After a week of buildup, the Texas Longhorns managed to pull off one of the biggest upsets in recent history by knocking off the Alabama Crimson Tide 34-24 in Tuscaloosa, giving Steve Sarkisian his first win over his mentor Nick Saban.
The game was tight early, but both sides of the ball played one of the most complete games we’ve seen under Sarkisian, outside of last year’s Red River Rivalry. The defense kept Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe from getting comfortable in the backfield, with the pressure creating multiple bad passes and just the fourth multi-interception game by the Tide in the last five seasons.
Five sacks, nine TFL
Harkening back to a year ago, Pete Kwiatkowski and the defensive staff schemed up the ideal gameplan against the Crimson Tide and the players somehow executed it better the second time around. The Longhorns continued to pressure the Alabama backfield, converting pressures into sacks and tackles for loss — a few more of which would have been sacks if not for the running skill of Jalen Milroe.
The Longhorns’ five-sack performance is tied for the best game under Kwiatkowski, matching last year’s loss to the TCU Horned Frogs, with the last time prior to that coming in the 2019 Alamo Bowl against the Utah Utes. Conversely, this marks the most sacks allowed by the Crimson Tide since the 2021 Auburn game, a contest they won in overtime, and their 2017 matchup against the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
A big part of the performance for Texas was the emergence of true freshman linebacker Anthony Hill Jr.
Hill, who is known for his athleticism as a linebacker, drew the assignment of shadowing the speedy Milroe and keeping him contained as a spy. In spite of a few over-aggressive pursuits, Hill finished the game with a team-high two sacks, tying for the season lead with sophomore Buck end Ethan Burke. Hill’s performance against Alabama puts him just one out of the top 10 list for Texas freshmen and would be the first since Malcolm Roach in 2016 to crack the freshman list.
Quinn Ewers: 24-38, 349 yards, three TD
A week after facing doubts and questions about whether he is the right man for the job, redshirt sophomore quarterback Quinn Ewers went into a hostile environment and answered many of the questions and doubts.
When Ewers connected with junior wide receiver Xavier Worthy for a 44-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, it seemed to signal a shift for the Longhorns and the signal caller. That pass, the first completion this season longer than 20 yards in the air, was the second of a streak of nine consecutive completions for Ewers that led the Longhorns to a halftime lead.
The trust that Sarkisian showed in his quarterback extended to called passes on first down to keep the Longhorns on schedule. Ewers rewarded that trust, going 16-of-20 passing for 225 yards and two touchdowns on first downs, setting the pace and pushing the tempo for the offense when it needed points late.
The performance by Ewers moves him to a tie with Casey Thompson and Tyrone Swoopes for No. 7 on the list of career 300-yard passing games, while he sits one behind Bobby Layne for the most passing touchdowns all-time.
Red-zone conversions: 100 percent (two TDs, two FGs)
It wasn’t all good for the Longhorns, who left several points on the field, which has turned into a disaster under Sarkisian in the past. Outside of their 13th game under Sark with a third-down conversion rate under 40 percent, the Longhorns let two promising drives stall out in the red zone.
In the first quarter, Texas took the ball over via a Jahdae Baron interception that he returned to the Alabama 30-yard line. The Longhorns converted a third down and a fourth and long on the drive to take the ball down to the five-yard line, but managed just one yard from that point, thanks in part to a dropped pass by Worthy that turned into three points. The second, perhaps more frustrating drive, started on the Texas seven-yard line and saw the Longhorns convert on three third downs and get the ball down to the Alabama 13-yard line. A pass for no gain, a drop, and a two-yard rush led the Longhorns to leave yet another four points on the field.
This has been a recurring problem under Sarkisian, with the Longhorns turning in eight games with a red-zone field-goal percentage of 50 percent or higher, including five times a year ago — all of which Texas lost.
With Alabama in the rearview mirror, the Longhorns now turn their sights to what has been perhaps the biggest challenge of the last several years — not letting the result of the previous game impact the next one. It would be easy for Texas to let its guard down in Week Three with the Wyoming Cowboys coming to town, but just two weeks removed from upsetting the Texas Tech Red Raiders, the Cowboys would love to add another Big 12 win to their ledger.