Or Boise State, for having to watch it all?
It was a game whose reactions will depend on personal taste. That is what will keep it alive for awhile.
First, the night went one way.
There was no massive blow that made you wince from the safety of the stands. No instant of obvious pain, visible to all. Disaster for Texas just . . . happened.
Colt McCoy was simply running the option, getting stopped for no gain by an Alabama defensive end named Marcell Dareus (remember that name, for later). And suddenly, McCoy was gone. The national championship game appeared over, more or less.
There was 10:54 left in the first quarter.
Bad deal for Texas. Worse deal for college football, whose national championship moment seemed like a big balloon with a steak knife stuck in it.
McCoy grew up in Texas longing for this night, as boys who grow up in Texas do. The Longhorns would be playing for the national championship, all college football would be watching, and he would be the quarterback.
There he was Thursday night, lining up to live his dream. It lasted five plays.
By the second quarter, he was on the sideline, his pads off, his shoulder hurt, his parents nearby for consolation, his dream ruined. He had been a constant for four Texas seasons, 52 starts in 52 games.
"You know," he said two days before, "I've been lucky to stay healthy. For me as a quarterback, you understand you're going to take some shots."
Garrett Gilbert had thrown 26 passes in mopup duty this season, and suddenly was the quarry, with the Alabama defense the hunters.
By halftime, he was 1-for-10, the most devastating play a shovel pass to Tre Newton in the final seconds that was bobbled. There was Dareus again, picking it off and rolling 28 yards for a touchdown and 24-6 lead.
"About as safe as we got," Texas coach Mack Brown said of that play, but nothing was safe for the Longhorns this night, especially the karma of their quarterbacks.
Then the night went the other way.
The Tide was not wowing the world on offense. Given such a lead, Alabama seemed like a basketball team in a four-corner stall. The Tide did not convert a third down until the fourth quarter. Heisman winner Mark Ingram was fighting cramps.
Once Gilbert got over the initial shock of being thrown into Arctic waters, he began to find his receivers. He threw for one touchdown and then another, and it was suddenly 24-21, and the Longhorns had the ball again, and Garrett Gilbert was starting to look less like a green freshman and more like Vince Young.
So it hadn't turned out a limp bag of a game after all, to Texas' considerable credit. Could Alabama release the cruise button and take back the game? Sure. The Tide forced two quick turnovers and added two late touchdowns, the final one rather unnecessary in the final minute. It's not as if Alabama needed style points.
Not that we shouldn't try to be generous about the triumphant Tide players, down there on the field showering in confetti.
It is not their fault that Texas had bad luck. Maybe they would have slapped around the Longhorns, anyway. That's what conventional wisdom predicted, and this college football season had about as many curves as an airport runway. At the top of the polls, there had been one theme since September; expect the expected.
Still, without McCoy, it didn't seem quite like a fair fight. Gilbert finished 15 for 40, with four interceptions.
Reasonable minds can differ on what would have happened. One thing everyone can agree on.
There was no sicker human in the Rose Bowl late Thursday night than Colt McCoy.