The tragedy that befell classy quarterback Colt McCoy in last week’s national championship game has no doubt left both him and Longhorn Nation and the rest of college football pondering the cruelty of what might have been.
Did Alabama get Texas’ best shot? What would have happened if McCoy had played the entirety of the biggest game of his life?
They’re natural questions when fate seems to intervene so capriciously. Given how close things were late in the fourth quarter, a full game of McCoy means a national title, right? Mack Brown certainly thought so.
Yet, rather than cursing bad luck and wondering why bad things happen to good people, how about a more empowering explanation?
Texas played the percentages and lost. Badly.
Besides acting as the triggerman in Texas’ passing game this year, McCoy played a key role as a runner. He ended the season as the Longhorns’ second-leading rusher, averaging 9.2 carries per game.
In fact, one hallmark of Big 12 spread offenses in recent seasons has been the trend towards dual-threat quarterbacks who can do damage by both land and air.
(Note that the quarterbacks’ rushing attempts include sacks.)
Tim Tebow aside, SEC quarterbacks, carry the ball much less frequently on average.
So what’s up with the disparity?
SEC coaches don’t want to see their quarterbacks leave games on stretchers.
The truth is that the biggest, baddest defenses in college football reside in the SEC. It’s where behemoth defensive linemen run like gazelles, jacked-up linebackers hit like mack trucks and physical defensive backs stick to receivers like guidos cling to hair gel. That goes triple for defenses like those of Alabama and Florida featuring legit pro prospects at every position on the field.
(I can hear the crescendo slowly building: “S-E-C! S-E-C! S-E-C!”)
We’re not talking about getting hit by a bus or being struck by lightning. Unless they’ve got a signal caller who’s built like Tebow, SEC coaches have come to realize that involving their quarterbacks in the running game is like giving Karma the finger.
Game planning against the Crimson Tide has to take that into account. It’s not something Brown and UT offensive coordinator Greg Davis would miss.
From that standpoint, to run or not to run your QB is as fundamental of a question as how to adjust to the zone blitz. Similarly, for a defense, sending a quarterback to the sideline is as much of a goal as stopping screen passes.
Brown and Davis decided–with good reason–that utilizing McCoy as a runner was worth it. To negate him as a running threat would’ve been too big of a loss to the Longhorn offense. It was an all-in move for a national championship pot.
Could they have known ‘Bama would knock McCoy out on the first series of the game? Obviously not. Could they have known there was a decent chance ‘Bama would take him out of the game? Absolutely.
To argue that Texas would have won if McCoy made it through the game misses the point, though. McCoy didn’t slip in the shower. He didn’t get food poisoning. Texas had to put its star in harm’s way if it was going to beat the Tide.
You make that gamble, you live with the fallout.