Alabama sophomore placekicker Jamie Christensen was good on a 45-yard field goal as time expired Monday as the Crimson Tide upset Texas Tech. The 13-10 Bama victory gives Alabama a 10-2 record and keeps the Crimson Tide as the nation's best in winning bowl games. Alabama now has 30 victories in a national record 53 bowl games in its storied history. And the 10-win season is Bama's 28th such milestone, also best of any college team.
Alabama started the game with fireworks, scoring on a 76-yard Croyle-to-Keith Brown touchdown pass and finished with a near-miracle comeb ack after it appeared the Red Raiders were the men with momentum for the end-game.
Alabama never trailed in the game and it was not tied until Texas Tech got a 12-yard pass from Cody Hodges to Jarrrett Hicks with 2:56 to play. Texas Tech's Alex Trlica kicked the extra point to tie the game at 10-10.
Things did not start well for Bama on its last possession. A holding call put Bama starting at its own 14-yard line. Two plays gained four yards and then Croyle hit his friend of nearly 20 years, little-used wide receiver Matt Miller, for a 17-yard gain to the 35.
Croyle then hit little-used Brandon Brooks (who had been able to avoid goat horns when he twice fumbled punts, but was able to recover them) for an 11-yard gain and Keith Brown for a 23-yard pick-up to the Texas Tech 31 with 49 seconds to play. Bama tried one pass, then let Darby run it a couple of times to the Texas Tech 28 and called time with five seconds to play.
The game would be decided on the final kick or in overtime.
Two Texas highway patrolmen had the best view of the kick other than the officials. "It was about six inches inside (the upright) and two or three feet over the crossbar," one reported to us.
It was the third game this year that Christensen had won with a field goal and the second time in had had happened as time ran out. He kicked Alabama to a 13-10 win over Ole Miss with a 31-yarder as time expired, then was good on a 34-yard field goal with 13 seconds left to beat Tennessee, 13-10.
It was no secret that a key to the game for Alabama would be for the Crimson Tide offense to stay on the field. Time of possession in Alabama's favor would mean Texas Tech's high-powered offense would be on the sidelines. Mission accomplished. Alabama had the ball for 38:58, Texas Tech for 21:02. Bama started the second half with a drive that last 8:08, over half of the third quarter, and ended with Christensen hitting on a 31-yard field goal that gave Alabama a 10-3 lead.
Crimson Tide coaches debated on whether to open the game with a pass to Brown or a run. After opening the first 10 games of the season with a completed pass, the string was stopped when Croyle was sacked on the first play of the Auburn game. The coaches finally decided they wanted a revamped offensive line to open firing out on a run play, and it gained eight yards.
The Tide offensive staff then went to a play it expected to work, but probably couldn't have dreamed would work so well. Croyle looked right, then turned and fired back to Brown on the left on a slip screen. He got a couple of blocks and then was off and no one had a chance to catch him. It was 7-0 with 11:37 to play in the first quarter and Bama having accumulated only 46 seconds time of possession.
A suspension of wide receiver D.J. Hall for an unspecified violation of team rules resulted in Brown playing in his spot (and, thus, drawing single coverage on the opening pass play). It was also the reason that Matt Miller played more as a receiver. Miller is best known for his work on special teams, including being the holder on Christensen's kicks.
The offensive fireworks weren't all that Alabama did well. In a game in which it didn't matter which team won the opening coin toss (if Texas Tech won, which it did, it was going to take the football, and if Alabama won it was going to defer and get the ball to start the second half), Alabama won most of the ballyhooed battles of the nation's number two defense against the nation's number two offense.
Alabama probably would have been pleased with a 7-3 halftime score no matter which team was leading. Bama led by that margin when Texas Tech got a second chance at a first quarter field goal. Trlica missed from 39 yards, but Alabama was offsides and he was good on his 34-yard try.
In an unusual end to the first half, Christensen, who missed on a 39-yard field goal try early in the second quarter, had his 38-yard try with about a minute to play before intermission blocked by the Red Raiders' Dwayne Slay. On Texas Tech's recovery and return, Alabama was called for a personal foul penalty, and the Red Raiders were at Bama's 31. On the final play of the half Trlica's 37-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Bama's Mark Anderson.
Alabama had several nice drives that did not result in touchdowns, including the opening drive of the second half. But Christensen's 31-yard field goal did give the Tide a little breathing room, which would be needed. Alabama got close to a chance for a fourth quarter field goal that might have sealed the victory, but with five minutes to play Bama found itself backed up to its nine-yard line. The Tide was unable to get out of the hole, and after a nice punt return the Red Raiders were set up at Alabama's 38.
Texas Tech's fine quarterback, Cody Hodges, had missed a series with a leg injury (he was on crutches following the game), but he returned to get the Red Raiders into the end zone in only two plays. A reverse gained 26 yards and then Hodges hit Jarrett Hicks for 12 yards with 2:56 to play. The touchdown "drive" had taken just 16 seconds.
That left Croyle and company 2:56 and Bama used all of it to get the win.
Alabama had a couple of lineup changes in the offensive line. Freshman Antoine Caldwell moved from starting left guard to center with senior Mark Sanders opening at left guard, his first start since starting the opening game of the season at right guard. Travis McCall started at tight end in front of Nick Walker.
On defense, Bama started (and played most of the game) with three down linemen (ends Wallace Gilberry and Mark Anderson and tackle Jeremy Clark to start the game) and five defensive backs (Jeffrey Dukes as the starting nickel back owing to Simeon Castille being academically ineligible for the game).
Alabama planned to have Texas Tech have to make long marches, and for the most part Bama was successful in giving the Red Raiders the ball deep in their own territory. It may have been a bit of a surprise that Texas Tech quarterback Cody Hodges was able to run for 66 yards, but that was primarily because the Tide's coverage (mostly man-to-man) forced Hodges to keep the ball. In last year's Holiday Bowl, Texas Tech through 60 passes. This year the Red Raiders threw 36 passes and had 24 runs.
The game, in front of a crowd of 74,222 that included a surprisingly large Alabama contingent, went much as Bama would have liked. The Tide had 44 runs for 145 yards (Kenneth Darby getting most of that with 29 runs for 81 yards) and Croyle hitting 19 of 31 passes for 275 yards with no sacks or interceptions. In fact, there were no turnovers in the game.