As we look back on last night's national championship game much of the focus will be on Colt McCoy's injury and Mack Brown's insane decision at the end of the first half. Both were Goliath-type stories, but what they overshadow is some other incredible failings by Mack and his coaching staff.
I'm not saying that Texas could have won this game with a freshman quarterback at the helm, but I'd like to illustrated a few decisions that Mack and Co could have made that would have put them in a better position to do so.
Let's start with 4th and Goal at the 1 in the first quarter. Yes, you have a freshman quarterback in there, and yes, you'd like to get some points on the board. But who knows when you will ever get this close to the end zone again, and your defense just held Alabama to a three and out. There's been almost too much discussion (which I've admittedly contributed to) about going for it more on fourth down, but this one seems clear to me.
Think of it this way. Kicking the field goal is just about 100%, so that decision is worth three points. But after kicking the field goal, you will have to kickoff and likely give the other team the ball at the 30 or so yard line. (Let's ignore what actually happened, because there's no way Texas was counting on Alabama not to field the free kick.) So the value of that decision is three points, minus 30 yards of field position.
What do we think the chances of Texas getting that one yard? Really, they only have to be about 30% for it to be worthwhile, because of the 30 yards of field position you would gain if you happened not to get it versus the result of a kick off.
And with the prospect of playing the remaining 49 minutes of this game with a freshman quarterback, Mack and Co needed to take more risks here, not fewer, and going for it was the only decision that made sense. I was rooting for Alabama, and I was relieved when Mack and Co chose to kick the field goal.
Now let's move on to the play calling. Yes, you have a freshman quarterback in there, and yes, you have to be conservative. But five times in the first half, when this game was really decided, the Longhorns went first down run, second down run, third down incomplete pass, resulting in a three and out. When you are that predictable, even Peyton Manning is not going to have much success. When they finally opened things up in the second half they saw some success. Of course, poor Gilbert made some mistakes but at least he got them back into the game.
Wouldn't it have put Gilbert in a better chance to succeed if they had run some play action on first or second down? Their wide receives certainly showed later in the game that they could make some plays against this secondary. This may sound like a bit of hindsight bias, but football play calling is predicated on taking the other team by surprise. And there was no surprise in Texas' play calling.
Finally, a minor point, and one that may not have mattered at all, but still something that stuck out to me as a gaffe by Mack and Co. Fourth quarter, poor Gilbert has just turned the ball over one more time after getting blindsided, and Alabama is going in for the score that will put them up by two scores (and more importantly, cause them to cover the game).
After the first run by Ingram, Texas elects not to use one of their two remaining timeouts -- they only have two because they used one a play earlier, because they didn't have enough men on the field for Alabama's punt -- and allow roughly 40 seconds tick off the clock.
To me this is an inexplicably bad decision. You use your timeout after the first run because you save the time when you can. Anything can happen on the next down. They can score a TD, they can throw an incomplete pass, they can fumble the ball. At any rate, if they don't score on the next two plays and you use your timeouts after first and second downs, you will still end up with the same amount of time as you did if you waited to use your timeouts.
In the end Mack and Co got to take that last timeout home with them, as they never ended up using it.
I'm not trying to pin this loss on Mack Brown, because obviously losing your best player on the first drive of the game is an almost impossible thing to overcome. But in a game where their players are doing their best to win, you'd hope that the coaching staff was following suit. Mack and Co did not.