PASADENA, Calif. -- No. 1 Alabama won its first college football national championship since 1992, beating No. 2 Texas 37-21 in the Citi BCS National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl on Thursday night.
Here’s how the game was played:
How the game was won: Alabama used its stingy defense and explosive running game to overcome a couple of mind-boggling mistakes on special teams in the game’s opening moments, then held on for dear life in the fourth quarter.
After Texas quarterback Colt McCoy injured his right shoulder after only five plays and never returned, Alabama took control of the game in the first half with its running attack and defense. The Tide carried an 18-point lead into halftime, but played so poorly in the second half that the Longhorns nearly came all the way back.
Texas freshman Garrett Gilbert threw two touchdowns to Jordan Shipley and nearly led the Longhorns to one of the most improbable comebacks in recent college football history. The Crimson Tide didn’t put Texas away for good until linebacker Eryk Anders hit Gilbert from behind, forcing a fumble that Courtney Upshaw recovered at the Longhorns’ 3-yard line with 3:07 to play. Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram scored a 1-yard touchdown run with 2:01 left to put Alabama ahead, 31-21.
Turning point: Alabama’s defense knocked McCoy out of the game on defensive end Marcell Dareus’ jarring tackle with 10:54 to play in the first quarter. McCoy injured his right shoulder and never returned. Gilbert, who had attempted only 26 passes in nine games, seemed overwhelmed during the first three quarters, but finally found his rhythm late in the game.
Player of the game: Dareus, a sophomore from Huffman, Ala., turned in the game’s two biggest plays. Along with knocking McCoy out of the game on a clean hit, Dareus returned an interception 28 yards for a touchdown to give the Crimson Tide a 24-6 lead with 15 seconds to go in the first half. Trailing 17-6 with 29 seconds left, the Longhorns were backed up and inexplicably used a timeout before Gilbert’s shovel pass was bobbled by D.J. Monroe and picked off by Dareus.
Unsung hero of the game: Texas defensive end Sergio Kindle was a monster in his final college game, finishing with 8 tackles and 2.5 sacks. He rattled Crimson Tide quarterback Greg McElroy for most of the night. McElroy looked uncomfortable from the start, and Alabama’s celebrated offensive line wasn’t able to provide him with much protection.
Best call: Trailing 6-0 late in the first quarter, Alabama finally decided to get Ingram involved in its offense. Starting at the Bama 43, Ingram carried the ball on five of seven plays in the touchdown drive. After the Tide reached the Texas 12, he carried three consecutive times and walked into the end zone on first-and-goal from the 2.
Second guessing I: In the early moments, Alabama coach Nick Saban gambled and lost. On the opening possession, the Crimson Tide attempted a fake punt -- from their 20-yard line. Punter P.J. Fitzgerald’s pass was intercepted by safety Blake Gideon, setting up a Texas field goal (after the Longhorns failed to score on three plays from inside the Bama 5). Alabama failed to cover the ensuing kickoff, and Texas recovered at the Tide’s 30. But the Longhorns were again unable to score a touchdown, and they settled for another field goal and 6-0 lead.
Second guessing II: Texas’ decision to call a timeout with 15 seconds left in the half will be debated in the Lone Star State for a long time. The Longhorns were backed up at their 37-yard line and had an inexperienced quarterback on the field. After the timeout, Dareus intercepted the pass and returned it for a touchdown to give the Tide an 18-point lead at the half.
What it means: An SEC team (and third different one) won a BCS national championship for the fourth consecutive season. By beating the Longhorns, Alabama replaces Florida as the SEC’s hot program and could very well start the 2010 season ranked No. 1 in many polls. Saban also cements his place among the game’s greatest coaches, after leading two schools to BCS titles (he also led LSU to the 2003 championship).