PASADENA, Calif. – Colt McCoy had 60 minutes left to cap his incredible career with the only accomplishment he really ever cared about, a national championship.
Four minutes into the big game, he was done – KO’d by a shoulder injury. By the time he returned to the sideline, his Texas Longhorns seemed out of it, too – trailing by three scores in the third quarter.
Then McCoy traded his helmet for a headset and something stunning happened. His 18-year-old replacement started playing like, well, a combination of McCoy and his predecessor, Vince Young, who also was watching from the sideline.
Garrett Gilbert revived Texas’ championship hopes the way McCoy would have, picking up crucial first downs and throwing deep to Jordan Shipley. The two hooked up on a 44-yard touchdown play, then a 28-yarder. Then the kid nailed a 2-point conversion pass and the Longhorns were down by only a field goal with 6:25 left. After that Alabama punted and the Longhorns were 93 yards from a go-ahead TD with 3:14 and two timeouts left.
Could it be? Could they win it all without the winningest quarterback in college football history?
Ultimately, they couldn’t. They needed McCoy more than ever after that.
Gilbert was sacked and fumbled, then threw interceptions on his final two drives.
Texas lost 37-21, but the way Gilbert played under these circumstances – taking the first meaningful snaps of his career early in the BCS championship game against No. 1 Alabama, in front of 94,906 at the Rose Bowl – gave the Longhorns a few sweet memories along with the bitterness of failing to win it all and seeing McCoy’s magnificent career end with pain and tears.
“I love this game, I have a passion for this game. I’ve done everything I can to contribute to this team and we made it this far,” McCoy said. “I’d have given everything I had to be out there with my team.”
Gilbert finished 15 of 40 for 186 yards with four interceptions and the fumble. He matched his completion total for the season (in mop-up duty over nine games, never against top foes) and the two TDs were the first two of his career. There’s an interesting linking of the eras in the fact both went to Shipley, a sixth-year senior who arrived during Young’s sophomore year.
“It’s a tough experience, it’s a humbling experience,” Gilbert said. “It’s something you’re not going to forget. Guys told me they were proud of me. Throughout the game, Colt was telling me to stay calm. There wasn’t much time to think about it. I got thrown in and knew I was going to be counted on by my teammates to step up.”
Coach Mack Brown has long figured his program would be in good shape when McCoy gives way to Gilbert, who is bigger and has a stronger arm. However, he was counting on the transition coming one game and eight months later.