In the rematch of last year’s 20-19 loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide in Week 2 of the 2022 season, head coach Steve Sarkisian and the Texas Longhorns will face off against the Alabama Crimson Tide on Sept. 9 at 6 p.m. Central in search of revenge with ESPN’s College GameDay in attendance at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“Clearly, Week 2 is a great challenge, going to play Bama in Tuscaloosa, Bryant-Denny Stadium.” Sarkisian said in his most recent media availability press conference. “I know that the key to the drill for us is focusing on what we need to do to prepare and getting ourselves in the right frame of mind mentally, physically, and emotionally to play a four-quarter, hard-fought, very physical game.”
This Alabama team is a much different roster than it was a year ago and has multiple question marks on both sides of the ball. Head coach Nick Saban lost both his offensive and defensive coordinator — Bill O’Brien joined Bill Belichick as the new offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots and Pete Golding is now the defensive coordinator for Ole Miss.
When asked about his new coordinators, Saban said, “I’m really pleased with the two new coordinators that we have — (defensive coordinator) Kevin Steele obviously has been with us before, so he understands the program and the expectation.”
The Tide were only able to retain four starters on offense and five starters on defense, losing notable talent such as Heisman-winning quarterback and No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young and unanimous All-American outside linebacker and No. 3 pick Will Anderson. With a new roster and a new coaching staff, this could be the perfect time for Sarkisian and his 11 returning starters on offense to find a kink in the Crimson Tide armor.
Make no mistake however, this is still Alabama, and if anyone knows how to retool a roster, it’s Nick Saban.
The Alabama offense under first-year offensive coordinator Tommy Rees run a multiple pro-style offense. Their powerful rushing attack and enormous offensive line are the primary focal points of this offense — it’s the type of offense that Saban traditionally loves to run, smash-mouth, old-school football behind an overwhelming offensive line that eats up time of possession and wears down opposing defenses.
Quarterback Jalen Milroe is a dynamic dual-threat quarterback who presents a matchup nightmare for defensive coordinators. When asked about Milroe and the Alabama offense, Sarkisian replied, “Jalen’s a fantastic player — they’ve got a multitude of quarterback runs whether they’re zone reads, power reads, quarterback direct runs, quarterback scrambles on third downs. That’s probably the biggest thing that’s the toughest to prepare for, that we’re gonna have to spend extra time on how do we control and contain the quarterback with his legs?”
Milroe carried the ball seven times for 48 yards and two touchdowns in Alabama’s 56-7 Week 1 victory against Middle Tennessee State. He also went 13-of-18 passing for 194 yards, including an impressive 49-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Isaiah Bond. Milroe primarily works in the short to intermediate passing game, but is currently averaging an impressive 10.8 yards per pass attempt. While the running ability of Milroe is currently his greatest strength, he is definitely not the only rushing weapon Texas defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski needs to worry about in this Bama backfield.
Despite losing standout running back Jahmyr Gibbs, who was selected 12th overall by the Detroit Lions in the 2023 NFL draft, the Crimson Tide had no issues replacing the talented back on this depth chart.
This backfield is led by senior running back Jase McClellan, who had a solid 2022 season as the third-down back behind Gibbs. McClellan carried the ball 112 times for 655 yards and 10 touchdowns in the 2022 season and was also a competent receiver out of the backfield with 14 receptions for 174 yards. This Alabama backfield is certainly a running back room by committee with senior running back Roydell Williams and five-star freshman Justice Haynes, who many expect to be the starter by the end of the season.
Alabama ran the ball on 60 percent of their plays in their Week 1 game against Middle Tennessee. Look for them to do the same in Week 2 against the Longhorns.
The effectiveness of this rushing attack is certainly aided by their massive offensive line. The average height and weight of the starting offensive line is 6’5, 339 pounds with three starters over 350 pounds — sophomore left guard Tyler Booker at 6’5, 353, freshman left tackle Kadyn Proctor at 6’7, 369, and junior right tackle JC Latham at 6’6, 356. For reference, the average height and weight of offensive lines in the NFL last year was 6’5 315 pounds.
This powerful front for Alabama is able to dominate the line of scrimmage with their sheer size and power. Despite the talent that the Longhorns have at interior defensive line lead by senior defensive tackles T’Vondre Sweat and Alfred Collins, containing the Alabama backfield will be a tall task thanks to the massive Crimson Tide offensive line.
Despite being a very run-heavy offense, with only 24 pass attempts in Week 1, the Alabama offense has a strong stable of speedy wide receivers on the outside.
“The thing that probably concerns me the most about their offense is that they’re very balanced,” Sarkisian said. “They can run the ball with a runner, they’ve got really good speed on the perimeter with Isaiah Bond, Jermaine Burton, and that crew that they have there. They utilize their tight ends and they’ve got a physical offensive line.
Alabama had a remarkable five members of the wide receiver room enter the transfer portal after a less-than-remarkable 2022 season for a wide receiving corps that didn’t have a single receiver eclipse 1,000 receiving yards. Those players include Traeshon Holden to Oregon, Jojo Earle to TCU, Christian Leary to Georgia Tech, Tyler Harrell to Miami, and Aaron Anderson to LSU.
