AUSTIN, Texas --
That night in Pasadena, Davis would have understood a little fear. It was the national championship game, for goodness sakes. The freshman who spent the season behind the living legend certainly didn't expect to play any significant snaps against an Alabama defense known for gobbling up inexperienced quarterbacks. But Davis didn't hear scared when
In all those years as the eye in the sky, Davis also has picked up another trick. If he needs to diagnose what went wrong when he called Gun-Right-Jack-Scat-814-Choice-Go, Davis knows better than to ask the quarterback if the safety moved to centerfield. The kid will always answer "Yes." Instead, Davis asks a simpler question. "What did you see?"
Well, Garrett, what did you see?
That score put Texas, playing behind a quarterback who had arrived on campus only six months earlier, within a field goal of the Crimson Tide. Alabama had knocked out
Then Alabama linebacker
Gilbert probably should have been pleased with his performance. Entering the BCS title game, he had thrown 26 passes on the season -- all in garbage time. He hadn't played a significant down all season, but still nearly took his team to a national title. Instead, Gilbert blamed himself for the fumble and the four interceptions he threw. If he hadn't turned the ball over, he told Brown after the game, a Longhorn would be cradling a crystal football. That moment told Brown all he needed to know about the player who will take over the Texas offense this season.
"He may be back on that stage, but he'll never be on a bigger stage than that one," Brown said. "He handled it with a lot of composure and was disappointed that he didn't win. I think that's who he is."
Unlike other quarterbacks who will take over high-powered offenses this season, Gilbert isn't a mystery. His character-revealing turn in the title game didn't end with a win, but it did give the Longhorns an idea of what kind of leader will assume command of their offense.
Gilbert is the anti-Colt. McCoy came to Austin from tiny Tuscola, Texas, weighing 175 pounds. After a stellar career against small-school competition, McCoy had to prove he could play against elite defenders. He did that, earning the starting job as a redshirt freshman in 2006 and winning an FBS-record 45 games as the starter.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Gilbert succeeded former Kansas quarterback
Gilbert enters Texas with a pedigree more similar to that of
That doesn't bother Gilbert, who has lived in Austin since age 6 and who understands the demands placed upon the Texas quarterback. "The expectations are always going to be through the roof," Gilbert said. "I'm happy about that. I don't want to be at a place where the expectations are low."
After coaching Gilbert for more than a year, Brown believes Gilbert can handle the pressure. "He's got a great presence about him," Brown said. "When he walks in a room, everybody knows he's in the room. He's definitely got the quarterback thing."
Gilbert comes by that honestly. His father,
As a pro, the elder Gilbert is best known for being the backup quarterback on the losing team in four Super Bowls (thrice with Buffalo and once with San Diego). So, as his son prepared last December to back up McCoy on college football's biggest stage, Gale offered the three-word nugget of advice he lived by as an NFL backup.
Even after Alabama defensive end
"Maybe he lost feeling in his arm," Gilbert remembered thinking. "He'll get it back. Let's get us into the end zone, then let Colt take it back."
Texas settled for a field goal on that first possession. More plays passed. McCoy still wasn't ready. By then, Gale's words had to be echoing in Gilbert's head. You never know. As the second quarter began, the younger Gilbert shifted his focus. He wasn't a caretaker anymore. "I've got to take these guys in," he remembered thinking, "because Colt might not be coming back."
With the defense playing well, Texas coaches called plays from a limited menu to protect Gilbert. Down 11 late in the first half, Davis chose one of the safest plays he could: a shovel pass. Dareus, the same player who hammered McCoy, plucked the ball from the air and ran it back for a touchdown. "Other than a draw play, that's the most conservative play we can call with 15 seconds left to try to get a field goal," Brown said. "Even that went wrong."
At halftime, the team's medical staff confirmed what Gilbert and the coaches had already guessed. McCoy wouldn't be back. In the locker room, Brown faced Gilbert. The training wheels would come off in the second half. "We're going to go play," Brown said. "We're going to start you slow here in the third quarter. We're going to get you comfortable, but you're going to have to play."
In the stands,
That calm helped Gilbert in Pasadena, but he had to shed some if it this offseason to show his teammates he could lead. Gilbert isn't as nakedly emotional as McCoy. He just isn't wired that way. "You don't have to be a rah-rah guy," Gale Gilbert said. "You can lead in other ways." Sometimes, though, it takes a little rah-rah to rally the troops.
One day during the Longhorns' summer seven-on-seven drills, cornerback
That doesn't mean Brown wants Gilbert trying to win games by himself. McCoy's injury, as well as the scare the Longhorns received from Nebraska in the Big 12 title game, taught Brown that he had placed too much of the responsibility for his team's success in McCoy's hands. Brown realized he had ignored the advice given to him years earlier by former North Carolina coach
"Don't ever let the health or the individual performance of one player determine whether you're going to win or lose the game," Brown remembered Dooley saying.
So Brown and Davis massaged the offense. They added more downhill runs from under center, which should open up more play-action opportunities for Gilbert and keep fire-breathing blitzers at bay. They have demanded more from their line and their backs, who no longer can rely on McCoy to bail them out with his fleet feet. They have challenged a receiving corps that must find a way to replace Shipley's production.
While Brown and Davis love Gilbert's arm, they don't want him to feel he has to carry the entire offense. "I've got a lot of playmakers around me," Gilbert said. "The goal is just to get it to them and let them do what they do best."
It's up to Gilbert to deliver. Given all the attention he's received, it's easy to forget that he just turned 19 and has played in exactly one college game in which the outcome was in doubt. "The game is still going to be really, really fast the first snap of the Rice game," Gale Gilbert said.
Still, Gilbert never will face more pressure than he faced on that night in Pasadena when he showed no fear and told Davis exactly what he saw. "I don't think there is any question having to play in the national championship game is a benefit in the grand scheme of things," Davis said. "It wasn't that night. But today, it is a benefit."
Once the pain of the loss subsided, even Gilbert finally saw the burnt orange lining. "Being able to be on that stage in that situation, I learned to have confidence in myself from now on," Gilbert said. "I can do it."