PASADENA, Calif. — The running game wears teams down. The defense changes games.
Yes, Alabama, this season’s version of the Crimson Tide could have been your dad’s Crimson Tide, too.
Alabama rolled to the fifth-largest rushing total in BCS championship game history on Thursday, gaining 205 yards against a tough Texas defense.
Or Bear Bryant’s.
The Alabama ‘D’ knocked Texas quarterback Colt McCoy out of the Citi BCS Championship Game early, then made a big play late to stop a Longhorns comeback in a 37-21 victory Thursday that brought glory back to the program Bear built.
“We back,” said Mark Ingram, the Heisman Trophy winner who ran for 116 yards and two scores.
Instead of Bear’s houndstooth hat, it’s Nick Saban in a polo shirt who walks the sidelines these days. Nobody’s complaining. In the short span of three years, Saban took a program that had drifted far from what it had been and brought it back to championship caliber.
This was Alabama’s first title since 1992, its eighth since the advent of the polls in the 1930s and its seventh Associated Press championship. The top-ranked Tide (14-0) won the AP title unanimously.
• The win gave Alabama its eighth major poll national championship, tying Notre Dame for the most ever.
• Alabama coach Nick Saban became the second coach (Urban Meyer) to win two BCS national championships. His other title came at LSU.
• Mark Ingram joined USC’s Matt Leinart (2004) as the only players to win a BCS title and the Heisman Trophy in the same season. Ingram also became the second running back in the last 64 years to win the Heisman and a national championship of any kind in the same season, joining Tony Dorsett’s (Pittsburgh) feat in 1976.
• Texas lost its first BCS bowl game in four tries, dropping to 3-1 all-time. Only LSU (4-0) had a better record in BCS games.
• The Longhorns’ Jordan Shipley finished with 10 catches for 122 yards, tying him for the second-most receptions in a BCS championship game.
— ESPN Stats & Information
Saban picked up the trophy Friday morning, and someday soon, his likeness will go up next to those of Bryant, his protege, Gene Stallings, and the other coaching greats whose statues stand outside Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“I feel good that I’ve been able to contribute something significant in this time,” Saban said Friday. “I feel there’s a tremendous responsibility and obligation to having a high standard of excellence. Because of that tradition, it makes me feel very good we’ve been able to contribute to that in a positive way.”
Saban’s defense changed the tenor of the title game suddenly and startlingly when Marcell Dareus hit McCoy, injuring the quarterback’s shoulder and knocking him out on Texas’ fifth offensive play.
“I just heard a thump when I hit him,” Dareus said. “I did lay it down pretty hard. I didn’t try to, but it felt great.”
McCoy said he lost feeling in his right shoulder but wasn’t in pain. He asked to come back in, but coach Mack Brown didn’t want to risk it — a decision that will certainly be discussed for a while down in Austin.
“I would have given anything to be out there, because it would have been different,” McCoy said.
Not to be, though, and when Dareus picked off backup quarterback Garrett Gilbert‘s shovel pass and returned it 28 yards for a score right before halftime, the Tide was rolling with a 24-6 lead that looked like it would get bigger.
But something funny happened.
Gilbert, the highly recruited freshman who had only thrown 26 college passes, grew up in a hurry. He led the No. 2 Longhorns (13-1) on touchdown drives of 59 and 65 yards, capping both with scoring passes to All-American Jordan Shipley.
The Alabama lead was only 24-21 with 6:15 left and all the momentum was in Texas’ favor.
“It’s a hard learning curve but he learned fast,” Brown said. “At one point, I thought he was going to win the ball game.”
Texas got the ball back on its 7-yard line with about 3 minutes left, still trailing by three. Gilbert had a chance to complete the comeback and go down as one of the most out-of-nowhere success stories in college football history.
Instead, another unlikely star, Alabama linebacker Eryk Anders, got a blindside sack and stripped the ball. Teammate Courtney Upshaw recovered. Three plays later, Ingram scored from the 1 to give ‘Bama some breathing room. A few minutes after that, Trent Richardson scored to make a close game look more lopsided than it really was.
“We said, ‘It’s on us, the defensive line,” said Alabama’s Terrence Cody, the 350-pound All-American. “We had to make plays to finish it off. There was no doubt in our huddle. We knew what we can do.”
The Alabama win brought a fourth consecutive title back to the Southeastern Conference.
Richardson ran for 109 yards and two touchdowns, and combined with Ingram’s effort, the Tide won despite a modest 6-for-11 passing night from Greg McElroy. Talk about getting it done on the ground: Dating to Bryant’s last title, in 1979, Alabama has thrown the ball a grand total of 32 times in its last three bowl games that led to national championships.
Ingram became the first running back to win the Heisman and the national title in the same season since Tony Dorsett in 1976.
Ingram was Alabama’s first Heisman Trophy winner. Before this year, the Tide used to point to all its championships and say winning those were better than winning Heismans (Remember that, Auburn?).
But Ingram showed it’s possible to have both.
“I was so happy to leave my heart out there for the team, and blood, sweat and tears,” Ingram said. “We were out there running 110 sprints in 110-degree heat. We were like, ‘Why are we doing this?”
For a night like this, celebrated on the hallowed ground of the Rose Bowl — not known as Alabama’s turf, but certainly part of its heritage. It’s mentioned in the team’s fight song, harkening to trips the team made in the 1930s, a much different era when the Tide was a more regular visitor.
Bryant’s arrival in 1958 turned Alabama into a powerhouse. He built it on his demanding, sometimes demeaning, work ethic that was accepted as part of the game back then and made him the quintessential college coach — houndstooth hat on his head, cigarette dangling from his mouth.
Saban arrived a couple generations later, hoping to clean up after more than a decade of turmoil that included the three Mikes — DuBose, Price and Shula — trouble with the NCAA and problems at almost every turn.
The new coach told the fans they’d have to let go of the expectations of the past if they were going to enjoy the future.
They believed, and now they have a coach who has become the first to win BCS titles at two schools. He adds this to the 2003 championship he won at LSU.
“It’s the whole work ethic, the mental thing, toughness, all the intangibles you’d like to see in players so they can be the best they can be,” Saban said.
The Bear would certainly approve.
The Tide is rolling again.