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No. 11 Texas at No. 3 Alabama final score: Longhorns upset Crimson Tide in 34-24 win

The Horns and Crimson Tide face off in one of the most-anticipated non-conference matchups of the season.

NCAA Football: Texas at Alabama John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Sarkisian and his former mentor Nick Saban go head to head for a second straight season as the No. 11 Texas Longhorns travel to Tuscaloosa to play the No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Kickoff is at 6 p.m. Central on ESPN as the Longhorns try to exact revenge for last season’s 20-19 last-second win by the Crimson Tide. Sarkisian sees this as a benchmark game for Texas, measuring where the Horns are in Sarkisian’s third season, a crucial one for the program with the SEC move looming next year.

The last SEC road game for Texas went poorly, a 40-21 defeat at the hands of former Southwest Conference rival Arkansas, but Sarkisian believes that his program is now better suited to endure a hostile environment in the nation’s best conference. One key to the drill on Saturday, as Sarkisian might say? Leaving the fear in Austin.

First quarter

Texas received the opening kickoff, a touchback that placed the ball at the 25-yard line. An 11-yard screen pass to freshman running back CJ Baxter opened the game with some momentum as the Longhorns went tempo, but the Crimson Tide forced a 3rd and 5 that Ewers converted with a decisive scramble for 11 yards.

A possible inflection point followed on 2nd and 8, a check down to junior tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders that was called a fumble on the field — recovered by the Longhorns — and then ruled an incomplete pass. After running the ball on third down trying to set up fourth and short, Texas took a delay of game penalty and opted for a conservative decision in punting the ball, downed at the Alabama three-yard line.

The Crimson Tide created some space with a physical inside run for nine yards by Jase McCellan, who moved the chains on his next effort. Then former Texas commit Jalen Milroe started to flash his improvisational ability, flipping a pass to McClellan for 12 yards and then scrambling for another 12 yards when the Longhorns lost contain. On second down, Milroe telegraphed his pass and Texas senior nickel back Jahdae Barron jumped the out route and came up with his third career interception and a potentially momentum-swinging play.

After picking up a first down with two runs, Texas faced a 4th and 2 in the red zone Sanders converted with a seven-yard gain. Facing a compressed field, an incompletion by Ewers and a one-yard run by Robinson set up a crucial third down from the Alabama four-yard line, but junior wide receiver Xavier Worthy had the throw glance off his hands on an out route for an incompletion, a missed opportunity reminiscent of the drop by running back Keoantay Ingram against LSU in 2019. The Longhorns settled for a 32-yard field goal by sophomore place kicker Bert Auburn.

Red-zone issues were a problem for Texas against Alabama in 2022, too — the Longhorns settled for field goals of 26 yards, 33 yards, and 24 yards.

Opening runs by the Crimson Tide produced 11 yards from Milroe on a zone read and then 15 yards by McClellan on the same play. On 3rd and 4 near midfield, the Longhorns stymied Roydell Williams for one yards, but the Crimson Tide remained on the field and converted the fourth down with an extension by Amari Niblack for a six-yard catch. Texas senior cornerback Ryan Watts broke up a potential touchdown pass in the end zone, but wasn’t able to come up with the interception, setting up a 3rd and 10 that ended when Milroe couldn’t connect on another flip pass down the sideline.

Second quarter

Alabama opened the second quarter with a 42-yard field goal by Will Reichard, tying the game at 3-3. Texas opened the ensuing drive slowly with an incompletion by Ewers on a deep shot intended for Worthy and a two-yard run, but the Longhorns stayed on the field when Ewers found senior wide receiver Jordan Whittington for 13 yards. Looking for a big-play-score, Sarkisian dialed up a wide receiver pass by Worthy that produced a defensive pass interference when junior wide receiver AD Mitchell was grabbed by the shoulder pad. Sarkisian remained aggressive and a shot play finally came through when Ewers lofted a 44-yard touchdown to Worthy that the Texas wide receiver tracked perfectly in the air.

Texas forced Alabama into a third down that Milroe converted with another jump ball brought down by his wide receiver. But the Longhorns responded on the next Crimson Tide third down when senior linebacker David Gbenda recovered after getting cut by the running back for a sack of Milroe. Alabama did, however, win the field-position battle, pinning Texas at their own seven-yard line after a 61-yard punt.

A facemask penalty against the Crimson Tide gave the Horns a boost to open the drive extended when Ewers showed off a cool pocket presence to find Sanders over the middle for 18 yards on 3rd and 5. Texas nearly broke a big play on an end around when Sanders couldn’t make a key block for Worthy, but continued emphasis on working the perimeter with the screen game kept the drive going into the Alabama red zone. On 2 and 10, junior running back Jonathon Brooks dropped a wheel route near the end zone and Texas settled for a 29-yard field goal when Ewers scrambled for a short gain on third down, ending a 14-play, 82-yard drive that took 6:25 off the clock.

Starting the drive with a quarterback draw produced 20 yards for Alabama, but a run stuff and a throwaway by Milroe set up 3rd and 11 and a short scramble by the Crimson Tide quarterback forced by strong downfield coverage by the Longhorns.

