clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Sunday Armchair QB — Texas vs. Alabama edition

An optimistic review of a game that ended in a not-so optimal way.

Scott Wachter, USA Today Sports

Though the outcome of Saturday’s loss against the Alabama Crimson Tide was what many expected, not even the most diehard of Texas Longhorn fans could’ve scripted out the game we witnessed Texas play.

Going toe-to-toe against the No. 1 team in the nation, Texas nearly pulled off the improbable, and seemingly impossible, task of upsetting Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. In fact, in many facets of the game, Texas looked like the better team. For much of the game, the Horns held the reigning Heisman winner to paltry passing numbers. Texas even held the lead for much of the fourth quarter, and after 59 minutes and 45 seconds of play, led Alabama 19-17.

But alas, it wasn’t meant to be, as Alabama was able to escape Austin with a 20-19 victory on a field goal with 10 seconds remaining.

Of course, this quick synopsis does no justice to how well Texas played, how shockingly disorganized Alabama looked for most of the game, how poor the officiating was, and how eerily similar this game stacks up to the 2010 National Championship between these two schools.

Here’s a few takeaways from yesterday’s game:

Was this loss actually a win?

In college football, there’s never such a thing as a “moral victory.” But if there was, yesterday’s loss was as close as they come. Longhorn nation seems to agree, as much of the news coming out of the Forty Acres has been overwhelmingly positive in respect to the boys in burnt orange and white. The AP Poll even rewarded the Longhorns by moving the team UP and into the top 25 in its most recent poll.

I can’t remember the last time a team lost and its ranking improved in the AP poll the next week. But that kind of respect was earned after Texas took the *former* No. 1 team in the country to the brink. And for now, Texas has grabbed the attention of many — in a good way. It’s put the Big 12 and the country on notice, that it can play with the big boys and Alabamas of the world. Despite the loss, Texas came out of yesterday’s game with more hope for the future than it has in any single game since the Sugar Bowl win over Georgia nearly four years ago.

Head coach Steve Sarkisian even said as much postgame. “You know in the end, that’s the best team in the country. In a weird way, we can kind of feel pretty good about ourselves.”

These aren’t your 2021 Texas Longhorns

In the offseason, we were treated to quotes and sound bites declaring this year would be different than last year’s disappointing 5-7 team. Perhaps the largest declaration of change came from Sarkisian, who told ESPN during Big 12 Media Days, “The kids knew not everybody in that locker room was all-in last year... I think they could feel it, and they wanted to weed out some of the warts, some of the bad apples.”

We didn’t know how much of this was coach speak, and how much of that statement was rooted in truth. But after yesterday’s game, it looks like many of Texas’ key players alluded to a similar sentiment that Sarkisian gave this summer.

Senior running back Roschon Johnson said, “Last year, I think that game wouldn’t have been close around the third quarter. They probably would have separated.”

Another senior leader on the team, defensive tackle Keondre Coburn, added “The past five years I’ve been here, I’ve never seen a team just grind as hard throughout the whole game.”

Last season, the Longhorns consistently petered out in close games and failed to overcome moments of adversity. They went 5-7 overall, going 2-5 in one-score games. Of those seven losses, Texas either led or was tied in the fourth quarter in four of those games. In short, and most simply put, when the going got tough, this team routinely folded like a lawn chair.

Yesterday could’ve just easily gone the way of last season, and there wasn’t a lack of momentum-killing moments Texas endured through yesterday. They could’ve given up after giving up an 81 yard touchdown run to Alabama running back Jase McClellan to go down 10-3. Or after quarterback Quinn Ewers left the game following a sprained clavicle injury. Or after your choice of terrible refereeing calls; the targeting/roughing the passer that should have been an intentional grounding or any of the missed facemask calls that impacted the game. Oh, and I almost forgot the no-call pass interferences on Alabama. Really, anything mentioned here would suffice.

Instead, this team fought to the bitter end against a team more talented than them. “Let’s call it like it is: Nobody gave us a chance in this game,” Sarkisian said. “None of you. None of the national media. Nobody gave us a chance, okay? But we believed in our locker room we could go win this game, and we played like a team that believed they could win this game.”

Amen to that, Sark. That belief showed and palpitated throughout DKR. The record crowd of over 105,213 fans bought in to the hard play and gave Texas a home-field environment that we haven’t seen for quite some time.

This team played hard for sixty minutes, never gave up amidst bad officiating and bad breaks, and brought enough pride to blanket over the Forty Acres and then some. This year’s team looks like they’ve bought in, and that’s brought a newfound sense of excitement to a football team that hasn’t had much to celebrate recently. And don’t just take my word for it..

If the defense plays like this every game, there’s no reason Texas can’t make a run

As mentioned above, for much of this game, the Texas defense bottled the Alabama offense and made the reigning Heisman winner look rather pedestrian through three quarters of the game. In fact, up until midway through the fourth quarter, Ewers still led Bryce Young in passing yards for the game. It wasn’t until late in the game and deep into the fourth the Longhorns defense began to give way to the heat and minutes played.

The Longhorns had a few plays they would like to have back — the 81-yard run and of course the final Alabama drive, to be exact. But for the most part, the Texas defense was disciplined, played with intensity, and swarmed Alabama’s skill position options at receiver and out of the backfield. They were largely dominant over one of the best offenses in the country. If they play like this every week, there’s no limit to how well the Longhorns can do in the Big 12 this year — after all, that Alabama offense is better than anyone they will face in conference this year.

Before the injury, Ewers looked every bit the part of a winning, Bama-beating QB.

“It wouldn’t have been close.” That’s what former head coach Mack Brown said when asked in 2010 what the outcome of the 2010 National Championship would have been had quarterback Colt McCoy not gotten hurt in the first quarter of the game. In a similar, cruel repetition of history, Texas’ starting quarterback exited the game early due to an injury in the first quarter against Alabama. It may be wishful thinking, it may be some extreme homerism veiled as Armchair analysis. But I have to agree with Mack here in regards to Quinn Ewers — if he didn’t get hurt yesterday, this game wouldn’t have been close.

Ewers built upon the good he showed in his debut against Louisiana-Monroe, showcasing an improved deep ball and connecting on deep routes that were sorely missed in his absence. Below is possibly his best throw of the day.

Preceding this huge throw to Worthy was an out route throw traveling over 30 yards in the air that I legitimately don’t think I’ve seen a Texas quarterback make in over a decade.

Before his exit, Ewers went 9-of-12 passing for 134 yards. HIs average yards per attempt of 11.2 yards was nearly twice as much as Alabama quarterback Bryce Young’s 5.5 yards per attempt. The future is bright at the quarterback position, folks.

In the meantime — we’ll be ok with Hudson Card (if he can get that ankle healthy)

Throughout much of the offseason, Card battled Ewers for the starting role before ultimately being named the backup quarterback. However, Card will now get his chance at QB1, with Ewers likely to be out up to two months while he recovers from a sprained clavicle.

Though last year’s tape on Card isn’t exactly one that will set a room full of scouts on fire, Card is still a capable quarterback who has experience starting for this team, and is well liked and respected by the locker room and coaching staff. After all, don’t forget that Card was the QB1 entering last season, and came to Texas with plenty of pedigree as a Lake Travis standout and Texas’ second highest-rated recruit of 2020 (behind only running back Bijan Robinson). Card’s floor as a game-manager type quarterback should be plenty of talent to keep Texas competitive while Ewers heals from his injury.