Mack Brown’s Conservative Nature Cost Texas in BCS Title Game

January 8, 2010

Immediately after Texas quarterback Colt McCoy was lost to a shoulder injury (I initially thought McCoy broke a rib), I texted a buddy and said that Texas needs to immediately start throwing the ball downfield with the freshman quarterback Garrett Gilbert coming in.

The rationale is that with the freshman quarterback in the game, the big and fast Alabama defense will only look for Texas to run the ball except for obvious passing downs. After running the ball (usually unsuccesfully) against an eight man front on both first and second downs, these passing downs will be like sending the Christians to the lions.

When it was learned that McCoy was gone from the game for good, the game was over UNLESS Brown decided to open up the downfield passing game. Bama was stopping basically every run, especially those on first and second down. Many times on those early downs, the corner was playing a very strong inside position on the wideout, inching in to stop the run.

When you can’t run the ball against a defense like Alabama’s, you need to throw it, but not those short dumpy passes that bring the safeties up to massacre the receivers coming over the middle. A non running team put into the situation like Texas was demanded to throw the ball long often. Even if you throw mostly incompletions, consistently throwing deep brings the linebackers, safeties and corners away from the line of scrimmage. Then a little later you can run the ball.

If you are not moving the ball at all with the short stuff and early down runs, might as well throw it deep and if you get a completion, it will be a big gain. Or you can seek out some pass interference penalties downfield. The more you throw those types of passes, the more chances you get at getting the big gain or the penalty called. At the beginning it appeared the only way that Texas was going ot move the ball.

Do what the other teams is not expecting you to do.

As a Dallas Cowboy fan, one of the biggest moments of the Jimmy Johnson era was in their first NFC title game against the San Francisco 49ers out in Candlestick Park. In that January 1993 game, the Cowboys had a 24-13 lead in the 4th quarter when Steve Young hit Jerry Rice with a 5-yard touchdown pass with about three and a half minutes remaining.

When the Cowboys received the ball after the Rice touchdown, the 49er defense and everybody else was thinking run Emmitt run, with the Cowboys trying to waste the clock. Everybody but Jimmy Johnson. San Francisco moved the ball too well that last drive and their defense was getting energized, so Johnson (who wasn’t wearing headphones) grabbed a pair and yelled into the microphone, “Norv, get me a first down!” Norv was Dallas Offensive coordinator Norv Turner – now head coach of the San Diego Chargers.

Turner called a play action pass and Troy Aikman hit Alvin Harper on a slant to which Harper galloped all the way inside the 49er 10 yard line. An Aikman TD pass three plays later to Kelvin Martin and Cowboys were NFC Champions.

I truly believe that if Johnson went conventional late in that game, then the 49ers would have won that game.

Now, I know that we are talking Troy Aikman, an NFL Hall of Famer versus Garrett Gilbert, college freshman, but the premise is to do what the other team is not expecting.

Like the key play in that NFC title game, play action passing would have been good for Texas, too, after the McCoy injury. Play action works when your team is running the ball well since it brings the linebackers and safeties up.

But play action also works when you can’t run the ball but the defense thinks you will still run it anyway with a freshman QB in the game.

The many times Texas did go deep later in the game, they were successful. It was something they should of done from the beginning with young Gilbert.

Prognosticators and arm chair quarterbacks will blame the McCoy injury (duh!), but like this SI blowhard especially the interception return for a touchdown at the end of the first half as reasons why Texas lost.

But the real reason is that Mack Brown went conservative when he knew his freshman QB was not going to move the ball against the Alabama defense and decided to pull the reins in even further.

It is doubtful that Jimmy Johnson would have been conservative like that…and he does have a National Championship under his belt.