CFB: In loss, Texas may have found new star
By Chris Foster
Los Angeles Times
PASADENA, Calif. — Jordan Shipley sought out the future of Texas football, finding freshman quarterback Garrett Gilbert walking with his head down.
The Longhorns’ senior wide receiver would have none of that.
“This is going to be great for you,” Shipley said, cupping his hand behind Gilbert’s neck to pull him closer to drive the words home. “I am going to enjoy watching you.”
This was not the type of performance that would normally merit such praise. Gilbert was too often the Alabama defense’s best friend.
He had four passes intercepted, one of which was returned for a touchdown, and also fumbled with the game on the line, helping the Crimson Tide roll to the BCS title with a 37-21 win at the Rose Bowl.
Yet this was a kid who abruptly found himself deep in the heart of Texas’ national title hopes, and nearly gave the Longhorns a legend of Lone Star State proportions.
Gilbert, who replaced senior Colt McCoy early in the first quarter, threw two second-half touchdown passes, getting the Longhorns to within 24-21 with six minutes left. Gilbert had three turnovers on his last three possessions and watched the title hopes flutter away.
“That was a humbling experience,” Gilbert said. “It’s something to build on.”
Gilbert was preparing to replace McCoy. It just came several months sooner than expected. He had a front-row seat for his last lesson, watching his mentor against Alabama in the BCS title game Thursday. Gilbert barely had time to settle in with his clipboard when McCoy suffered a shoulder injury.
“Coaches always tell us, ’You’re one play away,”’ Gilbert said. “I was prepared, but you can’t be entirely ready for that. But the team needed me to make plays. They needed me to lead.”
Gilbert, who had thrown only 26 passes this season, was in charge of the trophy chase. He was woeful at the start, completing only one of 10 passes in the first half. That included a shovel pass that was intercepted by Marcell Dareus, who returned it 28 yards for a touchdown and a 24-6 halftime lead.
Gilbert also had a rough finish. He fumbled after taking a blindside hit to set up an Alabama touchdown that clinched the game with two minutes left.
In between he turned the Crimson Tide pale, and should have scared the bejabbers out of future Texas opponents. UCLA goes to Austin in September with this early scouting report: “He did hurt us,” Dareus said.
Gilbert zipped a 44-yard touchdown pass to Shipley late in the third quarter. He found Shipley again for a 28-yard scoring pass, and picked up a two-point conversion.
“We got in a rhythm and things calmed down,” said Gilbert, who completed 15 for 40 for 186 yards. “Colt told me at halftime, just keep fighting and believe in your teammates.”
Gilbert was a Texas quarterback prodigy.
He had not lost a game in nearly three years, going 30-0 his last two seasons at Lake Travis High and 13-0 this season. He threw for a Texas state-record 12,540 yards in high school.
He may not have been ready, but he was close, McCoy said.
“He was in my hip pocket all season,” McCoy said. “But for him to come in this game, with what was at stake, and play like this was outstanding. We were in the game in the fourth quarter.”
When Texas took over on the seven-yard line with three minutes left, Longhorns fans chanted, “Gilbert, Gilbert, Gilbert,” with their team down a field goal. A moment later, Eryk Anders sacked Gilbert, who fumbled.
Game over. Career started?
“I wanted to do for Garrett like Vince Young did for me,” McCoy said. “That’s the way it was supposed to be. Garrett is ready.”