PASADENA, Calif. — Texas and Alabama played a teeth-gnashing, bloody-knuckles game that fit the style of their forefathers, Alabama’s Bear Bryant and Texas’ Darrell Royal.
On Texas’ fifth snap of the Bowl Championship Series title game Thursday night, Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus leveled Texas quarterback Colt McCoy with a punishing hit on an option play.
That hit ultimately defined Alabama’s 37-21 Bowl Championship Series title game victory before 94,906 at the Rose Bowl, as McCoy never returned. Texas buried themselves in a 24-6 halftime deficit behind the backup quarterback Garrett Gilbert, made a furious comeback to 24-21 and had a chance to drive down the field and win with just over three minutes remaining. But two late turnovers by Garrett led to easy Alabama touchdowns and made the final score more lopsided than the game.
In an era in which spread offenses have come to dominate college football, Alabama’s claim to a 13th national title comes with a game won squarely between the tackles. The Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram ran for 116 yards and 2 touchdowns, and his freshman backfield mate Trent Richardson ran for 109 and 2 touchdowns. Somewhere far away, Bryant most likely smiled.
Alabama won its first title since 1992, putting behind its years of N.C.A.A. problems, disastrous coaching hires and beatings from archrival Auburn. Alabama finished 14-0, just the third team in modern football to do so.
“I’m just so happy to do this for the entire Alabama family,” Ingram said. “We’ve been waiting a long time now.”
Coach Nick Saban further solidified himself as one of the elite coaches in football and became the first coach since 1936 to lead two different teams to a national title. He also joined Florida’s Urban Meyer as the second coach in the B.C.S. era to win two B.C.S. titles.
“The message tonight was do what we do and be who we are,” Saban said. “I thought we did a good job with that.”
Alabama’s victory was also the fourth consecutive national title for the Southeastern Conference. The last team outside the SEC to win a national title was Texas here at the conclusion of the 2005 season.
A game that looked like a yawner became tense in the fourth quarter, as Gilbert looked dynamic in the second half. He hit wide receiver Jordan Shipley on two touchdown passes, and had a chance to drive the length of the field to win the game at the end.
But Garrett fumbled on a wicked hit by linebacker Eryk Anders, who came untouched on a blindside blitz. The ball trickled to the 3-yard line where Courtney Upshaw recovered it with 3:02 left.
Ingram grunted into the end zone three plays later from a yard out to seal the game. Javier Arenas picked off a Gilbert pass on the next possession, and Richardson ran it in for the night’s final score.
“That was really the difference in the game,” Saban said. Alabama’s dynamic tandem of Ingram and Richardson ran between the tackles and outside the edges and as Alabama rolled to a 24-6 halftime lead.
All seemed lost for Texas. McCoy did not return to the game from a shoulder injury he later described as a dead arm, and it was up to the Longhorns’ defense to somehow hold the Crimson Tide at bay, hoping Gilbert could find some rhythm.
With six minutes remaining and the score 24-21, Gilbert looked as if he was writing a script straight out of the television show “Friday Night Lights.”
“The whole bunch could have got frustrated and quit and didn’t,” Texas Coach Mack Brown said. “I think that’s what I’m most proud of.”
For Saban, a coach with a perpetual grimace, an obsession with fundamentals and an affinity for toughness, the style of this Tide victory came straight from his script.
Greg McElroy passed for just 58 yards on 11 attempts. Texas actually outgained Alabama, 276 yards to 263. But Alabama forced five turnovers, including perhaps the game’s biggest play. Dareus, the game’s defensive M.V.P., intercepted a shovel pass that the Texas tailback D. J. Monroe bobbled. Dareus returned it 28 yards for a touchdown with three seconds remaining, a move that Brown will inevitably be criticized for Friday by football-obsessed fans from Houston to El Paso.
“I’ve never seen one intercepted before,” Brown said, defending his call. “And I’ve surely never seen one intercepted for a touchdown.”
At the site of Brown’s greatest achievement as a coach, his title game victory that ended the University of Southern California’s dynasty here, Brown’s team sustained perhaps the biggest loss of his tenure.
After McCoy went down, the Texas offense retreated into the fetal position with Gilbert under center. Texas entered the game with the No. 55 rush offense in the country, and was thought to be one-dimensional because of its inability to rush the ball.
Once McCoy left the game, the Longhorns played the rest of the first half like a one-dimension team that would only run the ball.
The results were not good, as Texas managed just four first downs in the first half. While Alabama appeared to be imploding at the start of the game, Brown went conservative and it backfired.
Alabama opened the game with a baffling decision to fake a punt on fourth-and-23. The result was a Texas interception and the Longhorns took over at the Alabama 37. McCoy got hurt five snaps later and Texas never truly exploited the gaffe.
On fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Brown decided to kick an 18-yard field goal instead of going for a touchdown. After Texas recovered an on-side kick after that field goal, the Longhorns went conservative and settled for a 42-yard field goal. When those two golden opportunities yielded just 6 points, Texas appeared to be doomed.
Alabama’s old-school-style dominance commenced soon after. Ingram, running with his typical persistence, rushed for Alabama’s first touchdown behind nose guard Terrence Cody, who moonlighted at fullback.
Alabama’s next big strike came from Richardson, who was not touched as he ran 49 yards up the middle to make the score, 14-6.
Once McCoy left, Alabama began controlling the line of scrimmage and field position battle. Tide defenders teed off on Texas, as the Longhorns had four three-and-out possessions in the second quarter followed by Dareus’s intercepting a shovel pass and returning it 28 yards for a touchdown.
By then, Texas’ offense and chances of winning appeared buried, as Alabama outslugged, outmuscled and outplayed the undermanned Longhorns throughout the first half. They ultimately won the national title by dominating the trenches, controlling the ball and injuring the opposition’s star with a clean hit.
Somewhere, as Alabama reclaimed its past glories at the foot of the San Gabriel mountains, Bryant surely approved of both the result and the tenor.