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Rematch with Washington in CFP semifinal allows Texas chance to exact revenge for all five 2022 losses

The Revenge Tour continues for the Longhorns with another chance to beat the Huskies.

NCAA Football: Alamo Bowl-Texas at Washington Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

AUSTIN, Texas — For senior linebacker Jaylan Ford, it’s ironic how things worked out for the Texas Longhorns in landing a rematch of last year’s Alamo Bowl when the College Football Playoff committee slotted the No. 3-seed Longhorns against the No. 2-seed Washington Huskies in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on Jan. 1.

“Another rematch,” said Ford on Sunday. “Our biggest thing all this year, I think was teams that we lost to last year, giving them our best shot.”

The matchup against the Huskies in the College Football Playoff semifinals marks the fifth and final opportunity on a Revenge Tour that has seen the Longhorns defeat the other four opponents that beat Texas in 2022.

Last year in the Alamo Bowl, a full-strength Washington team faced Texas without standout linebacker DeMarvion Overshown star running backs Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson. It showed on the field, especially with third-string running back Jonathon Brooks playing through a hernia that required offseason surgery. A touchdown early in third quarter narrowed the lead by the Huskies to three points, but Washington responded with consecutive touchdowns to take a 27-10 lead it held onto in the 27-20 win thanks in part to a dropped touchdown pass by junior wide receiver Xavier Worthy, who was playing through a broken hand.

“Naturally, that’s that’s one of the beauties of being in the playoff — you’d like to think you’re not going to have opt outs, that you’re playing for a championship. Last year was difficult and so the fact that we’ll have everybody there and hopefully healthy and that we have time to get ourselves healthy, which has been a little bit of an issue of ours here over the last month or so of just kind of little nagging injuries, to get our team healthy and to have an opportunity to put our best foot forward is huge because it’s going to be needed,” said Sarkisian.

“Washington’s a very good team and they’re going to be healthy, too. They’ve had their own injury bug that they’ve been dealing with, so it’s gonna be a great challenge, gonna be a heck of a game.”

The Revenge Tour that now features a second unexpected stop started in Tuscaloosa with Texas intent on exacting revenge on Alabama for the last-second 20-19 win in Austin.

“I think it was great for our team — that win gave us as much or more confidence than anything throughout the season to help us navigate our way through some of those other tougher games late in the year because it gave us some more belief in what we’re doing,” said Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian.

Three of the final four opponents, including Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Championship game, marked further opportunities for Texas to reverse the results from 2022 with convincing wins over Texas Tech in Austin and then over the Cowboys in Arlington coming as the Longhorns needed to make closing statements to the College Football Playoff committee from outside the top four teams in the rankings.

“We were focused on winning, but at the same time we realized and understood that if we went out there and played like we did yesterday that it would be a very hard decision for them not to put us in,” said redshirt sophomore Quinn Ewers.

Sarkisian said he never explicitly made that point with his team.

“I wanted us to play more dominant because I felt like that’s what we’re capable of and so I challenged them on that. I always feel like we’re at our best when we really are an attacking-style team. We like to be very aggressive play callers on offense, defense, and on special teams and we want our players to believe in that style of play calling, to trust it, and to go get it and so that was probably a bigger point of emphasis last week more than any, but more than it wasn’t about trying to impress anybody, It was about living up to our standard and what we were capable of,” said Sarkisian.

The Texas head coach kept raising that standard throughout the season as the Longhorns proved capable of reaching each benchmark and peaking at the right time.

“Kind of the cherry on top is an opportunity to go compete for a national championship to get into the playoff and I think our guys have earned it. They’ve had a great season. I think we’re playing our best football right now at the right time,” said Sarkisian.

Confirmation of that belief from the selection committee came after a tense night for Sarkisian and his players.

Ford watched the Alabama-Georgia game with his teammates on the bus back to Austin and felt like Texas had a chance to make the playoffs after the Crimson Tide won. Watching Florida State beat Louisville, some doubt started to creep in for Ford.

After Michigan beat Iowa to win the Big Ten title and Florida State won, Sarkisian headed to bed in an attempt to get some sleep. Instead, he ended up on the couch, where his wife checked on him multiple times during the night before he finally got some rest.

Ewers kept waking up in the middle of the night.

“When you do all that you can do, you feel good, but in the end you’re like, ‘Man, is there anything more I can do to make sure that we can get in this thing?’ Fortunately for us, we had done enough to get in,” said Sarkisian.

Watching the selection show, Ford and his teammates started noticing their hearts racing after Michigan and Washington were announced as the top two seeds.

“When we saw that third spot go to us, everybody just erupted,” said Ford.

Some added irony to the full-circle nature of the rematch? Washington wasn’t picked to win the Pac-12 and was only slotted one spot ahead of Texas at No. 10 in the AP Top 25 preseason poll as the college football world slept on just how well the Huskies played in San Antonio to cap an 11-2 season.

“I think coming out of last year’s game, I don’t know if everybody outside of us really understood how good Washington was — that was a very good football team and they’ve continued to do it, they continue to win and find ways to win, they’re a complete team as well,” said Sarkisian.