No one — well, almost no one — picked Texas to actually beat top-ranked Alabama. But as a barometer of where the Longhorns stand two games into Steve Sarkisian’s second season, the Crimson Tide’s 20-19 win paints an optimistic picture about the state of the program..
On defense in particular, the Longhorns did what few have done to Alabama in years: bottle up an offense that annually ranks among the best in the Bowl Subdivision.
After getting a field goal on the game’s opening possession and then scoring on an 81-yard run to lead 10-3 at the end of the first quarter, Alabama wouldn’t put together another scoring drive until marching 75 yards on 11 plays to retake the lead, 17-16, midway through the fourth.
On special teams, Texas was able to control field position through punter Daniel Trejo, who averaged 46.4 yards per punt. Kicker Bert Auburn made four field goals, including one from 49 yards out to put the Longhorns ahead 19-17 late in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, the Tide suffered through uncharacteristic mistakes. The 15 accepted penalties were the most during the Nick Saban era, helping Texas stay close. In the end, the brilliance of Alabama’s starting quarterback saved the day.
But the Longhorns have to feel very positive about how they played almost across the board — they may not be back, but they’re moving forward.
Here are the biggest takeaways from a surprisingly close game:
OK. So who’s No. 1?
It may not be Alabama when we see the new USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll, set to be released Sunday. Instead, Georgia could be able to draw away enough votes to supplant the Tide atop the poll just two games into the regular season.
The biggest question coming out of Saturday may be this: Is Texas truly good enough to hang tight with the best the FBS has to offer, or did Alabama just have an off day?
Maybe both can be answers can be true at the same time.
For the first time under Sarkisian, the Longhorns arose to the challenge and seemed capable of standing tall against an opponent of Alabama’s caliber, even if with a little assistance from the Tide’s atypical sloppiness.
That bodes very well for the Longhorns’ chances of making a big rebound from last year’s losing record and making a charge at the Big 12 championship, especially if young quarterback Quinn Ewers, who was impressive in the first quarter, doesn’t miss extended time due to injury that sidelined him for the game.
After dominating Utah State in the opener, the Tide looked mortal against Texas. Among other concerns, the play of the offensive line remains a puzzling issue for a program that evaluates, recruits and develops talent better than anyone in the FBS.
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Bryce Young steps up and delivers
Down 19-17 with 90 seconds left and starting at his 25-yard line, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner drove Alabama 61 yards in nine plays to set up the game-winning 31-yard field goal with 10 seconds left.
Held in check for three quarters, Young’s performance across several late possessions represents his early-season Heisman moment as he attempts to become the second two-time winner in history.
One play in particular stands out: Under pressure from the Texas blitz, Young dipped under a tackler, sprinted to the outside and picked up 19 key yards to move Alabama inside the red zone. Three plays later, kicker Will Reichard put the Tide up front with a 33-yard kick.
The numbers may not pop off the screen. Young finished with 213 passing yards on just 5.5 yards per attempt with 38 rushing yards. But his impact when Alabama needed him most reinforces the junior’s status as college football’s most impactful player.
Texas will be a real Big 12 factor
Despite receiving a first-place vote in the preseason Coaches Poll, the Longhorns were not the preseason favorite in the Big 12. Far from it, actually. Even in a year that seemed more unpredictable than usual, Oklahoma, Baylor and Oklahoma State were pegged as the league’s top tier, followed by the Longhorns and Kansas State.
Saturday changes that equation. One thing that’s easy to say: Texas is good enough to win the conference, or at least reach the conference championship game, as long as the offense rounds into form before meeting the Sooners in early October.
Even if the defense has to carry the load, the Longhorns have to be seen as a team good enough to win nine or more games and contend for a New Year’s Six bowl.