Horns lose title, find their next QB
Yet, by the final gun, the Texas Longhorns had to feel that they had their man of the future. The impressive-looking, 6-foot-4 gunslinger withstood a rocky first half to lead the Longhorns to the brink of a monumental comeback against an Alabama defense that ranks as one of the stingiest in the nation. After completing one of his first 10 passes for minus-4 yards and two interceptions, Gilbert stood tall in the pocket in the second half, throwing for 190 yards and two touchdown strikes to Jordan Shipley.
"Here's a guy standing there on the sidelines cold as can be and all of a sudden in the national championship game. It's like, 'OK, son, you've got it,'" Texas coach Mack Brown said. "I can't even imagine."
Gilbert's second touchdown pass pulled the Longhorns to within a field goal, 24-21, with more than six minutes to play. The Texas defense, which played heroically for much of the night, forced another punt and Gilbert took over at his own 7 with 3:14 to go. Two plays later, the game was lost for good when Gilbert fumbled after being blindsided.
"I really hate the fumble there at the end because it made the game look a little more out of hand than it was," Brown said. "I actually thought when we got the ball back that he was going to take us down and win because that's what our team has done so many times."
After the game, Gilbert, one year removed from winning back-to-back state titles at Austin's Lake Travis High School, showed maturity beyond his experience. He answered questions for nearly 45 minutes, insisting that mistakes he made cost his team. He pinned the blindside sack on his own misread of the play.
"I tried to force the ball to the wrong side of the field," Gilbert said. "I saw the blitz, and I just made a bad read there and that’s on me."
Gilbert threw four interceptions. He would love to have the shovel pass back at the end of the first half that was returned for a touchdown and extended Alabama's lead to 24-6. His final interception was a tipped pass at the end and was inconsequential. His first interception of the second quarter might never have happened if, on the previous play, receiver Malcolm Williams had come down with a well-placed pass in the end zone. But Williams couldn't corral it. Had he made the grab, Texas would have cut Alabama's lead to 14-13 and Javier Arenas never gets the chance to make the interception.
"I can’t turn the ball over like I did. I threw too many interceptions and didn’t hold onto the ball at the end," Gilbert said. "It's just critical sistuaitons that we have to avoid.
"I think it’s something you can build on. Obviously, it was a humbling experience. It was a tough night, but it’s something I can build on going into next year and we as a team can build on next year."
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