March 4, 2010

Garrett Gilbert bounces back from BCS title game



Gale Gilbert, who spent a decade as a backup quarterback in the NFL, searched for an experience he could compare to his son, Garrett Gilbert, having to enter the BCS national championship just five plays into the game for the Longhorns.

"I came into Super Bowl XXVIV when the Chargers were down 30 to the 49ers," said Gale, the backup to Stan Humphries that day for Bobby Ross' Chargers.

"But the game was pretty much over at that point. I don't think there has ever been a national championship game or a Super Bowl in which the starting quarterback has ever gotten hurt that early in a game."

The turn of events was such a shock, Garrett even struggled to find his helmet to go into the game. He went to the defensive bench, at first, before realizing his headgear was one bench over. Awaiting the true freshman signal caller was one of the best defenses in the country, led by wrecking machine linebacker Rolando McClain, although Garrett says the trash talk from the Tide wasn't as bad as he expected.

When the offense struggled to get a rhythm the rest of the first half and Alabama intercepted a botched shovel pass and returned it for a TD just before halftime, dad was bracing for the worst.

"Starting with his composure, I think he's always had great composure," Gale Gilbert said of his son. "I don't think his mother or I were ever concerned about him handling any of the stuff walking on the field.

"But it's the national championship. So anybody going on that field and being able to regain a grip after that first half, because you could have legitimately said at halftime, 'Man oh man, what's going on?'"


THE MOMENT OF TRUTH

At halftime, Colt McCoy was trying to regain feeling in his throwing shoulder. But he was also trying to build up Garrett's confidence. Telling him, "Keep your head up. Keep plugging away and something good is going to happen."

After falling behind 24-6 at halftime, in part, because of a botched shovel pass that was returned for a touchdown just before intermission, Garrett Gilbert started showing the poise that had Mack Brown saying last week, "We expect Garrett Gilbert to be good, and we expect him to be good right from the start."

Gilbert went 1-of-10 passing for minus-4 yards in the first half. But he gradually found some rhythm. The game finally started slowing down. He went 9-of-13 passing from late in the third quarter to the 6:15 mark of the fourth quarter, when Texas cut that 24-6 deficit to 24-21 with a couple TD passes from Gilbert to Jordan Shipley.

"That first touchdown pass to Jordan was a big relief, and we were slowly able to get into a rhythm," Gilbert said. "Being a competitor, I had all the confidence in our team to make the plays. Our defense had been playing so well. You just can't turn the ball over like that late in the game."

Gilbert didn't get a ton of help from his surrounding cast until late in the third quarter. Earlier, Shipley dropped a pass that would have gone for a first down, and Malcolm Williams had a ball slip through his hands in the end zone midway through the third quarter, forcing a UT punt.

Mack Brown has expressed disappointment that Texas' defense couldn't stuff Alabama when the Tide took over at its own 35 with 6:15 left in the game with Texas trailing 24-21. Instead, Bama drove to the Texas 37 before pinning UT at its own 7 with a punt with 3:14 left to play.

After a holding penalty on Alabama gave Texas a first down at the 17, Garrett was sacked on a first-down pass attempt and fumbled. The Tide recovered at the Texas 3. Gilbert would finish with five turnovers (four interceptions and a fumble).

"It was tough and a little bit surreal at first," Garrett Gilbert said. "But since then, I've been able to watch the film and use it as a learning experience and move on."

Greg Davis and Garrett sat down a week after the game and watched the film.

"I think if he was fragile, it would have really hurt him, but he's very confident," Mack Brown said of Gilbert being thrown into that game. "He's a young man with a 4.0 [GPA] and played for a dad with a very successful college and pro career, so he gets it.

"He'll use that game to motivate himself and make himself better. He thought he turned the ball over instead of talking about being a freshman. A lot of people think how cool just to be in that game, but he was disappointed (in his play).

"He thought we had a chance to win, and he put it all back on him, and I've seen absolutely nothing since the game to make me feel like he'll take a step back and lose confidence and all of that. On the second part of that, if he had not played in that game and had not played well in that game like he did to get us back in it, I think the team probably would not have known what they had going into spring.

"Now they know this guy can be good. He's big. He's strong. He's confident. We hope he gets back in that stage, but he'll never be on a bigger one, especially with a lack of experience that he had."


NO EXCUSES

Garrett has been through adversity. He had to come back from a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder at Lake Travis High School. It's an injury that can ruin your career without the proper rehab. So Garrett isn't a guy to make excuses.

He didn't point fingers about his turnovers. He refused to call out guys who dropped passes. And he refused to use a lack of playing time as an excuse for any shortcomings in the title game.

"I felt like I was extremely well prepared," Gilbert said. "I always prepared like I was going to start, and I obviously learned a lot from Colt, just watching. So I felt very comfortable."

Gilbert even joked that he's working on his tackling after failing to bring down Alabama's Marcell Dareus on a 28-yard interception return for a TD of the botched shovel pass.

"Coach Davis always tells us if you throw it you gotta go get it. You got to make a play," Gilbert said.

Instead of assessing blame, Gilbert gave his teammates credit for lifting him up in the second half of that game.

"When Colt went down, I didn't know what to think," Gilbert said. "I had prepared as if I was going to play, just like I had done for the rest of the games. But Colt's such a tough guy, I didn't imagine him ever getting hurt.