Texas stalled in response as Alabama stopped an outside zone and Ewers couldn’t find Sanders over the middle before dropping his arm slot even lower than normal on another incompletion that left time for the Crimson Tide.

A strong punt by Sanford and a strong effort by gunner Keilan Robinson in the open field to limit the return were hurt by a holding call on the Longhorns. Watts came up with a big tackle on a crossing route to drain some clock, but a scramble by Milroe led to another contested catch by Alabama to flip the field and another good gain put the Crimson Tide in danger of scoring a huge touchdown before halftime. Sophomore Buck end Ethan Burke arrested the momentum with a tackle for loss of Milroe, who nearly pulled off a spectacular play escaping another sack and then narrowly avoiding an interception off the hands of Texas senior linebacker Jaylan Ford that initially looked like a touchdown until Alabama was flagged for an ineligible player downfield. After another penalty, a 13-yard scramble by Milroe produced a 30-yard field goal for a 13-6 game at halftime.

Third quarter

Texas looked poised to force a three and out against Alabama to start the third quarter, but Barron was beat by Crimson Tide wide receiver Isaiah Bond for a 34-yard gain on 3rd and 4m, a rare coverage bust by the steady Longhorn nickel back. After Bama somehow managed to avoid any holding calls in the first half, a clear penalty called back a catch-and-run touchdown on a scramble by Milroe. A subsequent false-start penalty dealt another blow to the Crimson Tide drive that ended on a Milroe scramble, leading to a 51-yard field goal by Reichard.

A tackle for loss on a running play put Texas behind the chains when Mitchell missed his block on a cornerback blitz, resulting in a 3rd and 11 when a screen to Baxter produced a modest gain. Ewers nearly made a big play climbing the pocket, but his throw intended for Whittington was high and the senior wide receiver couldn’t bring it down.

On the ensuing punt, a holding call on Alabama hurt the field position for the Crimson Tide. Texas gave more yardage back on first down, however, when junior cornerback Gavin Holmes was flagged for pass interference on a throw nearly intercepted by senior safety Jerrin Thompson. The Longhorns responded when senior safety Kitan Crawford made a second-down tackle at the line of scrimmage on a running play, but got lucky when Milroe missed a throw on a wheel route to force a punt that pinned Texas deep in its own territory.

Texas quickly found a rhythm as Ewers hit Mitchell with a perfectly-placed ball down the sideline for 32 yards and another play-action pass to Sanders for 34 yards. Facing 3rd and 6, Ewers couldn’t connect with Worthy in the end zone on a go route and Auburn missed a 42-yard field goal wide left, resulting in the win probability dropping nearly 15 percent for the Longhorns between the Sanders catch and the missed field goal.

The defense came up big, however, benefiting from a false-start penalty on Alabama and a sack by freshman linebacker Anthony Hill Jr. on third down off the edge, giving the ball back to the Texas offense.

A second-down run by Brooks nearly produced a first down, but the Horns couldn’t convert on third down or a sneak play that resulted in a fumble Brooks recovered and ran for a first down. Texas found itself in a similar position on 4th and 2 on the next set of downs when Brooks was stopped short of the first down.

Alabama couldn’t get much going on the ground, but Milroe’s legs once again hurt Texas with a scramble on 3rd and 7. The Longhorns initially responded with a sack before the Crimson Tide finally broke through in the air when Jermaine Burton beat Thompson deep for a 49-yard touchdown.

Fourth quarter

Mitchell drew another pass-interference penalty to open the fourth quarter and Ewers hit Sanders for a 50-yard gain, and Mitchell finished the huge response with a seven-yard touchdown catch to regain the lead, 20-16.

But that wasn’t the only big play for the Longhorns — Thompson made up for his mistake in coverage reading the eyes of Milroe to come up with an interception and 32-yard return deep into Crimson Tide territory.

On the next play, Brooks found a narrow crease up the middle and fell forward into the end zone to make the margin 27-16 after the extra point.

Milroe’s night continued to take a rough turn — he was hit hard on a first-down incompletion and then sacked by Burke — but it was only temporary, as the young Alabama quarterback flipped the field with three completions, including on 3rd and 17 and a 39-yard touchdown on a dropped snap. Alabama converted the two-point conversion with another contested catch to cut the Texas lead to 27-24.

A throwback screen to Sanders that went for a chunk gain was negated by a holding penalty on Longhorns sophomore left tackle Kelvin Banks, but Texas bounced back when Ewers hit Whittington over the middle for 31 yards on 2nd and 15. The shot game hit again for Texas when Ewers found Mitchell wide open for a 39-yard touchdown on a pass that Mitchell tracked exceptionally well over his shoulder.

With Milroe forced into the drop-back passing game — not his strength — Texas forced two incompletions and Hill came up with another sack in a big blow to Alabama.

After struggling to run the ball all game, the Horns were able to secure a first down with three runs, prompting Saban to use all three timeouts in an effort to save clock. The tactic didn’t work when Brooks hit a run up the middle to convert 3rd and 7.

Lined up to go for a 4th and 3, Texas was able to force an offsides to pick up the crucial first down to kill the clock and leave Tuscaloosa with the incredible upset.