Despite the losses seen in the transfer portal, Alabama was able to retain their two leading receivers from the 2022 season, former Georgia transfer Jermaine Burton, who totaled 677 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, and junior Ja’Corey Brooks, who totaled 674 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.
However, the most intriguing receiver on this offense after Week 1 seems to be sophomore Bond, who often lines up in the H position. Bond was certainly Milroe’s favorite target in Week 1, as he brought down five receptions on six targets for 76 yards and a touchdown, including that beautiful 49-yard touchdown to close out the first half as the Alabama offense finally began to get into a rhythm. Milroe only attempted 18 passes and one third of those went to Bond.
This Alabama offense is certainly not as strong as it was last year under Young and definitely has its question marks in the passing game, so the offensive success for Saban and the Crimson Tide in Week2 will certainly be decided in the trenches and their ability to move the football in the ground game. If they are able to push this Longhorn front seven around, it will be a long day for Kwiatkowski and this Longhorn defense.
Sarkisian noted their main focus defensively will be “making sure that we’re accounting for No. 4 (Milroe) and all of the quarterback run games are gonna be a real key to the drill.”
As always, Saban has a terrifying defense. It has certainly become a staple of his coaching career.
“They’re going to be well coached, they’re gonna give you a multitude of defenses, fronts, coverages, pressures, and they’re going to play hard,” Sarkisian said. “At the end of the day you gotta earn what you get in this game and they’re gonna make you earn it.”
This Alabama defense lost six defensive players to the 2023 NFL draft, including second-team All-American defensive tackle Byron Young, who was selected 70th overall by the Los Vegas Raiders, safety Brian Branch, who was selected 45th overall by the Detroit Lions, and Anderson.
Only five starters return to this Alabama defense overseen by Steele, who previously coached for Saban and now returns for his third stint as the Crimson Tide defensive coordinator. Steele leads an Alabama defense that ranked ninth nationally in scoring defense (18.2 ppg), sixth in pass efficiency defense (108.0), and 13th in total defense (318.2 ypg) in 2022.
When game planning for this Alabama defense, the name that Sarkisian and Texas offensive coordinator Kyle Flood likely has circled on this roster is junior Sam linebacker Dallas Turner. Replacing Anderson at outside linebacker, Turner looks to be the focal point of this Alabama pass rush after an impressive showing in training camp. He’s lightning fast on the outside and arguably one of the best at getting to the quarterback in the nation off the strong side. Left tackle Kelvin Banks will have his hands full against the 6’4, 242-pound junior that will make for a very intriguing matchup a year after Banks held his own against Anderson.
The defensive secondary is led by the fruit punch man and NIL legend, Kool-Aid McKinstry. The five-star junior defensive back is an “elite athlete that checks the desired boxes when it comes to height and length,” according to Andrew Ivins at 247Sports. Last year McKinstry had a total of 35 tackles and one interception. Not incredible numbers, but this Alabama defense totaled only seven interceptions last season.
Coming into his junior season, McKinstry will become a focal point of this defensive secondary and may match up against fellow junior Xavier Worthy.
Overall, this defense is difficult to evaluate with the departure of so many of its stars to the NFL. Hopefully Sarkisian will be able to exploit some of the growing pains that this Crimson Tide defense will ultimately face from so much turnover on the roster and coaching staff.
On special teams, McKinstry is also the teams punt returner, and an elite one at that. Last year the Kool-Aid man returned 21 punts for 332 yards, for an average of 15.8 yards per return. His season-long return was 45 yards against UL-Monroe.
For a special teams unit that is not historically known for having to kick field goals very often, Alabama has an exceptional kicker on their roster. Fifth-year senior Will Reichard is the program’s all-time leader with 426 career points on 62 field goals and 240 made PATs and hit the game winner last year against Texas in Austin.
Despite the many question marks that this Alabama roster has on both sides of the ball, it is never wise to underestimate Nick Saban and his ability to re-tool a roster. However, if there were ever a year for the Longhorns to march into T-Town and upset the Tide, it’s this year.
The offense is certainly less dynamic with Milroe behind center in the passing game than it was with Young a year ago. Milroe is definitely capable of breaking out big plays, but this offense will likely rely on the short pass and rushing attack for the majority of the game. So the goal for this Texas defense will be to contain the Alabama backfield and force Milroe to beat them through the air.
Texas started off slow against Rice in Week 1 and were unable to get into a rhythm through the air until the third quarter and that can’t happen against Bama. If Texas can start this game strong and take an early lead, they may be able to limit Alabama’s ability to control the tempo and run the ball the way they would like to.
Therefore, the objective for Texas on offense will be to limit mistakes and control the time of possession. Ewers will have to get the ball out quickly to avoid this Alabama pass rush and lengthy third downs in order to get the ball into the hands of his talented play makers. Methodical drives down the field will be the key to the Longhorns success on offense.
Alabama is a 7.5-point favorite over Texas, according to DraftKings.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.