Friday, January 8, 2010

The Amazing Kindle

And no, I'm not talking about the Amazon Kindle. I'm talking about Sergio, the all-everything defensive end from Texas.

Good god, is that man a beast. Alabama may have won 37-21 and may have won in fairly convincing fashion thanks in part to Colt McCoy's early injury, but man, from what I saw, Sergio Kindle was the best player on the field last night. I mean, the 6'4", 255-lb. beast was flying all over the place, giving the Crimson Tide all sorts of fits. Yes, Bama did rush for 205 yards, and yes, the Tide did roll up 30 points on offense, but Kindle showed exactly why he's listed as the No. 2 outside linebacker — most likely suited as a 3-4 linebacker/pass rusher — prospect in the upcoming draft (behind only the truth that is Navorro Bowman, mind you) and No. 15 prospect overall, according to ESPN.

Kindle was a terror all night, recording 8 tackles, 3 and a half of which were for loss. And on those plays, the Tide lost 23 yards. Not to mention the 2 and half sacks he recorded, taking a total of 19 yards off Greg McElroy's rushing stats. The guy is an unblockable monster. Again, I hope the Eagles were watching, because there were plenty of other defensive studs out there too. And none of them would look better in Eagles green than Kindle.

Thanks in part I'm sure to playing alongside Kindle, fellow senior lineman Lamarr Houston had himself a damn fine night as well, at least early on. He finished the game with 10 tackles and two of those for loss, while also registering a sack of his own. As the game wore on, however, Houston and his linemates certainly showed signs of wear and tear, which is exactly what happens when you face Mark Ingram and Tony Richardson. But that doesn't take away from the talent Houston displayed.

Add to that very solid play from Rodd Muckelroy and the immense talent that is Earl Thomas, and Texas had itself some nice showings for the upcoming NFL draft. And if Thomas declares, he'd definitely be a guy worth trading up for to secure the other safety spot alongside Quintin Mikell. The guy is good.

What I find a bit odd is that despite the fact that Alabama is known for its vaunted defense and despite the fact that said defense completely dominated in the first half and gave up nine less points than the Texas defense — and even scored a defense touchdown on a pick six — I wasn't as impressed individually by Bama's defenders as I was with the men mentioned above for Texas. Perhaps that's because the Tide have so many guys out there making plays that it's hard for just one or two to stand out. Though to be fair, Rolando McClain is a bona-fide stud.

If I had to pick one ideal player for the Eagles to draft, McClain would be it. It's abundantly clear that middle linebacker is far and away the Birds' most glaring weakness, and even with Stewart Bradley, a very good player in his own right, coming back, McClain is just too good to pass up. Plus, something tells me his size and speed could play anywhere. At 6'4 or whatever he is and near 250 lbs, he's the type of game-changing linebacker the Eagles have lacked pretty much forever. Now he's rated as the sixth overall player in the upcoming draft, so he's not even a real possibility, but man, he is incredible.

And Bama got some big plays from others as well. Mount Cody helped clog things up and stuff the Longhorns' running game inside. Javier Arenas came up with two picks and even wisely went down on his game-clincher, despite his dynamic skills with the ball in his hands. And Eryk Anders had the single biggest play of the game aside from Marcell Dareus's hit that knocked Colt McCoy out of the game, with his sack fumble to end all hope for Texas. Actually, Dareus's shovel-pass interception return for a touchdown right before the half was pretty big too. In hindsight, Bama's players showed an awful lot on defense, when you look back on it.

It certainly was a championship performance by the Alabama defense. But you have to figure things would have been different had Colt McCoy not gotten hurt. That changed the entire complexion of the game. Early on, it looked like Texas might blitz Bama. Nick Saban OK'd an insane fake punt on fourth and forever on the very first possession from his 20. That did not work out, and Texas scored. However, the Bama defense limited the Longhorns to a field goal, and oh by the way, that was a really stupid play by Blake Gideon on the fake. Instead of intercepting the ball, he should have batted it down. The fact he caught it cost Texas 17 yards, starting at the Bama 37 instead of the 20. Dumb move. But not even remotely as dumb as the fake call was. Just stupid.

Then on the ensuing kickoff, Texas kicked short to keep the ball away from Arenas, and no one on Bama went to get it. Texas recovered, and the game looked like it was all Longhorns. But then Colt got hurt, Texas had to settle for a field goal again, and the wind was taken out of their sails with their best player on the sidelines and just 6 points on the board.

The absence of McCoy allowed Bama to fully commit to the run on both sides of the ball. The Tide dared freshman quarterback Garrett Gilbert to take some shots and completely stifled the run. And on offense, knowing full well Texas couldn't move the ball, Alabama just kept handing it off and handing it off and handing it off. McElroy only attempted 11 passes all game. And he was sacked 5 times, meaning Bama called just 16 pass plays with McElroy, and one more with Fitzgerald. The result was a huge game for both Ingram and Richardson, who each rushed for over 100 yards and each scored twice. That duo simply wore down the Texas defenders, who were on the field entirely too long.

When you add in the boneheaded call by Mack Brown on that shovel pass right before half, the one Dareus took the house, and the 24-6 halftime lead with no Colt McCoy, I was ready to go to bed. Good thing for me I decided to keep the game on in its entirety as I watched in my bed, because even though Bama did finish this thing off, the Longhorns gave it one final, valiant effort in the second half.

With nothing left to lose and the chance of McCoy returning completely off the table, Texas finally opened it up and put the game in the freshman quarterback's hands. While his numbers look terrible — 15-40 for 186 yards, 2 TDs, 4 INTs — Gilbert led Texas on an improbable comeback. First, he hit Jordan Shipley for a 44-yard touchdown. Then he hit him again for a 28-yard score and converted the two-point conversion. Fifteen straight points and some tremendous defense, and suddenly it was a 24-21 game. How did that happen? Well, as Brent Musburger point it, Gilbert was growing up right before our eyes. And Shipley leant a helping hand. But ultimately, Gilbert made too many completely expected mistakes for a freshman quarterback playing his first meaningful minutes of his college career in the biggest game there is against a Nick Saban defense. The four picks proved too much, but Gilbert also proved, despite his atrocious numbers, that Texas won't be lost at quarterback without McCoy next year.

But that's the shame of it all. It feels like we were all cheated just a little bit from what this game could have been. McCoy was unquestionably the best player on Texas this year, and by far the best quarterback in the nation. With the way Jordan Shipley ultimately played — 10 catches, 122 yards, 2 TDS — you have to wonder what the Longhorns could have done with a healthy McCoy. And it was unfortunate for us that we couldn't see what Colt could do on the grandest stage; after four years of starting and working toward this goal, he never really got the chance, even though he finally made it there. It surely would have changed the dynamic of the game. Maybe not the outcome, but definitely the dynamic. Bama wouldn't be able to strictly play the run on defense, and chances are the Tide would have had to throw the ball a lot more as well, because you'd have to think McCoy would have put some points on the board. Conversely, Texas would have had an entirely different game plan. Frankly, so would Alabama, which Nick Saban even admitted at halftime. Essentially, everything would have been different.

But that's football. Sometimes, players get hurt. Even the best ones. It's up to the coaches and the team to be prepared and adjust. Initially, Brown, Gilbert and Texas weren't ready. But they eventually made the adjustments and made a game of it. Even with McCoy, it turned into a thrilling finish.

And seriously, Sergio Kindle is a freak.

BallHype: hype it up!

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