Misses, miscues level Longhorns

PASADENA, Calif. – For the Texas Longhorns, Thursday’s 37-21 loss to Alabama in the BCS title game will always be accompanied by an asterisk. Not in the record books, of course, but certainly in the minds of impartial fans who saw the game.

And some of the players who competed in it.

“If we had Colt,” Texas safety Earl Thomas said, “you never know what could’ve happened.”

There’s no question that a first-quarter injury to star QB Colt McCoy put a dent in the Longhorns’ chances of defeating the Crimson Tide. A whack to the shoulder forced McCoy to the sideline on his team’s first offensive series, and the Heisman finalist never returned.

Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus intercepts a pass intended for Texas WR D.J. Monroe.
(Mark J. Terrill/AP Photo)

Still, blaming the loss on McCoy’s injury is a cop out.

The Longhorns had plenty of chances to win despite the absence of their senior leader. A series of mistakes and poor decision-making – by players and coaches alike – wound up costing Texas the game.

“We’ve got no one to blame but ourselves,” defensive end Sergio Kindle said. “We fought hard, but sometimes you’ve got to do more than fight. You’ve got to execute.”

And the Longhorns didn’t – or at least not enough. The list of goof-ups and missed opportunities was maddening, especially when the most puzzling mistake came not from a player, but from the Longhorns’ staff.

Trailing 17-6 with 15 seconds left before intermission, offensive coordinator Greg Davis signaled for a shovel pass from true freshman QB Garrett Gilbert – McCoy’s replacement – to D.J. Monroe. It was a ridiculous call. Texas was 63 yards away from the end zone, and a clearly-rattled Gilbert had been awful in relief of McCoy, having misfired on nine of his 10 passes.

Davis’ explanation?

“We had 15 seconds left with a timeout,” Davis said. “We said, ‘Hey, let’s run a little draw-shovel. If we pop it, we’ve got a shot to hit a long field goal.’”

Instead, Gilbert’s pass was batted into the air, and Alabama’s Marcell Dareus snagged the ball and raced 28 yards untouched into the end zone to give Alabama a seemingly insurmountable 24-6 lead at the break.

“We called the safest thing,” Brown said. “We called a little shovel pass that I had never seen intercepted before, and I certainly hadn’t seen intercepted for a touchdown.”

Safe? Did Brown just say the shovel pass was safe? Asking Gilbert to make any sort of play in that mental state just before halftime was wrong. He should’ve taken a knee or handed off to his tailback to run out the clock. Then he could’ve gathered himself in the locker room and came back feeling confident with his team down only by 11.

To his credit, Gilbert said the blame should be placed on him – and not Davis – for the interception. Gilbert said things got clogged up in the middle of the offensive line.

“Obviously,” he said, “if there is some junk up in the middle, I need to throw it into the ground. I forced it a little too much. I forced the ball in there. I needed to make a smarter play on that one.”

Damaging as the interception was, it was hardly the only thing that doomed the Longhorns. Earlier in the quarter receiver Malcolm Williams failed to reel in what would’ve been a 27-yard touchdown pass in the right corner of the end zone.

It would’ve been a spectacular, diving catch by Williams, who was tightly-covered by Marquis Johnson. But he offered no excuses – because the ball touched his hands.

Texas WR Malcolm Williams misses a pass during the second quarter.
(Chris Carlson/AP Photo)

” [Johnson] held me down a little bit,” he said, “so I couldn’t jump all the way up like I wanted to. I couldn’t get all of my hands on the ball. I barely touched it.

“Still, it was a close play that I needed to make. That’s what I’m here for – to make those plays.”

If Johnson had made the catch the Longhorns would’ve trailed 14-13. Instead they ended up going down 17-6 after an interception by Gilbert on the following play that led to an Alabama field goal.

Texas players were also kicking themselves for failing to convert two Alabama turnovers into touchdowns during the opening quarter. An interception by safety Blake Gideon gave the Longhorns the ball on the Crimson Tide’s 37-yard line, but Texas was eventually stopped on third-and-goal from the 1.

Moments later the Longhorns recovered an on-side kick at the Alabama 30, but they had to settle for another field goal after moving the ball 5 yards. Texas had six points when it should’ve had 14.

“When we get turnovers, we have to get more points out of them,” Williams said. “We have to turn those into touchdowns. That ended up being a crucial part of this game.”

The second half had its bad moments, too.

Receivers dropped passes and a slew of missed tackles – particularly by cornerback Chykie Brown – led to extra yardage by Alabama tailbacks. Garrett, who had thrown just 26 passes before Thursday, finally calmed down and passed for 190 yards after the break.

But last season’s Gatorade National High School Player of the Year tossed two more interceptions and couldn’t hold onto the football on what proved to be the game’s deciding play.

With Texas trailing 24-21 with 3:14 remaining, Gilbert fumbled as he was sacked by linebacker Eryk Anders. It probably wasn’t Gilbert’s fault, as Anders blew right by left tackle Adam Ulatoski and smashed into Gilbert from behind.

The fumble gave Alabama the ball on the Texas 3. Heisman winner Mark Ingram scored the game-clinching touchdown moments later.

“I’m just disappointed for our seniors,” said Gideon, a sophomore. “That was the whole theme. We wanted to finish our season right for them. That was a really good team we played tonight.

“The scoreboard never bothered us. We kept fighting.”

No one can argue with Gideon on that one. The Longhorns turned in a tremendous second-half effort Thursday and turned what everyone thought was about to be a blowout into an incredibly entertaining game. They created opportunities for themselves to beat the nation’s best team, but then failed to capitalize on most of them.

That’s why years from now, when people are still talking about what Texas could’ve done against Alabama with Colt McCoy, the Longhorns need to remember what they should’ve done without him.

Jason King is a college football and basketball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Jan 8, 2010