When Steve Sarkisian admitted Texas had been working on the Bama game plan since the summer, it raised a yellow flag.
When Sarkisian brought in TCU’s Gary Patterson and gave him the primary assignment of breaking down Alabama’s offensive tendencies, another yellow flag should have gone up.
And then Texas decided to start a placekicker named Bert Auburn. Red flags abound.
When Alabama is finally able to enjoy the realization that it is 2-0, and not 1-1, a lot of these things will become funny, or at least a reason to deride Texas for putting so much emphasis on a non-conference game that really wouldn’t have mattered much in the long run, presuming Texas has the season most expect it will have. Right now, though, the burns from standing too close to the fire are still fresh.
Alabama was very fortunate to come out of this game wih a win, perhaps not for the reasons most Texas fans will want to cite: yet another injury in a big Bama-Texas game to a Texas starting quarterback. “If Colt Hadn’t Gotten Hurt” is cited so often by Texas fans as evidence of a potential dynasty stolen, it may already be trademarked. Now it can be joined by “If Quinn Hadn’t Gotten Hurt,” along with “If Hudson Hadn’t Gotten Banged Up.” Someone should get a 3-for-1 deal from the patent office.
It’s unfortunate to have to go down this road, because it cheapens what actually did happen to Quinn Ewers, which at this point is assumed to be a sprained or broken collarbone. Prior to the injury, Ewers was operating in Zach Calzada/Stephen Garcia territory, and he doesn’t really deserve to be involved in this, but Texas fans bring it on themselves by choosing to ignore the scoreboard for what-ifs. It also ignores the fact that when certain players do things in the game, it affects what the other team does in response. Ergo, there’s no way to know what a healthy Ewers would have meant to the end result, but it is appropriate to say he was having a fantastic day before the injury.
To borrow from Nick Saban’s bag of similarly-trademarked quotes, “It is what it is.”
The much bigger issue for Alabama was that the Crimson Tide’s offense looked, for the fourth time in the last five games Bama has played against competitive opponents, rather average. Going back to 2021 and starting with the game against Auburn, Alabama struggle-bused its way to a 24-22 win, followed that up with a masterclass against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game (41-24), but then ran off the following string: 27-6 over Cincinnati, 18-33 against Georgia, and now this.
Many of the same concerns present at the end of the 2021 season remain. There’s the offensive line that can’t seem to establish a consistent running game, there’s a receiving corps that isn’t up to recent standards, and a general lack of imagination from the sideline to help create spaces that might not otherwise exist.
Against Texas, Alabama combined all of the above with a terribly sloppy performance that was so out of focus, it was sufficient to take the heat off the officiating, which was horrendous for both teams and not up to the level of the competition on the field. We can argue whether Dallas Turner should have been flagged for roughing Quinn Ewers (he shouldn’t have), or how the Bryce Young roughing/safety/what-the-heck-was-that call went down, or missed pass interference penalties (for both teams) or whatever you like, but even if the Big 12 had hired a bunch of parking attendants at 10 a.m. today to call the game, it doesn’t excuse late hits, lining up offsides or pre-snap motion.
To the point, Alabama looked like it spent all week reading how it was three scores better than Texas, and was determined to wait around for the scoreboard to realize it, too.
There’s always a point in our postgame reviews where we note the real reason that we analyze: That which cannot be measured, cannot be improved. So we measure and analyze and fidget and fiddle around with what’s on the tape, hoping to glean something that can be used to get better in advance of what’s coming next. In that regard, Arkansas has looked stout so far, as has Tennessee, and Texas A&M can’t help but be a challenge just from the standpoint of its talent on hand. LSU, Auburn and Ole Miss aren’t completely incapable of rising up to a challenge, and even Vanderbilt’s offense has improved enough to have to account for it.
Texas is clearly improved over 2021, especially on defense, where having Patterson in the building only helps. But the Longhorns probably aren’t as tough as Alabama made them look.
The question for Alabama is whether it can improve enough, especially on offense, not to make other teams look much better than they are, too.
Here’s the Five-Point Breakdown for Alabama-Texas:
- Without Bryce Young’s heroics, this doesn’t get done. It should go without saying that they don’t give out Heisman Trophies just because you’ve got a nice smile and come from a good family. Young basically pulled off a repeat of the 2021 Alabama-Auburn game, taking the ball for the last time with 1:29 left on the fourth-quarter clock and leading Alabama to a game-winning field goal from Will Reichard. In doing so he pulled an entire shipping crate full of butts out of the fire, starting with his offensive coordinator (more on that below).
