It has been almost nine years, and Greg McElroy still has not lost a football game. The Alabama quarterback led his team to the 2010 BCS national championship, beating the Texas Longhorns 37-21 Thursday night, and he did it the hard way.
McElroy was sacked five times against the Longhorns while completing only 6-of-11 passes.
Though it was a tough night for the McElroy in the passing game, he left the dirty work up to his running game. Powered by a 116-yard, two-touchdown performance from Mark Ingram, Alabama dominated the Texas on the ground for 205 total rushing yards.
As far as normality goes, don’t look to this game for a good example of such. On the game’s first possession, Alabama faked a punt from its own 20-yard line. Punter P.J. Fitzgerald lofted an underthrown pass towards an open receiver, and Blake Gideon intercepted it at the Alabama 37-yard line.
It was a bit of ironic redemption for Gideon, whose dropped interception in the Longhorns’ loss to Texas Tech in 2008 eventually cost them a chance to play in last year’s title game.
Fans barely had a chance to discuss one of the most questionable play calls in BCS history before the biggest play of the night would take place. Colt McCoy kept the ball on an option play, but was stopped for no gain. At the end of the play, McCoy took a hit to the right shoulder from Tide defensive linemen Marcell Dareus.
McCoy, who has been the face of Texas football for the last four seasons, left the field in apparent pain. In one of the most unceremonious ends to a star quarterback’s career ever, McCoy would never return to the game.
In came Garrett Gilbert, a true freshman who was ranked the second-best quarterback recruit in the country in 2009. Despite all of the high regard, he had attempted just 26 passes all season.
How’s this for a welcome-to-college-football moment? Gilbert took over the reigns for a living legend in Texas lore, not to mention facing the task of beating the nation’s top-ranked defense in the national championship game.
Alabama seized its golden opportunity. With the Texas offense flustering, the Tide grabbed a 17-6 lead with less than a minute to play in the second quarter. Texas faced a second down with half a minute remaining, when Mack Brown outcoached Saban in a bad way, topping the questionable fake punt call with a risky shovel pass.
Gilbert’s shovel bounced off of several players in a cluttered play, when Dareus eventually grabbed the ball in midair and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown. All of a sudden, a 17-6 deficit that still seemed to have a breath of hope turned into a 24-6 nightmare. The rout was on.
At least that’s what the Tide seemed to believe. In an uninspired third quarter for the Tide, Gilbert slowly gained the confidence of his coaches and of himself, leading a touchdown drive late in the quarter to draw the ‘Horns within 11 points.
It’s never easy for a team that feels comfortable with a sizable lead to revitalize itself if the lead shrinks. Alabama spent the beginning of the fourth quarter adjusting to the idea that the game was once again competitive.
Texas recovered an onside kick following the touchdown, but was held to a three-and-out. Alabama held strong, but failed to deliver on the following drive. Thanks to two 15-yard penalties by the Texas defense, Alabama drove to the Texas 35-yard line before being held to a fourth down.
With a two-possession lead and facing an unproven quarterback, Saban could have very easily elected to try to punt the ball and pin Texas deep in its own territory. Instead, he turned to the program’s all-time leading scorer Leigh Tiffin for a 52-yard field goal. He narrowly missed the kick wide left, opening the door for another Texas scoring drive.
Gilbert delivered just that. In a nine-play succession, he instantly went from overwhelmed rookie to Tom Brady in a burnt orange uniform. Texas never took the ball out of Gilbert’s hands on the drive in which he completed 7-of-8 passes for 64 yards, culminated by a 28-yard touchdown strike to Jordan Shipley.
He wasn’t quite done, either. Trailing 24-19, Gilbert stepped back on the field for a two-point conversion. He delivered a laser to a smothered Dan Buckner in the back of the end zone to draw Texas within a field goal of the lead.
With six minutes and some change left to play, a game that at one point looked to be a snoozefest all of a sudden had the chance to be an all-time great.
Texas’ defense, led by end Sergio Kindle’s fierce pass rush, allowed the Tide only one first down before forcing a punt.
Fitzgerald, who played a great game when he was left to his normal punting duties, pinned Texas back at its own 7-yard line.
The stage was then set for potentially the most memorable drive in college football history. On the same field just four years earlier Vince Young led Texas back from certain defeat to win one of the most memorable championship games in history.
Garrett Gilbert had a chance to out-Vince Young Vince Young. The odds were against him, but it’s not like he’d been playing with house money to that point in the game. He took the snap on the first play and came up with an incomplete pass, but before the ball hit the turf, a yellow flag beat it to the punch.
Defensive holding against Alabama gave the Longhorns some breathing room out to their own 17-yard line.
On the following play, Gilbert returned to earth when he held onto the ball in the pocket one second too long. Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart came with a blitz from Gilbert’s blind side and rocked the young quarterback, knocking the ball loose. The ball rolled free before Alab Courtney Upshaw at the three-yard line for the Tide.
That’s as close as Gilbert came to college football immortality. The Tide took three plays to punch the ball into the end zone and seal their 13th national championship in program history.
11 of the 25 incomplete passes Gilbert threw were dropped by his receivers, including two of his interceptions. The final interception came on a deflected pass down field that bounced off his receivers’ chest, which was not the quarterback’s fault.
Alabama was given the biggest break they ever could have received with the loss of McCoy, and they still had to work hard for the victory.
What they did instead was nearly commit the most monumental collapse in championship game history, before reawakening at the last possible moment to claim the victory.
McElroy, meanwhile, curiously represented the team he led to the win Thursday night. He was not spectacular, and he left the door for a Texas comeback wide open, but in the end, he just doesn’t lose.