Classic Study Hall: Alabama vs Texas (2009)

2005: Texas vs USC
2006: Florida vs Ohio State
2007: LSU vs Ohio State
2008: Florida vs Oklahoma

For most of the games we've discussed so far, there have been interesting narratives and storylines that unfolded from quarter to quarter.  For 2009's national title game, it doesn't take nearly as many paragraphs.

Longer version: Colt McCoy got hurt in Texas' first drive, ceding the snaps to overwhelmed freshman Garrett Gilbert.  Texas failed to take full advantage of a couple of early opportunities, and Alabama's offense finally got rolling.  When Marcel Dareus scored on one of the meaner pick sixes you'll ever see, the game was all but over at 24-6.  Alabama's offense went into a shell, and Gilbert bounced back, but Texas could only get within three before the Alabama defense went beast mode on Gilbert again, forcing three turnovers in three possessions to seal the deal.

Shorter version: Colt McCoy got hurt.

Instead of going quarter by quarter, that's basically what you need to know.  Before getting to the box score, however, let's review what I said in the post-game Varsity Numbers.

(Note: If you notice that the "close" numbers in the VN column and in the below table are different, that's because the definition of "close" has changed -- expanded to include more plays -- since the column was written.

First things first: It really is regretful that we didn't get the game we thought we would get last Thursday. Texas came out confident, shutting down the Tide on the first drive of the game, then handed a short field to Colt McCoy ... who proceeded to contract dead-arm upon taking his first hit of the game. The devastating fluke injury changed the entire narrative of the game, from "Two heavyweights throwing haymakers" to "Big, strong favorite tries to hold off charge from plucky underdog." True freshman quarterback Garrett Gilbert took over for McCoy, fell apart, put everything back together, then fell apart again. And despite the loss of the Longhorns' best player, we were given at least a reasonably entertaining, if severely anti-climactic, national title game.

("Regretful?"  Really?  Try "regrettable.")

This game really was lost in the first half, with Texas trying desperately (and eventually failing) to un-lose the game in the second.

It ended up taking some late defensive heroics to seal the deal, but, for the most part, Alabama won this game in the most practical, methodical, and somewhat boring way possible. Once it was clear that Texas' offense was irreparably harmed by McCoy's injury (at least for 2.5 quarters), Alabama simply went about dominating the field-position battle, leveraging the Longhorns into passing down after passing down and running strong over a tiring Texas defense. A big defensive play on a downright strange Texas play-call -- Marcell Dareus' athletic shovel pass pick-6 -- gave the Tide an eventually insurmountable 24-6 lead at halftime.

This wasn't quite the Super Bowl XXII second quarter where the Redskins scored 35 points on the Broncos, but the damage was just as irreparable.  After attempting one of the more ill-advised fake punts of all-time, then falling victim to a deep onside kick, Alabama moved the ball a little bit on their second drive, then got going.  Third drive: seven plays, 57 yards, touchdown.  Fifth drive: two plays, 49 yards, touchdown.  Trent Richardson's 49-yard jaunt gave Alabama all the cushion they needed to begin teeing off on Gilbert and piling up the points.

Gilbert would get his bearings, and Alabama's amazingly conservative third-quarter offense almost let Texas back into the game. Still, when the title was on the line, Alabama made all the plays necessary to win the game, including three takeaways in Texas' final five plays and two short-yardage rushing touchdowns. They deserve all the credit in the world, but (and the 2009 season was really just one giant "BUT ...") it would have been nice to see the game we thought we would be seeing.

And I mean, AMAZINGLY conservative offense on Alabama's part.  Almost conservative to the point of "you might as well have gone deep and risked an interception -- Texas would have barely gotten the ball any quicker."

Anyway, to the box score!

