Analyzing the BCS championship matchup
AP College Football Writer
With perfect records and plenty of All-Americans, No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Texas showed few flaws on their way to the BCS national championship game on Jan. 7 in the Rose Bowl.
How do they match up when the Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and the Crimson Tide have the ball? When Colt McCoy and the Longhorns are on the field?
Two coaches – Colorado’s Dan Hawkins and North Texas’ Todd Dodge – provide insight and help break down the battle for the national title.
WHEN TEXAS HAS THE BALL
It’s all about McCoy.
“They are very good on offense, but he is exceptional and that elevates the play of all those guys,” Hawkins said.
McCoy, an All-American and two-time Heisman finalist, directs a spread attack that averages 432 yards per game (20th in the nation).
The Longhorns generally line up with three receivers, one running back and a tight end. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis doesn’t show a lot of different looks. But they do what they do very well.
McCoy gets rid of the ball fast and accurately (70 percent completion rate). Plus, he’s mobile and Davis likes to move the pocket around so McCoy is usually hard to pressure.
McCoy’s scrambling and ability to run the option, helps make up for some of the Longhorns’ inconsistencies with a more traditional running game.
“They may not run him very much but he can take off and run 50, 60, 70 yards on you,” Hawkins said.
Alabama, No. 2 in the country in total defense, can counter McCoy’s quickness with one of the best group of linebackers and safeties in the country.
“From a size and athleticism standpoint, (they) stand out in college football right now,” Dodge said.
All-American Rolando McClain is as good as any linebacker in the nation. The 255-pound junior makes plays all over the field and is like an extension of coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.
Dodge said Alabama tends to keep things basic on first and second down. It’s on third down that Saban and Smart get tricky.
Florida quarterback Tim Tebow said in two games against Alabama, the Tide has not shown the same blitz more than twice.
Dodge said the Longhorns’ up-tempo, no-huddle “Jet” attack could slow down Alabama’s blitzes and keep All-American nose guard Terrence Cody on the field more than the Tide prefers. The 350-pound Cody tends to come out in passing situations.
Texas All-American Jordan Shipley is the slot receiver and McCoy’s most reliable receiver by far. Shipley had 106 catches for 1,363 yards. The Tide might be best served using 215-pound strong safety Mark Barron to make it tough for the 190-pound Shipley to get off the line of scrimmage.
Hawkins said the Buffaloes used an extra defensive back as their base defense against Texas, but that leaves a defense susceptible to the run. Alabama, however, might be good enough up front to handle the Texas running game with limited help from the secondary.
“That’s a one-back offensive coordinator’s nightmare,” said Dodge, who also runs a spread offense.
Since Ndamukong Suh and Nebraska dominated Texas’ line and sacked McCoy nine times in the Big 12 title game, the Longhorns’ line has been viewed as a weak spot. It’s not great, but it is good and here’s the best news for Texas: Nebraska’s defensive line is better than Alabama’s.
Bottom line: Stop McCoy and you stop Texas.
WHEN ALABAMA HAS THE BALL
The Crimson Tide plays offense the old-fashioned way, with two backs and the quarterback under center much of the time.
“They would love to give it to their tailback 35 times a game and let it happen,” Dodge said.
Not a bad plan when you have Ingram, who ran for 1,542 yards and 15 touchdowns, and freshman Trent Richardson, who added 642 yards rushing.
But Texas has the No. 1 rush defense in the country, allowing 62 yards per game, anchored by defensive tackle Lamarr Houston. The only team that put up good rushing numbers against Texas was Texas A&M with 190. But almost half of those came from quarternack Jerrod Johnson’s scrambles.
No team has been able to simply load up and run it against Texas. But on the flip side, Alabama is by far the best running team the Longhorns have faced.
The Tide does have the weapons to open things up. Receiver Julio Jones’ numbers (42 catches for 573 yards and four TDs) suggest a sophomore slump, but he’s one of the top talents in the country.
“His name might not get even mentioned, but that’s scary,” Dodge said. “You better not forget him because he will break your heart.
Same goes for 6-foot-6 tight end Colin Peek.
It’s up to quarterback Greg McElroy to get them the ball and against Texas that means deciphering defensive coordinator Will Muschamps’ zone blitzes and one of the most talented secondaries in the nation.
McElroy, a junior first-year starter, had a midseason slump but played his best two games of the season in his last two games, leading a comeback against Auburn and a runaway victory over Florida for the SEC title.
“He is extremely accurate in the pocket, he can make all the throws,” said Dodge, who coached McElroy in high school. “When he plays within himself and understand that he has the talent around him, he is awfully good.
“When he tries to step outside himself is when he has a problem.”
Texas led the nation in interceptions with 24 behind All-American safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Aaron Williams. Muschamp, a disciple of Saban, puts those guys in position to make plays on the ball.
“Playing zone in and of itself helps you get a few more interceptions,” Hawkins said. “When you have your eye on the quarterback it helps you break to the ball.”
And Hawkins added, “Your quarterback better get the ball out of his hands pretty quick or he’s going to be lying on his back.”
Texas also has 40 sacks.
Alabama’s offensive line, thought to be a potential weak link early in the season, has allowed only 13 sacks. All-American guard Michael Johnson and the big guys up front manhandled Florida in the SEC title game and the Gators had the top-ranked defense in the country heading into that game.
Bottom line: Alabama is built to win without getting a big day from its quarterback. Texas’ job is to make it necessary for McElroy to play well.
WHEN THE BALL IS KICKED
Both teams have dangerous returners and solid kickers.
Alabama’s Javier Arenas was fourth in the nation at 16.3 per return and kicker Leigh Tiffin was an All-American.
Shipley has returned two punts for touchdowns. D.J. Monroe has two kickoff return touchdowns. Hunter Lawrence was last seen kicking the game-winning field against Nebraska.
Prediction: Alabama 24, Texas 17.