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January 10, 2010

Upon Further Review: BCS National Championship

Normally when one sees that much crimson near the scenic San Gabriel mountains, it's a bad thing.

It was for Texas on Thursday at the Rose Bowl, where the University of Alabama football team won its 13th national championship with a 37-21 victory. But give the Longhorns a lot of credit.

Texas had a lot of speed across the board, the coaches had the team well-prepared and even after Colt McCoy, the winningest quarterback in NCAA history was knocked out of the game with a pinched nerve, the Longhorns still didn't give up after Alabama scored 24 unanswered points.

It wasn't until sophomore running back Mark Ingram powered his way into the end zone for his second touchdown with 2:01 remaining, and held his arms up in celebration, that the Crimson Tide knew the championship was finally secure. It also completed the orange-stomp season, which began with Virginia Tech in Atlanta, included narrow wins against Tennessee and Auburn before beating Florida and Texas in the postseason.

Player of the game: Ingram was limited by a foot injury and then started cramping up, but still managed to gain 116 yards on 22 carries, and two catches for 12 yards, with two touchdowns.

Play of the game: Sophomore defense end Marcell Dareus' interception of a shovel pass was returned 28 yards for a touchdown with three seconds remaining in the first half and proved to be the game-winning points. Incidentally, senior defensive end Brandon Deaderick was the player to make the hit after D.J. Monroe initially bobbled the ball.

Hit of the game: Senior "Jack" linebacker Eryk Anders played a terrific game, leading the Tide with seven tackles, two for a loss, and his sack of freshman quarterback Garrett Gilbert forced a fumble that Alabama recovered to secure the victory.

Block of the game: On freshman running back Trent Richardson's 49-yard touchdown run, senior guard Mike Johnson showed why he's an All-American by driving junior defensive end Sam Acho to the ground, thus providing the gaping hole on the left side.

Statistic of the game: After McCoy lead the Texas offense to 26 yards on five plays, when he was hurt and left the game 16 of the next 22 Texas plays resulted in one yard or fewer and the Longhorns gained just 60 yards the rest of the first half. Gilbert had more pass attempts intercepted (two) than completed (1-for-10), with the lone catch resulting in a 4-yard loss on a screen.

Did you notice? The Heisman curse? Yeah, neither did anyone else.

Here are 10 other things you may not have noticed in the game:

1. The goal-line stand: Overlooked by many, but played a huge role in the outcome. Texas had first-and-goal from the 2 and tested both sides of the line before trying to unsuccessfully throw. Both runs were pretty much gang-tackles, but senior end Lorenzo Washington made the initial stop on the run right and then had the pressure to force Gilbert to throw the ball away on third down.

2. The running game: The 205 rushing yards were the most Texas gave up all year, and Ingram and Richardson were the two running backs to have 100-yard games. Coaches were being careful with Ingram as the only possession he touched the ball more than three times was the first touchdown drive when he had 29 of the 57 total yards on five carries. Alabama had a lot of early success running Ingram to the left and gained roughly 200 yards going in that direction. Outside of his 49-yard touchdown, Richardson's longest run was his 17-yard carry around the left end late in the game. Alabama ran two plays out of wildcat (neither by Ingram, which was a clear tip-off something wasn't right) for 14 yards and two pistol runs for 8 yards. On the play Richardson was hit in the backfield by defensive tackle Lamarr Houston, cameras caught the ball knocked loose but actually held in place by Houston until Richardson could re-grab it.

3. Greg McElroy's injury: Although the junior quarterback did an admirable job of hiding the injury to his ribs, there were some signs that something was amiss. For example, after he took his first hard hit the next snap he got antsy and forced an incomplete pass to sophomore Marquis Maze before the play had developed. There were other times his body language was just a little off, which can be indicative of that injury, especially after taking hits. He only attempted 11 passes, completing six for 58 yards. He was 3-for-6 on third downs, of which one was long enough for a first down.

