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No. 21 Texas vs. UTSA: Advanced stats preview and Alabama recap

Wrapping up the close loss to the Crimson Tide and looking ahead to the Roadrunner.

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

The No. 21 Texas Longhorns are coming off an amazingly played game against the then-No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide last Saturday in Austin. Win or lose, the team should be proud for putting Nick Saban on his heels. Meanwhile, Steve Sarkisian said that this game would not define the season, but it has definitely set an expectation for what is to come. We are all eagerly awaiting a Big 12 championship and the Horns have put their head down to prepare for the following weeks.

This week they host their last out-of-conference opponent, the UTSA Roadrunners, at 7 p.m. on Saturday in Austin. Last year, UTSA finished with a 12-2 record, winning Conference USA. They had their time in the AP Top 25 for a majority of the season and are definitely ready to scare another team. Both of their games have gone to overtime this season, with a 37-35 loss to Houston, and a 41-38 win over Army. Let’s dive into the numbers from last week’s performance and what Texas needs to do this week to stay on path despite looming injuries.


Time to start the next decade-long trend, #ifewerswasntinjured. If Texas walks into Tuscaloosa next year and Quinn Ewers or Arch Manning get rammed in the shoulder during the first quarter, Saban ought to be investigated. Jokes aside, Ewers was playing his mind out during the first quarter, posting a QBR of 95.8.

During the first two drives, it was uplifting to see Sark open up the playbook with play action, wide tosses and screens, combined with some deep passes. Wide receiver Jordan Whittington was doing an excellent job with short and medium receiving and Ewers seemed to really improve his deep ball accuracy since the UL-Monroe game, connecting with wide receiver Xavier Worthy a couple of times, and falling just short of an early touchdown. There is a multitude of advanced metrics that all prove that Ewers was playing at a phenomenal level during the first quarter, but I’ll just touch on one — through two weeks of football this season, Ewers ranks 7th in QBR, beating out Bama quarterback Bryce Young, who struggled to produce during the first three quarters of the game. This is also a testament to the Texas defense, which I’ll talk about later. But it seems like Ewers has quickly become a fan favorite and we hope to see him back soon. Note that UTSA quarterback Frank Harris ranks 17th in the nation as well.

With Hudson Card hobbling for a good amount of the game, he also exceeded expectations. It was clear Sark didn’t utilize the entire playbook with him and played more conservatively, resulting in some quick three and outs while running the ball with running backs Roschon Johnson and Bijan Robinson. Below is the usage rate and estimated points added per play for the top offensive Longhorns.

The young UT offensive line found it difficult to jump start the run game with only 2.4 line yards per rush, compared to their 3.5 avg from last season. Bama’s defensive line forced Texas to make adjustments often and were a big force in preventing Texas from scoring in the red zone. The biggest surprise was Alabama committing a record 15 penalties totaling 100 yards, the most during the Saban era. There were many times where Texas really had people believing they could do it; pictured below is the win probability chart from

For this week, note that all of UTSA’s advanced metrics should be taken with a grain of salt as their strength of schedule so far ranks 80th while Texas’ is 25th. I have compiled the PPA and red zone statistics below.

Nevertheless, we are still able to conclude that UTSA has struggled defensively against weaker opponents compared to Texas’ fully powered offense. However, the passing EPA is up in the air. Through Week 2, UTSA has produced five sacks for 22 yards, 13 TFLs for 43 yards along with a fumble recovery in each game. Now with Ewers out and possibly even Card with his ankle injury, can Texas turn to freshman Charles Wright to produce at a sufficient level if necessary?

Trevor Harmonson (18 total tackles), Jamal Ligon (18), Trey Moore (11) and Dadrian Taylor (10) lead a strong linebacker unit for UTSA. They managed to slightly slow down Army’s run-heavy offense, but still gave up three rushing touchdowns. The good news is UTSA tends to give up more rushing yardage than Texas has even been able to produce so far. I expect Texas to put the ball on the ground, utilize this talented offensive line, give Bijan and Keilan some space to play with, and experiment with their options in their deep running back unit.


I have never been happier to have been so wrong about the Texas defense. The numbers were proven wrong by the development of talent on display along with great execution and outstanding pressure. In passing, rushing, and total PPA, the Texas defense held Alabama far below what they typically produce. The table shows their offensive PPA for each quarter, the total, and what they average.

Bama’s moment of quality production that skews the first quarter rating was the 81-yard TD run by running back Jase McClellan. Texas was playing tight for the majority of the fourth quarter, up until the last drive when Young went 5-of-7 in passing along with a 20-yard run. The tide of the game could have been changed multiple times, whether it was the uncalled safety or D’Shawn Jamison’s almost interception.

Texas has proven that they can stand toe-to-toe with giants, but will they play with the same intensity against an unranked opponent? We’ve seen this trend far too often in the past few years. The team’s expectations rise astronomically after big performances against the likes of Notre Dame, USC, Oklahoma, or LSU, only to not bring the same energy to Kansas. This week is important for the Longhorns as they are tested on their endurance to play with such intelligence and ferocity through the season. Going into Week 3, the Texas defense is surely capable of keeping UTSA in check both through the air and on the ground. A repeat of the table used previously, with the sides switched, is shown below.

While Jamison is potentially sidelined with an ankle injury, the rest of the DB secondary can step up and enforce their strong passing limits. UTSA has had solid passing performances in their first two games. Harris is 60-of-88 passing for 696 yards, adding six touchdowns, one interception, and seven sacks. Harris enjoys looking for quick slant and out options before scrambling and running the ball. From the tape against Army, his sacks came from when they were rushing four. Harris can maneuver the blitz with check-down passes, and if there is too much coverage, he will easily take off. The Texas front seven, headlined by defensive tackle T’Vondre Sweat, nose tackle Keondre Coburn, linebacker Jaylan Ford and linebacker DeMarvion Overshown, will have to play a role in containing him in the pocket.

The Roadrunners’ receiving corps is built around Zakhari Franklin (20 rec, 222 yards, 2 TD), Joshua Cephus (17, 218, 1), and De’Corian Clark (13, 160, 3). Franklin is the deep threat of the bunch and can put on some moves after the catch as well. Running back Brenden Brady is used strategically to break up the heavy pass offense that UTSA brings.

Final thoughts

Texas enters as a 12.5-point favorite, according to DraftKings*. There are some worries about the starting quarterback on offense, but I think the sheer number of talented Longhorns at other positions, along with Sark’s play calling, will aid in scoring opportunities. This UTSA team is riding a high from two great weeks of passing productions and they are ready to prove they can upset another team. If Texas can play with the same passion from last Saturday, then they will undoubtedly come away with a decent win this weekend and keep the Roadrunners in check. The margin of victory will heavily influence how we could potentially rise in the AP Top 25 and it would be helpful to establish a better ranking before entering Big 12 play.

*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See for details.