Alabama 37, Texas 21


Alabama
Texas


Alabama
Texas
Close % 100.0%

STANDARD DOWNS
Field Position % 50.8%
34.3%

Success Rate 52.5%
30.8%
Leverage % 63.5%
55.7%

PPP 0.33
0.04




S&P 0.857
0.344
TOTAL



EqPts 19.1
13.1

PASSING DOWNS
Close Success Rate 38.1%
28.6%

Success Rate 13.0%
25.8%
Close PPP 0.30
0.19

PPP 0.25
0.38
Close S&P 0.435
0.296

S&P 0.382
0.635







RUSHING
TURNOVERS
EqPts 18.7
5.1

Number 1
5
Close Success Rate 43.5%
29.6%

Turnover Pts 4.1
22.5
Close PPP 0.41
0.19

Turnover Pts Margin +18.4
-18.4
Close S&P 0.842
0.487




Line Yards/carry 3.01
1.96

Q1 S&P 0.658
0.535




Q2 S&P 1.017
0.233
PASSING
Q3 S&P -0.012
0.548
EqPts 0.4
7.9

Q4 S&P 0.733
0.523
Close Success Rate 23.5%
27.9%




Close PPP 0.02
0.18

1st Down S&P 0.663
0.325
Close S&P 0.256
0.464

2nd Down S&P 0.967
0.651
SD/PD Sack Rate 37.5%/22.2%
5.3% / 0.0%

3rd Down S&P 0.355
0.473
Projected Pt. Margin: Alabama +24.4 | Actual Pt. Margin: Alabama +16

Projected vs Actual

I was thrown at first by the fact that Alabama was projected to win this game by eight more points than they actually did, but then I remembered the first quarter.   However it happened, either Alabama punter P.J. Fitzgerald failed to check out of an ill-advised fake punt, or he saw something and checked into it; either way, he was picked off by Blake Gideon, handing Texas the ball at the 'Bama 37 through special teams.  Then, after McCoy got hurt and Texas kicked a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the Alabama 1 (ALWAYS GO FOR IT ON FOURTH-AND-GOAL FROM THE 1), the Longhorns got the ball back at the Alabama 30 after a chip shot kickoff hit the turf and they recovered.  They kicked another field goal there and held a 6-0 lead thanks mostly to special teams.  So we can rather quickly account for six of the eight-point difference.

The Wager Pays Off

Once up 18 points, Alabama threw the playbook out the window.  They made a wager with themselves -- they bet that they could take the foot off of the accelerator, focus on field position, and prevent a freshman quarterback from making up 18 points against them.  It worked, though the level to which they took their foot off the gas is much more analogous to slamming on the brakes.  (UPDATE: Greg McElroy's rib injury probably had something to do with the brake-slamming as well.)  Here are their first three second-half drives.

  • Start: Alabama 20. Three plays, five yards, PUNT.
  • Start: Alabama 19. Three plays, minus-four yards, PUNT.
  • Start: Alabama 20. Three plays, minus-one yards, PUNT.

Six runs for one yard, three pass attempts (including a sack) for minus-one yards.  It took Texas most of the quarter, but they began to flip the field.  With 3:15 left in the third quarter, they started at their 41 and, thanks to a 44-yarder to Jordan Shipley, scored to make it 24-13.  'Bama botched the onside kick attempt, and Texas got it back but had to punt.  The Longhorns were able to dominate field position enough to score again and make it 24-21, but eventually the defense kicked back in and saved an offense that was never really able to find its rhythm again after it seemingly voluntarily stopped trying.

Play-Calling Downs

For a while now, I've been thinking of standard downs as "play-calling downs" or "game-planning downs."  (Consequently, passing downs are "play-maker downs.")  If that's the case, consider this game Exhibit A.  With a freshman quarterback, Texas still outplayed Alabama on passing downs, but with Gilbert in the game instead of McCoy, Greg Davis and the Texas offensive staff had absolutely no idea what plays to call.  Their Standard Downs S&P of 0.344 is about as bad as you will ever see.  In fact, it ranks 9,277th out of 9,464 single-game performances from between 2005-10.  That's officially the second percentile.  Ggh.  You know who also managed a 0.344 Standard Downs S&P?  Grambling State against UL-Monroe in 2007 and Morgan State against Rutgers in 2008.

Targets and Catches

ALABAMA Targets Catches Catch% Target% Rec. Yds. Yds. Per Target
Marquis Maze (WR)
3
1
33.3%
27.3%
4
1.3
Julio Jones (WR)
2
1
50.0%
18.2%
23
11.5
Trent Richardson (RB)
2
2
100.0%
18.2% 19
9.5
Mark Ingram (RB)
2
2
100.0%
18.2% 12
6.0
Roy Upchurch (RB) 1
0
0.0%
9.1%
0
0.0
Darius Hanks (WR)
1
0
0.0% 9.1%
0
0.0
TOTAL 11
6
54.5%
100.0%
58
5.3
TOTAL (WR) 6
2
33.3%
54.5%
27
4.5
TOTAL (RB) 5
4
80.0%
45.5%
31
6.2
TOTAL (TE) 0
0
N/A
0.0%
0
N/A

This screams "conservative!" about as well as anything you'll find.  You will rarely see receivers targeted six times in a game unless you are watching Navy.  Julio Jones made big, 23-yard catch in Alabama's first scoring drive ... and that's about all he was asked to do.  And as we saw in 2010, Alabama has no problem flaring to the running back quite a bit.  It just doesn't typically make up 45% of their passing gameplan.

