The Texas Longhorns came off a strong start against the UL-Monroe Warhawks this past Saturday with a dominating 52-10 win. This week, Texas faces the No. 1-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide for the first time since the 2010 championship game (#ifcoltmccoywasn’tinjured). Let’s investigate the metrics to evaluate how the Longhorns performed last weekend and exactly how tough the Crimson Tide will be.
After Quinn Ewers threw an interception on his second passing attempt of the game, Sarkisian took the time to reset the offense. This involved running the ball through Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson, and Ewers taking some safe check-down passes to breakout tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders. Ewers finished the game going 16-for-24 passing for 225 yards and two touchdowns to give him a QBR of 72.4.
Through just the eye test, I have a couple of immediate worries with Ewers for this week. The first is his deep-ball accuracy, he tried to hit Xavier Worthy four times and Jordan Whittington once for passes that had 20-plus yards of airtime. Through all of these, I was concerned that he was either throwing into coverage for easy picks, or not placing the ball in a catchable location for his receivers. With Bama, there’s no way he can safely lob those up and pray for Worthy to make plays on the ball. Their secondary consists of phenomenal players such as corner Eli Ricks, and safeties Jordan Battle and Brian Branch.
The second is his decision time: with UL-Monroe, there was often ample space and time for him to go through his progressions and find the dump off route in his tight end or running back. Edge rusher Will Anderson is going to make sure Ewers has half the time to get his throws off in the pocket. Last year Anderson finished with 17.5 sacks, 108 sack yards, and 101 total tackles.
The table below includes the usage rate and EPA (Expected Points Added per play) for the top players in the passing and rushing game. Worthy’s negative EPA can be attested to the fact that he was targeted several times, as previously mentioned, but only had two receptions for 24 yards on the game. (Note: Garbage time is filtered out of these statistics.)
Texas is going to have to rely on the short passing game heavily, involving screen plays in which we saw some great blocking from Jordan Whittington and Casey Cain. Ewers will have to continue to use his tight end assets with Sanders as well as Gunnar Helm. I would have preferred to see Ewers get more playing time instead of letting Hudson Card get reps in. With a primetime matchup this week, he could have used the extra practice of reading a non-Texas defense.
In terms of the running game, it was amazing to see the running back unit flourish in Week 1. Bijan had 10 carries for 71 yards, Roschon had five for 34 yards, Keilan Robinson only got one touch for seven yards, and Jonathan Brooks had six carries for 32 yards. Bijan was able to get a yard or two across the line of scrimmage before being first touched by the defense and it helps build his momentum during each carry. The offensive line line revealed its youth occasionally against Monroe’s veteran defensive tackles during runs up the middle. However, they moved pretty well when they needed to swing for screens or tosses. We didn’t see too many Bijan designed passing plays but I hope to see him utilized in the slot more seeing that Roschon can definitely hold his own in the backfield.
As promised from last week’s article, the table below further explores the run game using some advanced metrics.
For reference, here are the definitions:
- Power Success Rate: conversion rate for rushing on third or fourth down or when there are less than three yards to go (ideally you want a high rate for your offense and low for your defense)
- Stuff Rate: how often running backs are tackled behind the line of scrimmage (it’s the other way around here, a good team would preferable have a low offensive stuff rate and a high defensive rate)
- Line yards per rush: heavily weighs the middle ground, plus or minus five yards around the line of scrimmage (a great way to evaluate the offensive line and defensive line because runs beyond this point aren’t heavily credited towards them)
- Second-level yards per rush: rushing yards attained 5-10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage
- Open-field yards per rush: rushing yards attained 10-plus yards beyond the line of scrimmage
I have included both the 2021 season averages as well as the rates from their respective 2022 Week 1 matchups.
In their respective games in Week 1, both Texas and Alabama were able to exploit their opponents. Texas has one of lowest stuff rates on offense in the nation (led the Big 12 last year) which is evident of the talent recruited in the offensive line unit. However, Bama’s defensive stuff rate ranks fifth, only falling behind Auburn, LSU, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M last year. In almost every category, Bama’s defense allows a lot less in the running game than Texas is used to gaining. The matchups on the line will be a big factor in whether Sarkisian can establish the run game and hopefully pull out some new plays once Bijan can be used to bait the defense with play action or RPOs.
I was worried Texas would give up multiple scores, but the Longhorns defense really rose to the occasion last weekend. Cornerback D’Shawn Jamison had an exciting pick six along with two tackles, Linebacker DeMarvion Overshown had eight tackles and two TFLs, Jack end Barryn Sorrell had six tackles, 1.5 sacks, and two TFLs, and nose tackle Keondre Coburn had three tackles and a sack.
This gives me a glimmer of hope going into the Bama game, though their offense is a completely different beast to prepare for. Heisman winner Bryce Young went 18-for-28 passing in their 55-0 blowout win against Utah State last weekend, with five passing touchdowns, along with 100 yards on the ground. The linebacker unit including Overshown, Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey, Devin Richardson, and David Gbenda will have a tough job with coverage against elite receivers along with attempting to contain Young.
Adding along wide receivers Jermaine Burton and Traeshon Holden, the Longhorns defensive back unit will be stretched thin. Holden and Burton each had two touchdowns last week on a combined 135 yards off of five receptions each. Plus, RB Jahmyr Gibbs adds another threat in the backfield in which he had 93 yards off of nine carries against Utah State. Below is the same table evaluating rushing metrics, this time measuring the Texas defense against Bama’s running game.
As expected, the Texas defense doesn’t really offer anything Bama hasn’t already played against in the SEC. Even last week, the Texas defensive line didn’t do anything too exceptional to dominate over Monroe at the point of attackl. The Crimson tide could easily put the ball on the ground, using Gibbs and Young to keep the Longhorns defense on their toes. But their biggest strength is their passing game. Bama’s offense has produced six first-round drafted receivers in the last six years, and surely, Saban intends for Holden and Burton to be next on that list. The table below displays last week’s usage and EPA rates for the Bama offense.
Texas is entering as a 20.5-point underdog, according to DraftKings*, and I’ve also seen a projected score of 47-23. Both sides of Texas looked better than I had expected during their game against UL-Monroe, but they are definitely far from the top echelon of teams consisting of Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio State. All I can wish for is that Texas keeps it a tight game at least through the first half, and potentially only loses by two scores or less. That would at least cement them as a top 25-level team and give some confidence going into Big 12 play.
*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.