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Alabama Football vs Texas Preview: When the Crimson Tide has the Ball

Texas shut down Bryce Young and the Tide offense last year, how will Tommy Rees approach things differently this time?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 02 Rice at Texas Photo by David Buono/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Sometimes, you have to take your lumps. In this very article a year ago, I basically brushed off the Texas defense after a horrendous first year under Steve Sarkisian, and BOY was I wrong:

Ultimately, the Texas defense has done very little prove they have much of a shot against Bryce Young and the Alabama offense. The key for them will be to blitz Young incessantly, hoping to get enough big plays to outweigh the big plays they also give up. Will it happen? Unlikely.

I wouldn’t expect less than 42 points for Alabama, and wouldn’t be surprised to see more than 50 from the Tide. Alabama should be able to lean on the run game against a defense that struggled against the run all last season, and that should remove the chances of negative sacks from the Texas defense trying to cross up the Alabama offensive line.

This year, defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski returns for his third season, and the statistical difference between year one and year two for the Longhorns was stark:

Texas struggled mightily on defense in Kwiatkowski’s first season leading the defense in 2021. The Longhorns finished the season allowing 31.1 points per outing, ranking No. 99 in the nation. Worse, Texas generated 14 turnovers in 12 games, tied for 93rd nationally. Texas finished the campaign with a 5-7 record.

UT ranked 12th in defensive touchdowns, 25th in red zone defense, 27th in scoring defense (21.6) and 29th in team tackles for loss nationwide. On Tuesday, the 56-year-old DC discussed the benefits of being on the field.

They went from a bottom 20% defense in the country to essentially a top-25 squad, and they return a lot of players from that defense.

As far as NFL losses, it was all up front. Keondre Coburn and Moro Ojomo were two of the better run stuffing defensive linemen in the draft as All-Big 12 performers, and the pair vacate a lot of beef along the interior.

On top of that, linebacker DeMarvion Overshown was a Butkus semifinalist and a 3rd round draft pick as a speedy linebacker with some safety qualities to his game.

Past that, though, the Longhorns return a lot of talent. DT T’Vondre Sweat broke out last year as a full-time starter and is a 360-lb behemoth in the middle, and edge rusher Barryn Sorrell returns with his team-high 5.5 sacks from a year ago.

At linebacker, Jaylan Ford burst onto the scene last season and overtook Overshown, leading the team with 119 tackles and another 10 tackles for loss. Ford was a 3rd-team All-American and is a playmaking senior presence in the center of the line.

But the guy with most tackles for loss last year was the Star defensive back, Jahdae Barron. The Texas defense loves to blitz, and Barron is one of the most accomplished at getting into the backfield (similar to how Alabama used Brian Branch last year).

And then there’s Jalen Catalon. If you don’t remember the name, he’s a former Freshman All-American, first team All-SEC, and third-team All-American safety from Arkansas who looked to be on his way to being the best safety in all of football after a dominant 2020. Unfortunately, a broken hand and a shoulder surgery cut his season short in 2021, and then he messed up the same shoulder again in game 1 of 2022. He ultimately transferred out of Arkansas this offseason, and looks to get a fresh start away from all the injuries and rekindle the fire to parlay into a high NFL draft grade.

Catalon is a powerful, explosive tackler. If he regains his 2020 form, he’s likely the best player on Texas’s defense, giving them good playmakers at every level.

However, he’s also on a new team, in a new scheme, hasn’t played in 2 years, and is always going to have fans holding their breath every time he tackles someone.

The Longhorns have a lot of talent. They have big guys up front, a decent stable of pass rushers, one of the best field generals in the country at linebacker, a blitz specialist in the slot, and an eraser at safety. The outside corners are probably the weak link of the group, and even then, they both bring starting experience to the team and aren’t pushovers.

It will take a balanced approach from Alabama to attack this group. Rushing off tackle should be a main focus, as the defensive line and edge players are huge, but likely give up a little speed to chase to the sidelines. Alabama will have to watch out for constant blitzes, and the combo of Ford, Catalon, and Barron will likely keep the Tide from relying too much on screens and horizontal passing.

Jalen Milroe will need to keep hitting those deep shots that he hit in week one, and his scrambles will play a big part in tuning down some of the aggressiveness of the Texas edge blitzing.

Ultimately, it will tough sledding for a new-look Tide offense, and I expect this to be a fairly low-scoring game.