James Cameron could not have written a more unpredictable script to Thursday night’s national championship game.
Alabama, facing a third-and-18 from its own 20-yard line, faked a punt on its first possession. Blake Gideon intercepted the pass, and Texas took over on the Tide 37.
On third down, Colt McCoy suffered an apparent shoulder injury.
Garrett Gilbert entered, and the drive ended with a field goal. Thanks to a recovered pooch kick by Texas on the ensuing kickoff, Gilbert had another chance to lead the offense. He failed to produce a first down, and Texas kicked another field goal.
Greg McElroy, the Alabama quarterback, was sacked three times in nine plays.
The second quarter provided much more glory for the Tide. Thanks to dominant running from Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, not to mention an interception return by a defensive lineman, Alabama is in control 24-6.
Trailing 17-6 with under a minute to play, it looked like Texas had done enough to stay within striking distance going into halftime. Although the offense had failed to move the ball very well, the defense was doing all it could to keep the ‘Horns in the game.
Then Gilbert threw a shovel pass into a crowd of linemen. The ball was batted around before defensive tackle Marcell Dareus took the ball in midair, and rumbled 28 yards for the final score in the half.
McCoy’s injury is undisclosed at the moment, but nothing short of a miracle will let Texas win this game even if he returns. Texas’ running game has been as successful as possible when they have absolutely no threat to pass the ball, running for 86 yards on 18 carries.
Gilbert is 1-for-10 passing for minus-4 yards and two interceptions. Late in the half, offensive coordinator Greg Davis opened up his playbook slightly and allowed Gilbert to make a few throws downfield. He had a touchdown pass knocked away, intended for Malcolm Williams. It was a very good throw, and the defensive play on the ball was simply spectacular.
Trailing 14-6, Gilbert lofted a fade pass to a wide-open Jordan Shipley, but it fell just out of reach.
Mark Ingram is on his way to the best performance for a Heisman winner in the national title game since Matt Leinart in the 2004-05 season. He has 90 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown so far.
Gilbert, a true freshman and the Gatorade athlete of the year in 2008, will have brighter days, but tonight’s task is simply over his head.