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Alabama Football vs. Texas Preview: When the Longhorns have the ball

Can Alabama slow down one of the nation’s most electric rushing threats?

NCAA Football: UL Monroe at Texas Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

With Steve Sarkisian as the head coach of the Texas Longhorns, it’s pretty easy to assume that the offensive scheme is absolutely the Sark scheme, and first time OC Kyle Flood is more of the administrator of the scheme.

As such, Alabama fans should be very familiar with the offense they see taking the field against them in Austin. There’s a lot of jet and orbit motion from the WRs pre snap with fakes and routes built into those motions, and the TEs are very active pre-snap moving to get into place for blocks. It’s mostly shotgun based with some pistol mixed in, and the WRs and TEs utilize a lot of bunch sets. Sark is also more than happy to vary the personnel around and use 2 TEs and even 2 RB sets to try to get mismatches and confuse defenses for a half a tick on any given play.

The straw that stirs the entire offense is Bijan Robinson. The 215-lb Jr. burst onto the scene as a true freshman before becoming one of the best running backs in college football in 2021. He’s insanely quick and slippery, great at weaving through blockers, can fight through arm tackles, and just generally excels at most anything you could ask a running back to do. He’ll run a lot of outside zone, off-tackle plays that allow him to set things up and hit the cutback inside of his tackle and chew up 8 yards at a time to get the Longhorns another set of downs. Stopping Robinson is pretty much the biggest task and the key for the Alabama defense.

In the passing game, freshman QB Quinn Ewers, after years of being in the forefront of media talking point, is FINALLY on the field. It was a bit of a rocky outing for him in game 1, as he showed some jitters in the pocket, missed some wide open receivers, and threw one horrendous interception. But overall, he kept the offense moving and settled into the Sark offense better as the game went on while showing some nice ability to make accurate throws on the run.

Wide receiver Xavier Worthy was amazing as a true freshman last year and is a nasty deep threat, as well as dangerous with the ball in his hands on screens. Sark is using him very similarly to how we saw DeVonta Smith used in 2020, with many plays designed to get him the ball in one way or another. He only got two catches in game 1 though, so Ewers struggled to get the ball to him.

Dependable slot guy Jordan Whittington returns from a good year as the #2 in 2021, and the third receiver is a new starter in Casey Cain. He’s a bit of an unknown, but is a lanky 6’3” and took a screen pass for 43 yards with some real jets for his only catch in game 1.

TE Ja’Tavion Sanders is also likely to be a burgeoning star. Sanders was a 5-star prospect in 2021 and redshirted his first year before winning the starting job this offseason. Sanders moves around behind the line all over the place pre-snap and sprung Robinson free with some impressive lead blocks for a 1st year starter. AND he led the team with 6 catches for 85 yards and a touchdown. Brian Branch is going to have his work cut out for him defending this young player.

The Texas OL is likely to be the weakest point. Outside of right tackle Christian Jones, the entire rest of the group are first or second year players. They overpowered the Louisiana Monroe defense in the running game pretty well, but definitely struggled with allowing a good bit more pressure on Ewers than they should against an undermatched team.

According to the DraftKings Sportsbook, the Tide is favored by 20 points with an O/U of 65.5, so the betting folks are expecting the Longhorns to score about 21 points on the Tide.

Honestly, I actually think that’s kind of high. With the inexperience along the OL, Will Anderson and Dallas Turner are going to be gearing up for a 4-5 sack kind of game. On top of that, Alabama’s Brian Branch has spent an entire career defending TEs like Kyle Pitts, Jalen Wydermeyer, and Brock Bowers, so he’s perfectly suited and experienced for shutting down the Longhorns’ new weapon in Sanders.

The main thing will be containing Bijan Robinson, and the Tide boasts an experienced group of linemen and middle linebackers that was arguably the best rushing defense in the country last year (yes, they actually outperformed Georgia in many negative play metrics).

If they can stop Robinson early and the Alabama offense gets ahead and forces Ewers to make a comeback, it could become a very, very long day for the Texas offense. If Alabama’s offense doesn’t take the lead though, I think the 21 points seems more likely, as Texas will be able to lean on the running game for much longer, and Robinson will eventually make some plays, no matter how good a defense is.

All lines and movement are via DraftKings. As always, odds and lines are subject to change, and T&Cs apply. (See for details.)