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Texas vs. No. 1 Alabama: Five observations and Sunday chat

The Longhorns pushed the top-ranked Crimson Tide to the brink in Austin.

Alabama v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Texas Longhorns hosted the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide in Austin yesterday in a battle of two historic college football programs. On one sideline you have the greatest college football coach of all time in Nick Saban, who has the Alabama war machine firing on all cylinders, and on the other, you have his former assistant Steve Sarkisian, who is trying to get the Longhorn program back on track.

On paper and in practice this is a matchup that wasn’t expected to be close. Alabama entered this game favored by more than 20 points and when you look at where the programs have been in the past decade nobody was really disputing that figure. The Crimson Tide had a “down” year from a talent standpoint in 2021 and they still won the SEC Championship and played for the national championship. You know you are living right if that is considered a down year.

In 2022, they entered as the preseason ranked No. 1 and returned the Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Bryce Young and the top defensive player in the country in edge Will Anderson. And that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to talent for the Tide. The Alabama roster is once again littered with personnel that will eventually cash NFL paychecks, while Texas has struggled over the last decade to produce NFL draft picks consistently year in and out.

Needless to say, I had plenty of doubts about how this game would play out. I wasn’t confident given how Texas matched up a more talented and more experienced roster. But as they say, that’s why the games are played on the field. On any given Saturday when you tee it up anyone can beat anyone. That’s the beauty of football and sports in general.

From the opening snap, things just felt different from the Longhorns. The energy was high and guys were flying around playing with confidence. You didn’t sense fear radiating off a young team. They looked prepared and ready despite having to be awake for an early kick against a tough opponent. But how would they respond to adversity? Would they turn and run or stand and fight?

Needless to say, this team exceeded my expectations with their performance in Austin yesterday. Not only did they compete with Alabama, they were arguably the better team depending on who you ask. They pushed a very good football team to the brink and came up one play short of pulling a massive upset.

It’s only week two, but this team has already shown a considerable amount of growth to my eye. This game gave them plenty of confidence that could potentially carry them to a successful 2022 season, but they still have to go out and get it.

Now that I’ve rambled enough, here are my five key takeaways from yesterday’s barn burner.

Quinn Ewers might be the real deal

I say might because I am trying not to get out over my skis, but, folks, Texas might have themselves a quarterback. Sarkisian’s opening script was phenomenal and Ewers was absolutely locked in from the first snap. Check out some of the throws the young gunslinger uncorked early in the matchup, and if they don’t excite you then I don’t know what will.

We got a glimpse of the arm talent from Ewers last week, but this week it went up a notch. Those are the kinds of throws that will keep defensive coordinators up at night and unlock the entire playbook for Steve Sarkisian. When every blade of grass has to be accounted for, it opens up a lot of things for you to exploit as a play caller.

Before going out No. 3 only had three incompletions on his resume — the throw away out of the end zone, the deep ball to Worthy in the end zone that was dropped, and then the ball to Sanders that looked like a missed pass interference by the refs.

It can’t be overstated how much the injury to Ewers impacted the flow of the game for Texas. You could see the same aggressiveness from Sarkisian wasn’t there with Card in the game and that was even before he got banged up and was basically rendered a statue in the pocket. I hope we are able to see a healthy Ewers later on in the season because he looked poised for a breakout game on the big stage and was not flinching with the eyes of Texas (and the nation) upon him.

The Texas defense looks vastly improved

There is no need to sugarcoat it. The Texas defense last year was an absolute tire fire. Bad tackling, blown assignments, poor effort, bad communication. You name it, they had it in spades.

Needless to say, defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski had his work cut out for him this offseason heading into year two at the helm in Austin. With Bryce Young and an explosive Alabama offensive heading to town, I was pretty nervous about how his unit was going to slow down a group capable of putting up crooked numbers quickly.

I was blown away by how well Pete K’s defense played over the course of this game. They played fast, they played confident, and they made life very tough for Young and Alabama for four quarters. Aside from the big run by Jase McClellan early in the game, the Texas defense made Alabama earn everything they got. They weren’t getting blown off the LOS, there was good communication on the back end to prevent coverage busts, and they were able to apply pressure and get hits on Young throughout the game.

oung made two big plays to help seal the win for Alabama, but he only tallied 213 yards through the air on 39 dropbacks, which equals out to 5.5 yards per completion. When we look back on this at the end of the year this could very well be the defense that played the defending Heisman trophy winner the toughest.

The fourth down stuff that set Texas up to drive to take the lead for the last time brought me to my feet and it showed a lot of grit by the Texas defense to give the offense one more chance.

The offensive line held up against a very good Alabama pass rush

One of the biggest storylines for this matchup coming in was the vaunted Alabama pass rush that included guys like Will Anderson and Dallas Turner against a Texas offensive line that would be rolling out three new starters including two true freshmen in Kelvin Banks and Cole Hutson.

It’s tough focusing on individuals during the broadcast, but I checked in on the youngsters here and there and to my eye, I didn’t see any glaring miscues or mistakes from the young pups. Banks, in particular, looked pretty comfortable out on the island against guys who are going to be playing on Sundays and if he is holding his own this early then Texas has a monster on their hands.

Alabama did manage to get to the quarterback a few times in the matchup, but at least one of them (Anderson’s sack late on Card) I wouldn’t attribute to the offensive line since the ball should be gone and was more of a coverage sack.

I plan on watching the offensive snaps again at some point to refresh my eyes, but I was again encouraged by this bunch all things considered and both Banks and Christian Jones graded out well in pass protection by Pro Football Focus.

I’ll add this as a final note. I love the way Sark has helped out his offensive line with misdirection, screens, and play action in his play calling. That slows down pass rushers and does not allow them to pin their ears back from down to down. If they can continue to keep defenses off balance it will be very beneficial for the overall offensive outlook.

Kudos to Bert Auburn

I wrote last week that I was a bit worried about the special teams unit and while they definitely weren’t perfect yesterday I have to hand out a shoutout to kicker Bert Auburn for his performance yesterday.

Auburn went 4-for-5 on-field goal attempts in the contest and that includes a 49-yarder that put Texas up late and almost won the game for the Longhorns. The only blemish on his resume yesterday was the missed chip shot before the half and the blame for that goes to the bad hold and the ball was ultimately tipped.

You still need to iron out the overall operation for your kicker, but Auburn definitely earned some love after yesterday.

The overall health of the team

One of the main things I stressed prior to this matchup was the team making it out of the game healthy both physically and mentally. Mentally I think this team’s confidence is through the rough after playing the best team in the country extremely tight, but physically they are definitely a bit banged up.

Ewers is already set to miss time, Card was hobbling for most of his snaps and is questionable for Saturday, and you also lost D’Shawn Jamison after he dropped a potential interception. And those are just the injuries that we are aware of, as I am sure there are plenty of guys with bumps and bruises following a very physical football game.

Getting guys back healthy is going to be imperative because as we know this team’s depth is not robust and has a lot of inexperience. It is going to be an all-hands-on-deck approach going forward. Especially at quarterback.

Fire away in the comments! How are you feeling after the game yesterday?