"Hearing those guys stay positive and stay with me and eventually getting back into the flow of the game made it easier.

"Obviously, we had a pretty rough first half. But at halftime Colt kept telling me to keep my head up and plugging away and something good is going to happen. So Colt really helped me out there."


TAKING OVER FOR COLT

Gilbert's media career as the starting QB at Texas started on Tuesday after the first open practice of the spring. Gilbert answered questions for more than 20 minutes.

Reporters got their first glimpse into the no-nonsense but imminently polite demeanor of Gilbert, who at 5 years old used to negotiate with neighborhood friends that he'd play Power Rangers for an hour if they'd play football with him for an hour.

In some ways, Texas may have the perfect replacement for Colt McCoy in Garrett Gilbert. After all, Garrett's father spent a decade in the NFL as the backup quarterback in Seattle, Buffalo and San Diego. As the backups to Jim Kelly in Buffalo and Stan Humphries in San Diego, Gale Gilbert went to five straight Super Bowls in the early 1990s (the only man ever to do so).

So Gale Gilbert, who was also the starting quarterback for Cal in "The Game" against Stanford in 1982, made a career of knowing how to wait his turn at the most important position on the field.

"The first half (of the BCS title game) was obviously a struggle for him, for the offense, for the team," Gale Gilbert said. "Then, he got rolling in the second half to a point where we had a chance to win the game with three minutes left. His biggest disappointment was obviously not being able to finish the deal right then."

In the days after the loss to Alabama, Garrett said he felt disappointment. Now, he's trying to use it as a learning experience. He has a lot on his plate. But he doesn't look at his role as replacing Colt McCoy.

"I try not to think about that," Garrett said. "Colt was a great player, and I obviously learned a lot from him last year, but I'm just trying to be myself."

McCoy isn't worried about Gilbert adjusting to a starting role.

"Garrett is going to be fine," McCoy said. "He's a solid quarterback. He's smart. His two best attributes are that he's a winner. You look at his record in high school. He just won football games. Then, he comes here and he was on a 13-0 football team. And you can just see it in his eyes. He's a winner. He's competitive.

"The second thing is he's really smart. He knows football. He's really knowledgeable. He knows how to play the game. He's just got that football savvy. I think he's going to step in and do a great job."

In his first meeting with the media everyone wanted to know if he had a favorite receiver. How he felt about the new offense, about going under center for the first time since Pop Warner and about expectations for Texas in 2010.

The questions came fast and furious.

On the offense's move to more of a 2-back look:"It's a little different. It's a little bit of an adjustment. But Coach Davis has helped make the transition to a 2-back offense really smooth, and I think the offense has responded really well to it."

On the first few spring workouts: "So far, I feel like we've got pretty good chemistry as an offense. I think we're doing a good job getting our timing down and forming the attitude we're going to have as a team."

On his comfort level in taking over the offensive huddle: "I feel very comfortable. I have a lot of great players around me. Our receivers are catching the ball. Our running backs are doing a real good job of running it. And the line is blocking really well, so I feel very comfortable."

On being a leader: "As a quarterback, you have an obligation as a leader. But I think right now, being a sophomore, and trying to get my feet under me as a sophomore, I'm just trying to earn my way into the lineup."

On what he felt after the title game loss: "At first, there was some disappointment. But that slowly transitioned into trying to use it as a learning experience and a stepping stone for this year."

On having been on the biggest stage in college football: "Alabama had a really good defense and made the plays when it counted, so having faced that can do nothing but help."

On getting to his second and third reads on pass plays: "That's something that's going to be big for me to learn how to do and even looking back now, it's a big learning experience."


POPULAR QUARTERBACK

Gilbert's teammates clearly like him and respect his work ethic.

"Garrett has stepped up tremendously," said receiver Malcolm Williams. "He's been playing really well. As time's gone on, he's gotten better, and it's a pleasure to be out there working with him and helping him mature.

"He's been out there going through the reads just like he's been here the whole time. Like he's been here with me, since I've been here. He's matured so fast. It's been a pleasure to be around him."

Gilbert told Mack Brown getting guys out for 7-on-7 this summer won't be a problem. And he's not shying away from expectations.

"We feel like there's a good chemistry going on with the team, and we feel like we're ready to work hard and get back to where we were," Gilbert said.

"We've got a few leaders. Obviously, there's a few guys on the offensive line who have quite a bit of experience and we have quite a bit of experience at the receiver position and with our running backs. So I feel like we have a good balance of leaders here."


MAKING HIS OWN PATH

Gale Gilbert has told his son the quarterback job at Texas will be a big enough challenge without adding any more pressure to the job about trying to replace Colt McCoy.

"You're not replacing someone like that. You're starting your own deal," Gale Gilbert said. "Colt had to replace a championship quarterback in Vince and play the game differently and start his own deal.

"And I think Garrett is starting in exactly the same situation. People are going to want to make comparisons. Colt had to follow in Vince's footsteps after the national championship. He went on to become the winningest quarterback in college football. So Garrett just has to be his own person."

Garrett sounds ready for the challenge.

When he was asked about 2010 expectations for the team, Garrett said, "Team-wise, I think the sky is the limit for the team. We just have figure out what our identity is and the attitude we're going to have as a team.

"I've got so many great players around me, I just need to get the ball out of my hands and let those guys do what they do."



 

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