Alabama claimed a 37-31 victory over Texas in the Citi BCS National Championship Game, and while the score might not be indicative of a defensive battle it was four players from that side of the ball who stood out most over the course of the game.
All four affected the game in their own way and now head into the pre-draft process with plenty of momentum, and none showed up bigger than Texas DT Lamarr Houston. There were certainly plenty of bigger names on the field but Houston's overall game showed why he could start moving up draft boards.
Houston is an undersized (6-foot-1, 282 pounds) prospect but he is a one-gap penetrator who can get into the backfield and disrupt an offense. He had 2.5 sacks and 10 total tackles against Alabama and on the first drive of the game showed a good portion of his skill set against mid-round guard prospect Mike Johnson.
On second-and-15 from the Alabama 28-yard line, Houston got off the ball quickly and used his hands to bat down Johnson's initial punch, keeping Johnson's hands off his frame. Houston then used his lateral mobility to get around Johnson and showed good closing burst getting Crimson Tide QB Greg McElroy. Teams will also be impressed with Houston's motor after he was initially shaken by McElroy but recovered quickly, got off the ground and dragged McElroy down from behind.
Quickness and anticipation of the snap count were themes all night for Houston, who was also able to get down the line on outside running play and become a factor when Alabama's running backs tried to find cutback lanes. He now enters the all-star games with momentum and could be a good fit in the third round for a team like Indianapolis that values smaller, quicker players along the defensive front.
• Longhorns DE/OLB Sergio Kindle also shined in a losing effort, displaying the versatility to play with his hand in the dirt, rush the passer from a two-point stance and play in space in zone coverage. Because of that versatility Kindle projects as a 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level.
His pass rushing skills are obviously the most impressive part of his game. Kindle had a very quick first step, uses his hands well when disengaging from blocks, bends inside well and has tremendous closing burst to the quarterback, all of which he used to his advantage on a sack early in the second quarter. Kindle exploded off the ball on a second-and-9 play, setting TE Colin Peek up to the outside before using his lateral quickness to get back inside then showing the burst to get to McElroy.
Kindle also showed is range on a third-quarter running play, disengaging from a block as Alabama RB Trent Richardson gained the edge and flashing the speed to chase Richardson down from behind. It ended up being a five-yard gain but Kindle showed the motor and speed teams covet in 3-4 outside linebackers.
Finally, Kindle played a 'spy' role at times in the middle of the Longhorns' underneath zone defense. He displayed good awareness of passing lanes against screens and crossing routes and was disruptive in the short zones.
Kindle still has trouble anchoring when teams run right at him -- he was driven back and took a hands-to-the-face penalty in the fourth quarter after an offensive linemen got into his frame -- but with some added bulk he should become more stout at the point of attack. Overall, his explosive athleticism and ability to play in space will have him off the board in the first round.
• Alabama ILB Rolando McClain also continued to impress with his overall game. McClain's imposing size (6-3.5, 245), superior instincts and recognition skills and his unquestioned leadership make him the complete package. He gets his teammates in position and plays with the kind of passion teams want from inside linebackers.
McClain put his instincts on display on a third-down screen pass late in the first quarter, dropping initially but getting downhill as soon as he saw the running back turning back for the ball. He then took a great angle to the ball and exploded into RB Tre' Newton, stopping Newton for a loss and snuffing out a drive deep in Texas territory. He also made another big third-down play later in the game, dropping into underneath middle coverage, recognizing the angle route coming across the field and getting his hands on the ball and nearly intercepting it.
McClain also did a great job scraping down the line and making plays in the running game and he showed outstanding power as a blitzer. He timed up a blitz at one point and stunted inside, flat-out running over the guard and getting enough pressure to force and errant pass. McClain does not have blazing speed but makes up for it with instincts and angles, and while his 40-yard dash time might have something to say about where he's drafted the film doesn't lie and it shows a mid-first round prospect.
• Alabama CB Javier Arenas had and up-and-down game, though he did come up with a pair of interceptions when covering the slot receiver, which is where he'll likely play in the NFL. Arenas is quick, tough, smart and instinctive but his lack of size (5-8.5, 192) will prevent him from lining up on an island against bigger perimeter receivers.
Arenas did a good job on his first interception of reading a double-slant route, reading the quarterback's quick drop then passing off the inside receiver before breaking to the outside and showing his ball skills by picking a low throw. His second interception was similar, with Arenas passing off the inside receiver on a double-in route and baiting the quarterback into thinking the outside receiver was open. The pass then hit Arenas right between the numbers.
Arenas did show a lack of recovery speed at times, though, especially on Texas WR Jordan Shipley's 44-yard touchdown catch late in the third quarter. Shipley did a good job beating Arenas's jam at the line of scrimmage and getting inside him, and once Arenas was caught in a trail position he could not make up enough ground to prevent an easy score.
In the end, though, Arenas looks like an early-second round pick. He is a potential gamebreaker as a punt returner and should contribute in that area immediately while also playing a nickel back role on defense early in his career.
Around the Nation
• As everyone who watched the BCS Championship knows, Texas QB Colt McCoy (No. 49) was knocked out of the game on the first series after taking a hard tackle to his throwing shoulder. He tried to get back in the game, but nearly everyone nixed the idea. It was the right call, according to John Solomon, who blogged the game for the Birmingham News:
"[ESPN's Lisa] Salters said McCoy was begging to go back into the game and wanted to give it a shot. But everyone around McCoy -- Mack Brown, the team doctor, McCoy's father -- decided it wasn't right to take the risk and he should consider his NFL future.
"Good for the adults making the right decision in this one. The player will always want to come back in the game. It's up to the adults to look out for his future."
• McClain (No. 6) played well despite a lingering bout with the stomach flu. The Tuscaloosa News reported that McClain planned on playing regardless of how he felt:
"To get onto the field, McClain had to be hydrated with two intravenous injections before the game. At halftime, he had another.
"'My team needed me,' McClain said. 'They needed me to be a leader and out there. I couldn't let them see that I was sick. I couldn't let them see that I wasn't 100 percent. For them, I'd do anything. I love them.'"