NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Florida cornerback Joe Haden knows plenty about facing Alabama receivers.
He passed along his knowledge to friend Earl Thomas, Texas’ star safety, in a Sunday evening phone conversation. The two were co-finalists for the Thorpe Award that went to Tennessee’s Eric Berry as the nation’s best defensive back.
Conference affiliations did not keep Haden from spilling the beans on the Tide.
“We had a long conversation,” Thomas said Monday. “He was just telling about the running backs, were hand in hand, both of them were great. Julio (Jones) was a big receiver and he’s physical. He said the offense was run, run, and they’ll play-action you, so you have to have your eyes right.”
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Eyes for Heisman
Spotting a future Heisman Trophy winner when he is a high school freshman can be a tricky business. But it’s a skill Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain can list on his résumé.
As the receivers and special teams coach at Michigan State from 2003-05, McElwain remembers a camp for high-schoolers where a young running back caught his eye.
“Here was this little guy who was the best player in camp,” McElwain said of the local player whose father played for the Spartans.”
Move ahead a few years, and the assistant lands a job at Alabama, then hears head coach Nick Saban tell him a running back from Michigan committed to the Tide.
“Don’t tell me it’s Mark Ingram,” McElwain remembered asking. “That’s a good get.”
The past two seasons proved his eye for talent was sharp. Ingram went from a true-freshman backup to Alabama’s single-season rushing leader and the school’s first Heisman Trophy winner.
Ingram double jinxed?
First came the Sports Illustrated cover. A month later, Ingram won the Heisman Trophy. Superstitious observers would claim he is fighting against two bad omens when playing in the BCS National Championship Game on the Rose Bowl field Thursday evening.
The SI hex goes back years, but Heisman winners have had problems in bowl and championship games in recent seasons.
Only two Heisman winners in the past decade claimed victory in bowl games after taking home the top individual honor in December.
None of that matters to Ingram, though.
“Everybody else is focused on little things like that, jinxes and Heisman performances,” said Ingram who ran for a season-low 30 yards against Auburn on the week of his SI cover appearance. “We’re not focused on all that. … I’m not too worried about this Heisman jinx or anything like that.”
No. 2 QB mystery
Greg McElroy is Alabama’s starter, but who would replace him if an injury knocks the junior out of the title game?
McElwain wouldn’t say.
“It’s one of those deals I hope we never have to worry about,” he said. “I’ll wait and make sure Greg is all right, and we’ll go from there.”
He did mention the progress made by true freshman AJ McCarron, who shares the backup role with Star Jackson but has his redshirt intact because he hasn’t played in a college game.
“Star did some great things,” McElwain said. “And yet, AJ is going to push for it and he’s done a really good job.”
Colin Peek left Georgia Tech after Yellow Jackets head coach Paul Johnson arrived in Atlanta.
There was not a lot of room for a tight end in Johnson’s triple-option offense. After narrowing his transfer choices to Alabama and Florida, the Ponte Verda, Fla., native chose the Crimson Tide.
He hasn’t spent a lot of time looking back, Peek said Monday as Alabama prepares to play Texas for the national championship.
He was asked whether he had called to talked to any of his former Tech teammates, who are in Miami for tonight’s Orange Bowl against Iowa.
“The funny thing is I haven’t,” he said. “As soon as I came to Alabama, I joked that I cut off all communications with Georgia Tech. My teammates are at Alabama. I have some great friends at Georgia Tech, but I have no teammates there any more.”
Eager to bounce back
Here’s the strangest part of the fallout from the Texas offensive line giving up nine sacks in the Big 12 title game: There wasn’t any.
No excruciating film session. No chewing out by coaches. Not even a single discouraging word from All-American quarterback Colt McCoy, whose blockers couldn’t stop Ndamukong Suh and the rest of the Nebraska defensive line.
After all, the Longhorns still found a way to beat the Cornhuskers. And it’s not like this group of three seniors and two juniors needed to be told they had an awful game.
They know it and are thrilled to have a chance to make up for it against Terrence Cody and No. 1 Alabama in the BCS title game Thursday night.
“We did what we always do: go over corrections, fix the things that need to be fixed and now we’re just working to improve and get better,” left tackle Adam Ulatoski said. “We’ve moved on.”
The more they get away from the Big 12 championship — and the closer they get to the biggest game of the year — the easier it is for the Texas linemen to forget that lousy night.
It also helps knowing what an aberration it was. Texas allowed less than two sacks per game this season until the Big 12 championship.
— Staff writer Chuck Williams and the Associated Press contributed to this report