Prior to that drive, though, Young’s TD pass to Jahmyr Gibbs may be the most highlight reel-worthy play you’ll see all year from a quarterback. It defies description, only to say that Young has proved he’s far and away Alabama’s offensive MVP after two games. He was 15-of-19 in the fourth quarter when it really mattered. Without his leadership, this is probably a Bama loss.
- Playcalling was unimaginative, didn’t help create space for plays, and nearly gave the game away. There will never be a time when shotgun from 4th-and-a-foot looks correct, we’ll start there. Such gimmicks are typically the result of an offense that doesn’t trust its center and quarterback to complete an exchange but that hasn’t really been a problem in the past for Young and Dalcourt. Having Roydell Williams be the one to carry the ball in that situation was also a curious call. But mostly, the issues facing Alabama’s offense boil down to a lack of inventiveness.
Perhaps that was a function of playing Steve Sarkisian, but that’s more of an excuse than a reason, because everyone watches tape and Alabama will have to contend with being “figured out” by even better defenses later in the year. Alabama finally found a rhythm late with quicker throws to Traeshon Holden and Ja’Corey Brooks, but Texas was also in a semi-prevent look for some of that, too.
To put the cherry on top, Alabama was still throwing on second and third downs on its last field goal drive, even after getting into close field-goal range and limiting the offense in order to avoid a turnover. So with Texas sitting on two timeouts in that situation, why not run the ball and make the Longhorns burn them? Bad choices, sketchy prep and poor execution all around.
- Halftime defensive adjustments were on-point, and Will Anderson’s blocked field goal set the table. Alabama went to Terrion Arnold at cornerback for the second half, replacing Khyree Jackson. Justin Eboigbe had an impressive day as Alabama’s sub defensive lineman, especially at nose when Bama needed more quickness against the passing game. Will Anderson played, overall, one of the most uneven games of his life, making an unbelievably bad decision to hit TE Ja’Tavion Sanders late, and lining up offside at least one other time. But he had a sack to stop a would-be touchdown drive, and his biggest contribution was blocking Bert Auburn’s field goal attempt at the end of the first half, as it took the air out of the stadium when it happened. While the loss of Ewers was significant – he was averaging 11.2 yards per attempt when he was knocked out; Hudson Card averaged 7.2 yards – Alabama should also get credit for moving the pieces around.
- Offensive line had a rough game. Is it personnel, or scheme? One of the common denominators to Alabama’s struggles over the last four or five games has been the offensive line. If the line plays well, Alabama is usually in good shape. If it struggles, especially in protecting Bryce Young, Alabama is in for a long day. Against Texas, Alabama’s OL yielded 6 tackles for loss, 7 QB hurries and Bryce Young got hit a lot. The problems seemed to be focused on left guard and center, and things got a little better at left guard once Javion Cohen replaced Kendall Randolph. Left guard is really Cohen’s job, dating back to last season, but the time he had to spend away from the team this summer with illness shows up in his conditioning.
It’s likely Alabama will continue to rotate that position until at least the Arkansas game. As for C Darrian Dalcourt, this was far from his finest hour, and leads to a question of what Alabama’s best option is, he or Seth McLaughlin. McLaughlin stabilized the position last year after Dalcourt was hurt against Auburn, so it may be a matter of time before Bama tries Option B again this year.
As for the others, RT J.C. Latham had two pre-snap penalties and had his hands full, but that’s to be expected for a young lineman. The other question to ask here is, after signing several classes full of heralded line prospects, does Alabama need to reexamine what it is doing up front to minimize miscommunication?
- Wide receivers were well on their way to a historically bad day … until the fourth quarter. We’re still not sure to make of this unit, so we’ll start with the positives: Traeshon Holden and last year’s Auburn game hero, Ja’Corey Brooks, both saved Alabama’s bacon (again, in Brooks’ case) by finding ways to get open on the final drive. Holden’s size and talent is achingly evident, which makes the way he sort of disappears for stretches of the game so maddening.
But in this game, Holden and Brooks had far less to account for than did Jermaine Burton, who dropped a pass in his hands but more importantly failed to get open enough. Isaiah Bond also dropped a pass that would have set Alabama up for a score. Then, back on the other hand, you had true freshman Kobe Prentice continuing to develop into a reliable option, and then the return of TE Cameron Latu, who caught four passes and threw several key blocks.
The problem in general with this unit is separation, all around. There is plenty of video of Bryce Young’s scrambles from today in which receivers are seen running downfield with barely enough of a gap between them and Texas defensive backs to allow for intake of oxygen. Louisville transfer Tyler Harrell is scheduled to return next week, which may help given his raw speed, but both Prentice and Bond are fast receivers and speed isn’t the only consideration when getting separation is the issue. This will be something to watch as the season progresses – and if this position doesn’t progress, it could wind up being the difference between winning trophies or not.
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN
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