Alabama travels to Austin to take on Texas in a matchup that features a reunion against an old friend and is the first of many more meetings between these two programs as the Longhorns begin their transition to the SEC. Second-year coach (and former Alabama offensive coordinator) Steve Sarkisian has the Longhorns on the right track, but there’s a big difference between improvement and matching up against the Crimson Tide – the No. 1 team in college football.
Alabama opened its season with an easy 55-0 victory over Utah State. The Crimson Tide’s high-powered offense appeared to be in midseason form by averaging 7.8 yards per snap, and the defense limited the Aggies to just 136 total yards. Quarterback Bryce Young barely had to break a sweat, completing 18 of 28 passes for 195 yards and five scores. Also, he posted a career-high in rushing yardage (100). Transfers Jahmyr Gibbs (93 rushing yards) and Jermaine Burton (five catches for 35 yards and two scores) had standout debuts in Tuscaloosa. The blowout win maintained Alabama’s place atop the polls, but rival Georgia did steal a few No. 1 votes away in the Associated Press rankings.
After a disappointing 5-7 record in his debut, Sarkisian hit the portal and recruiting trail hard for help. The result is an improved Texas roster, but the rebuilding effort in Austin is by no means complete. Sarkisian’s second season with the Longhorns got off to a good start in Week 1. Behind new quarterback Quinn Ewers and a defense that allowed only 259 yards, Texas defeated ULM 52-10 to win its fourth season opener in a row. Although Sarkisian and the Texas roster is still a work in progress, his previous stint in Tuscaloosa (2019-20) should give him some insight into how to attack the Crimson Tide on Saturday.
Texas leads the all-time series against Alabama 7-1-1. This is the first regular-season meeting between the Longhorns and Crimson Tide since 1922. The last six matchups took place in a bowl or national championship.
Alabama at Texas
When Alabama Has the Ball
Will Texas have an answer or at least a way to slow down Alabama’s high-powered offense? The Longhorns entered 2022 with major concerns on this side of the ball after giving up more than 30 points and 200-plus rushing yards a contest last year. Opposing offenses also averaged more than six yards a snap and connected on 67.6 percent of their passes against this defense. The sample size is only one game against an overmatched opponent, but the Longhorns limited ULM to 259 yards and just 10 points last Saturday. Also, this unit recorded eight tackles for a loss, with Barryn Sorrell collecting 1.5 sacks.
The opening performance by Texas’ defense was encouraging for coach Steve Sarkisian and play-caller Pete Kwiatkowski. However, the challenge increases significantly on Saturday. Alabama quarterback Bryce Young started his Heisman defense by throwing for 195 yards and five touchdowns and adding 100 yards and a score in last week’s win over Utah State. The junior already has a nice rapport developing with the Crimson Tide’s revamped receiving corps. Traeshon Holden caught five passes for 70 yards and two scores, Georgia transfer Jermaine Burton grabbed two touchdowns, freshman Kobe Prentice caught five receptions and eight other players recorded a catch. The receiving targets for Young will only get deeper this Saturday. Tight end Cameron Latu missed the opener due to injury but is slated to return versus the Longhorns.
Stopping Young won’t be the only challenge for Texas. Protection from the offensive line was an issue for Alabama in 2021, but this unit appears to be on the right track under new assistant Eric Wolford. And assuming that holds, the combination of an improved ground game, along with better pass protection for Young, is bad news for the rest of the SEC as this offense would only get more dangerous. Guard Emil Ekiyor played a limited amount of snaps (28) due to injury, and his return could boost a line that already cleared the way for the Crimson Tide to rush for 278 yards against Utah State. Georgia Tech transfer Jahmyr Gibbs accounted for 93 of that yardage last week and more opportunities – especially in a high-profile matchup like this one on Saturday – are coming for the junior.
The challenge facing Texas on Saturday is clear. Young is the nation’s No. 1 quarterback, Alabama has one of college football’s top backs in Gibbs, along with a deep receiving corps and improving offensive line. What can the Longhorns throw at Young to slow down this unit? A complete shutdown of the Crimson Tide seems unlikely, but Texas has to find a way to win the small battles – on third down and in the red zone – to keep this one close in the fourth quarter.
When Texas Has the Ball
Quinn Ewers turned in a solid performance in his much-anticipated debut last Saturday. The Ohio State transfer completed 16 of 24 passes for 225 yards and two scores and had one completion of 40-plus yards for an offense that averaged 6.6 yards per play. But in a continuing theme for this matchup, the level of difficulty will rise significantly for Ewers on Saturday. Talent is not an issue for the redshirt freshman. However, making your second start against the No. 1 team in the nation is a difficult assignment. Sarkisian is one of the best play-callers in college football. Can he scheme some easy throws for Ewers to get on track early? Or at least get creative to help Ewers get off to a fast start?
There’s little doubt Ewers’ play will be under the spotlight on Saturday, but the performance of the offensive line is just as critical. This unit gave up 27 sacks last season and received an offseason overhaul. Two true freshmen – Kelvin Banks Jr. and Cole Hutson – have enormous upside and could start on Saturday. However, leaning on true freshmen to block Will Anderson Jr. and Dallas Turner off the edge is a tough assignment for the Longhorns. The going won’t be any easier along the line either. Alabama may not have an All-America-caliber standout here, but this unit has depth with Jaheim Oatis, Tim Smith, DJ Dale and Byron Young.
Not only is protection for Ewers crucial to hopes of an upset, but Sarkisian has to find ways to get the ball in the hands of running back Bijan Robinson. As expected in a one-sided matchup, Robinson got a light workload (13 touches for 111 total yards and two scores) in the rout of ULM. The junior should be significantly more involved this week, but with Alabama’s edge in the trenches, Sarkisian could find more ways to get him the ball in space as a receiver to add another weapon to a passing attack featuring Xavier Worthy and Jordan Whittington.
Whether it was against the pass, stopping the run or generating sacks, Alabama excelled at it on defense in 2021. With seven starters back, this unit is in the mix to be one of the best in college football. Running at the Crimson Tide defense all game long seems unlikely, so Ewers, Worthy and Whittington will have to hit on some players downfield to give the offense a chance to piece together drives.
Going on the road in college football is never easy. Alabama is also facing off against a former coordinator (Sarkisian) who should have a good bead on what this team wants to do on Saturday. With those two factors in mind, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Texas get off to a good start in the first quarter. However, once these two teams settle in, the Crimson Tide are simply deeper and better across the board. Young and his receivers have a huge day against the Longhorns, while Alabama’s defense shuts down Ewers, Robinson and Worthy to pull away for an easy win in the second half. The exact date of Texas’ move to the SEC is unknown. But after getting handled in a road loss to Arkansas last season, this showdown should provide Sarkisian with a good barometer of where his program is this year.
Prediction: Alabama 45, Texas 20
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