4. The third quarter: Statistically, it was Alabama's worst offensive quarter of the season, with 10 plays for three yards and no first downs. It had eight rushing plays for minus-6 yards (211 the rest of the game) and two completions for nine yards. To put that into perspective, out of the 52 quarters the Tide had previously played before Thursday it had failed to score in only eight. The worst output had been the third quarter against Tennessee, when Alabama had 14 yards (all on two pass completions) and no first downs. Meanwhile Texas ran 26 plays, scored a touchdown, had five first downs and more than doubled its first-half output with 116 yards. It was the only quarter the Longhorns had the ball more, 8:26 compared to 6:34.

5. Red-zone play: Alabama had four possessions in the red zone and recorded three touchdowns and a 26-yard field goal. One of Saban's more interesting calls was not to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Texas 9 just before halftime when the Tide was averaging 5.3 yards per carry. However, it benefitted Alabama anyway with Dareus' interception. The goal-line stand was the Longhorns' only possession in the red zone.

6. The receivers: Of McElroy's six completions, only two were to wide receivers. True, they had trouble beating the press coverage, but it was more due to the circumstances of having a big lead an injured quarterback. Sophomore Julio Jones had the key block on Brown to spring Ingram's 18-yard run around the left end early on. His 23-yard reception off a play-action also set up Alabama's fist touchdown. Alabama tallied just 37 yards after the catch.

7. Pass coverage: There were more breakdowns than All-American receiver Jordan Shipley's 28-yard touchdown to bring Texas to within 24-21. For example, on the play junior linebacker Rolando McClain jumped up and nearly made the interception wide receiver Dan Buckner was wide open behind him. Also, Chykie Brown beat senior Marquis Johnson on one play and Gilbert simply couldn't hit him. The incompletion in the end zone was actually a drop, one of five for the Longhorns. When Texas' passing game got going in the second half it wasn't from targeting anyone in particular, although the Longhorns were trying to get Shipley on the safties in one-on-one coverage. Texas completed only one pass thrown junior Kareem Jackson's way, none on Marquis Johnson and Arenas had three including Shipley's 44-yard touchdown but also had two interceptions.

8. The sacks: After giving up 15 beforehand, the Tide yielded five. They were, in order:

- an 8-yard loss on a snuffed out screen when intended receiver Ingram was tackled;
- a 3-yard loss on a coverage sack;
- a 5-yard loss on a disguised blitz;
- a 7-yard loss when McElroy held the ball too long and Sergio Kindle was being blocked by senior tight end Colin Peek;
- McElroy ran a play-action bootleg right into Kindle and didn't throw the ball away before being dropped for a 10-yard loss.

9. Special teams: The good thing that hardly anyone noticed was that Alabama did very good job containing Texas' outstanding kick returners D.J. Monroe and Marquise Goodwin, who averaged 17.7 yards per return. Coming in, Monroe ranked No. 2 nationally with a 35.8-yard average and Goodwin averaged 22.1 yards.

Now for the not-so good:
- Texas baited Alabama on the fake punt and probably knew it was something Saban did or saw on film (Ole Miss?). The Longhorns didn't line up anyone wide while placing 10 players on the line and then flared out two from the interior to pick up the coverage.
- It appeared that coaches told Jones to run up and catch any short kick, but the distance was too far to do so on the ball Texas recovered.
- The kick that went off sophomore Brad Smelley appeared to be a sort of line-drive squib that the Longhorns recovered.
- Senior Leigh Tiffin missed a 52-yard field goal (but had the distance), and the final attempt of his career, an extra point.

10. Penalties: The Tide was flagged five times for 38 yards including a false start by James Carpenter, a personal foul by McClain (for giving an extra push to a player who was down), Dareus' unsportsmanlike conduct for throwing the ball after his touchdown, McClain jumping offsides on third-and-1, and sophomore safety Mark Barron for holding. Texas had eight penalties for 77 yards, and some were of the serious variety including a chop block and a leg whip. Alabama should have also drawn holding calls on both of Arenas' interceptions (but would have been obviously declined). Alabama's offensive line finished the year without having a holding call over the final 38 quarters.


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