TEXAS Targets Catches Catch% Target% Rec. Yds. Yds. Per Target
Jordan Shipley (WR)
17
10
58.8%
40.5%
122
7.2
Malcolm Williams (WR) 6
1
16.7%
14.3%
4
0.7
Marquise Goodwin (WR) 4
3
75.0%
9.5%
70
17.5
Dan Buckner (WR) 4
1
25.0%
9.5%
-3
-0.8
Tre' Newton (RB)
3
2
66.7%
7.1%
2
0.7
James Kirkendoll (WR) 2
0
0.0% 4.8%
0
0.0
John Chiles (WR) 1
0
0.0% 2.4%
0
0.0
Antwan Cobb (RB) 1
0
0.0% 2.4% 0
0.0
D.J. Monroe (RB)
1
0
0.0% 2.4% 0
0.0
N/A
3
0
N/A
N/A
0
N/A
TOTAL 42
17
40.5%
100.0%
195
4.6
TOTAL (WR) 37
15
40.5%
88.1%
193
5.2
TOTAL (RB) 5
2
40.0%
11.9%
2
0.4
TOTAL (TE) 0
0
N/A
0.0%
0
N/A
TOTAL (Players Not Named
Jordan Shipley)
25
7
28.0%
59.5%
73
2.9

As a freshman against Missouri in 2008, Malcolm Williams made one of the most athletically impressive plays you'll see, leaping high to snare a touchdown pass above safety William Moore (now of the Atlanta Falcons), with another Missouri defender draped around him.  Two weeks later, he caught a 91-yard bomb against Texas Tech.  He looked like a surefire NFL star receiver ... but he caught only 17 passes in all that season.  Things seemed to click in November of his sophomore year; he caught 15 passes for 235 yards against Kansas and Texas A&M.  But in his last 14 games, he has 28 receptions for 390 yards.  Decent for a backup, or a low-talent/max-effort possession receiver ... but horrendous for a player with seemingly as much potential as Williams.

I mention this, of course, because Texas desperately needed a No. 2 option to take some of the pressure off of Jordan Shipley in this game, and Gilbert turned to Williams.  His six passes to Williams netted all of four yards.  FOUR!  I am not a Texas fan by any means, and this frustrated me to no end.  At 6'3, 225 pounds with excellent speed, Williams has everything you would seemingly want in a star receiver ... below the neck, anyway.  If I were a Texas fan, Williams might have made me homicidal by now.

In all, passes not intended for Jordan Shipley were 7-for-25 for 73 yards and three interceptions.  Perhaps I'm making too much of the whole "overwhelmed freshman" aspect above?  Maybe the problem was an overwhelmed receiving corps?

Summary

I really was not a fan of the 2009 season.  It was dominated by injuries (Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow's concussion, etc.) and coaching controversy (Kansas, Texas Tech and South Florida all ended up dumping their coaches due to allegations of mistreatment), so it was only fitting that the narrative for the season's national title game -- a game that, with McCoy, could have been incredibly evenly-matched, even despite Texas' aforementioned overwhelmed receiving corps -- changed in a negative way on the game's ninth play.

That said, I'm doubting Alabama fans mind too much.  As I've said before, the banner is the same size no matter how it comes about, and despite the injury, it's hard to look at the performances of Trent Richardson (21 touches, 128 yards), Mark Ingram (24 touches, 128 yards), Javier Arenas (2 INTs) and the entire Alabama secondary, Marcell Dareus (pick six), Eryk Anders (6.5 tackles, 2 TFL), etc. and claim that the Tide were in any way undeserving.  I in no way question their bona fides; I'm just disappointed that I didn't get to watch what might have been an incredible game.  But again, that sums up my feelings of the 2009 season as a whole.  Alabama fans might see things a little differently.

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