On the sideline, according to quarterbacks coach Rod Smith, Rodriguez repeatedly said, "He's going to tie his shoes next week."
"I'm not changing a thing," vowed Robinson after the game, flashing that smile.
The truth, of course, is that he already has.
In a kind of nondebut debut that Texas coach Mack Brown referred to as his "first fair start," Gilbert was solid and unspectacular, completing 14 of 23 passes for 172 yards in the fifth-ranked Longhorns' 34--17 defeat of pesky Rice.
The unfair start, to follow Brown's thinking, was Gilbert's turn as a long reliever in last January's BCS title game. When Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus knocked McCoy out of the game on Texas's first possession, Gilbert, then a true freshman, was thrown into the mix.
He is the son of Gale Gilbert, who played quarterback for a decade in the NFL. Before that, Gale was Cal's quarterback against Stanford on the day of The Play—the five-lateral miracle that ended with a pretzeled trombone and an epic Bears victory. Garrett led his high school team, Lake Travis, on the outskirts of Austin, to back-to-back Class 4A state titles. It's tempting to say that he was born for that moment in Pasadena when Brown said, "Garrett, get your helmet!" But the truth is, he was a bit overwhelmed. "His eyes were as big as silver dollars," recalls Brown. Then, of course, Gilbert couldn't find his helmet, forcing the Horns to burn a timeout while a search was conducted. (The lid was under the bench.)
After a fairly catastrophic first half, Gilbert settled down, rallying Texas from an 18-point deficit to within a field goal. The Longhorns lost 37--21, but Gilbert had gained "instant credibility" with the team's older players, according to Brown. Throughout seven-on-seven drills during the summer, defensive backs Aaron Williams and Chykie Brown took special pleasure in baiting the genteel Gilbert, trash-talking him, hoping to get him to flash some anger.
One day, he did. While Ned Flanders himself would find Gilbert's trash talk tame and ineffectual, it did help solidify his leadership role.
After throwing four interceptions in the BCS title game, Gilbert was pleased to have zero picks against the Owls. His stats would have been more garish were it not for Brown's determination to restore balance to an offense that, under McCoy, "drifted away from the running game." While the Longhorns rushed for more yards (197) than they gained through the air (172), Gilbert struggled to find a rhythm, mixing several beautiful throws with a handful of passes that reached their receivers on the first hop.
Turning in a far less auspicious debut was Florida's Brantley, who'd been pulled aside by his senior center earlier in the week. "Play your game," counseled Pouncey. "Don't try to be anyone else."