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Inside the Numbers: Texas made its own breaks against No. 1 Alabama

The Longhorns played one of their best games in recent memory, but came up just short.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Texas Austin American-Statesman-USA TODAY NETWORK

After holding a lead with less than two minutes on the clock, the Texas Longhorns had a shot to knock off the No. 1 team in the country but couldn’t come up with a stop against the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Texas senior linebacker DeMarvion Overshown said after the game that “at the end of the day, it’s an L on our side,” meaning that there were no moral victories for the Longhorns in this one. However, after taking the best program of the last decade to the wire, it is easy to see specific areas in which Texas can focus to flip that result in the future.

Third-Down Defense: 5-15 (33%)

A year after allowing opponents to convert on 42.35 percent of their third downs, including three games of 50 percent or greater, the Longhorns defense held the No. 1 team in the country to just five conversions on 15 attempts. Under coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, Texas has had just two better performances, the opener against Louisiana and the finale against Kansas State. That defensive performance is a big reason why Texas was able to stay in the game late.

“I thought we played tough. I thought we played physical. I thought we played hard. For the most part, I think we tackled well,” Sarkisian said. “They have a lot of good players and a good quarterback. I thought we affected the quarterback enough.”

In the second and third quarters, the defense forced Heisman winner Bryce Young and the Alabam offense to punt six consecutive times — including five consecutive three-and-outs. For comparison, there were just three punts a week ago against ULM, with Texas showing a fast, physical defense, unlike anything we’ve seen in burnt orange in quite some time. That run included a second-down tackle for loss on Jamhyr Gibbs to put Alabama behind the chains and a third-down sack by Jaylan Ford to force a punt.

Bijan Robinson: 21 car, 57 yards, TD; 3 rec, 73 yards

It seemed that Alabama made a concerted effort to take away Texas running back Bijan Robinson’s effectiveness on the ground, forcing Texas to get creative in getting him his touches. His 57 yards on 21 carries is the second-lowest yards-per-carry average of his time as the starter, just ahead of last year’s 2.53 ypc performance against the Baylor Bears. Robinson, however, did as much as he could when faced with an elite defensive front intent on shutting him down, losing just six yards on his efforts.

Overall, the Alabama run defense was dominant against Texas, holding them to just 2.4 yards per attempt as a team, the lowest average since Iowa State in 2019 — a game they still managed to win. A big reason why is the Crimson Tide’s ability to beat Texas at the point of attack, allowing just 2.4 line yards per rush and just 19 second-level yards on 33 attempts.

Alabama: 15 penalties, 100 yards

Part of the Longhorns’ success came from self-inflicted wounds by the Crimson Tide. Eight of the 25 first-down conversions from Texas came on Crimson Tide penalties, allowing Texas to extend drives and giving the defense a break.

In the last 10 seasons, just three teams have come into DKR and amassed more penalty yardage than Alabama in the narrow victory.

“This is like playing an SEC game on the road,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “This kind of atmosphere, this kind of team that we’re playing.”

Collectively, that was the worst penalty performance in the Nick Saban era. Alabama has gone over 100 yards in penalties just seven times since he took over in 2007 and has not had 15 penalties in that time. A big part of that disruption was the 105,213 fans that piled into Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium for Alabama’s first non-conference road game since the 2011 season.

After a hard-fought game, now Texas turns its sights to the next opponent coming to town, the UTSA Roadrunners, who are 1-1 after opening the season with two overtime games. Jeff Traylor and his squad would love nothing more than to come into Austin and drive back down I-35 with a victory.