A rematch of last year’s Alamo Bowl in San Antonio that ended in a 27-20 win for the Washington Huskies over the Texas Longhorns will elevate the winner to the title game of the College Football Playoffs while the other starts planning for next year during the interminable offseason. With one goal in mind, these two extremely talented teams face off in a Sugar Bowl matchup in New Orleans where these three matchups could decide the outcome.
1. The Texas DL vs. the Washington OL
Heading into the matchup in New Orleans, both groups have garnered national attention and awards for their dominant play. Starting with Texas, the Longhorns boast a stout interior presence and speed on the edge.
Texas defensive tackle T’Vondre Sweat was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and received the Outland Trophy, honoring the nation’s top interior lineman on either side of the ball, becoming the first Longhorn to win the award since 1977 and only the sixth defensive player to win it since 2008. The 6’4, 362-pound senior is joined by junior Byron Murphy II, who clocks in at 6’1, 308 pounds, and won Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year.
The duo has been disruptive and productive for the Longhorns in the run game and rushing the passer, ranking as the top two interior defensive linemen in the country, according to Pro Football all Focus. Texas can spell either of these players with experienced veterans like senior Alfred Collins and junior Vernon Broughton, who have each contributed throughout the year.
On the outside, Texas edge rushers Ethan Burke and Barryn Sorrell lead the charge, utilizing speed and technique to disrupt opposing offenses. Burke has been particularly strong at rushing the passer and leads the team with 5.5 sacks on the year. Texas has a host of situational players behind Burke and Sorrell that will see the field as well.
Pressure % leaders among defensive linemen and edge rushers in Big 12 play.— Hook'em Headlines (@HookemHeadlines) December 8, 2023
1. Austin Booker (KU EDGE), 13.8%
2. Byron Murphy (UT DL), 11.5%
3. Nelson Ceaser (UH EDGE), 10.9%
4. Ethan Burke (UT EDGE), 10.1%
5. Barryn Sorrell (UT EDGE), 9.4% pic.twitter.com/hh0sSgpZqF
For Washington, their offensive linehas been effective at preventing negative yardage plays and was recognized as such — after allowing only 11 sacks and 46 tackles for loss in 13 games, fifth nationally and tied for fourth nationally, respectively, the unit as a whole was given the Joe Moore Award as the top offensive line in the country. While Washington’s passing game may get more media time, the big boys up front pave the road and have been excellent at allowing quarterback Michael Penix Jr. to work his magic.
The matchup between these two lines has the potential to dictate many aspects of the game, including the final outcome. If either unit can establish dominance, the likelihood of their team winning is substantially higher.
For Texas, stopping the run and putting pressure on Penix will be central to the defensive game plan. Washington will look to keep a clean pocket for him and create enough push to run the ball and keep the Texas defense honest. If the Longhorns can get pressure on Penix with just the defensive line, they will be able to drop extra defenders in coverage, a significant advantage for the defense.
2. The Texas WRs vs. the Washington WRs
Both teams come into the game with elite wide receiver units. Washington has a two-headed monster of Rome Odunze and Ja’Lynn Polk that has absolutely torched opposing defenses, in addition to Jalen McMillan returning from injury. Odunze has 1,428 yards receiving on 81 catches (17.6 YPC) and 13 touchdowns while Polk has an even 1,000 yards on 60 catches (16.7 YPC) and eight touchdowns.
Rome Odunze beating the press coverage and jam at the LOS for the big gain.— Nick Penticoff (@NickPenticoff) December 26, 2023
Michael Penix Jr. with a sick throw too. pic.twitter.com/BTcwIysr4M
Having two 1,000-yard receivers is extremely impressive and will pose a tough threat to the Texas defense.
On the other side, the Longhorns have a corps of wide receivers that can match up with anyone. Xavier Worthy leads the team in catches (73) and yards (969) while A.D. Mitchell is leading in touchdowns (10) and yards per catch (15.9).
Texas also utilizes Jordan Whittington and Ja’Tavion Sanders heavily in the passing game.
The ball and the outcome of the game will be in the hands of these playmakers — the ability to consistently get open and stretch the defense coupled with deep-play ability puts each of these groups in a position to heavily influence the outcome of the game.
3. The turnover battle
If either team is able to force turnovers, the likelihood of an outcome in their favor is significantly better. Each team has been strong throughout the season at creating changes of possession. Currently, these two teams are tied for sixth in the country with 16 interceptions. Texas has also recovered seven fumbles, two more than Washington.
A turnover in this game will be monumental not only for the on-field implications but momentum as well. Look for the turnover battle to play a strong role in determining the winner.
Each team comes into the Sugar Bowl with an array of talent and a proven track record with these three matchups set to heavily dictate the type of game being played and the final outcome.
Texas is a four-point favorite over Washington, according to DraftKings.
Odds/lines are subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.