As Alabama fans, we all know and love the Steve Sarkisian offense. It’s an offense that gave us the best college football season of all time, basically every positional award on offense, first round draft picks at QB, WR, RB, and LT, and, of course, a National Championship.
When Sark went to Texas, he took OL coach Kyle Flood with him, and promoted Flood up to OC. And even as the program went through a tough first year, they still were 18th in the country in scoring with one of the best rushing attacks in the country.
Last year, they kept up the pace, averaging almost 35 points per game. All of their running backs averaged over 6 yards per carry, and Bijan Robinson went on to be the highest drafted running back since Saquon Barkley.
For those that need a refresher about the Sarkisian scheme basics, here’s what I wrote last year:
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.
As always when dredging up a previous predictions article, here’s your chance to go back and see how I did. I predicted the Longhorns would score a shade under 21 points... and they scored 19. How about that!?
And because I’m lazy and Texas returns most of their players, here’s my quick summary from a year ago on their QB and WRs:
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.
Ewers missed part of the season after getting injured in the game, but once he came back, he went on to complete 58% of his passes on 7.4 yards/attempt and 15 TDs to 6 interceptions. He had some great plays, but had plenty of bad moments. Scattershot accuracy due to pocket jitters and inconsistent mechanics are his biggest issue.
In fact, there was a lot of talk that freshman Arch Manning could come in and take his job, or Redshirt freshman Maalik Murphy could be the guy after a great spring performance. Ewers kept his job over the fall camp though, and now the media is back to anointing him as their next manufactured deity target since Trevor Lawrence is in the NFL.
He did do well against Rice in the opener, completing 63% of his passes at 8.7 yards/attempt and 3 TDs, but he also missed all 6 of his throws over 20 yards.
For his receivers, Xavier Worthy is possibly the best player on the team. He led the team with 760 yards and 9 touchdowns last year, including cooking Alabama’s Khyree Jackson. The speedster was as advertised as a recruit, and has now moved from exciting young player to veteran star.
Jordan Whittington is a savvy slot veteran who is one of the more underrated receivers in the country. He had 650 yards last year, and is generally the go-to guy when Texas HAS to get the offense moving.
Ja’Tavion Sanders had a phenomenal season from the TE spot last year as well. He was second on the team behind Worthy with 54 catches for 613 yards, and is just a major mismatch on the field.
And if all that wasn’t enough, Texas picked up a former Georgia receiver in the portal, Adonai Mitchell. The 6’4” receiver might stir your memory as the guy who cooked Kyree Jackson (seriously, Jackson started two games for Alabama and was memorably beat deep in both) for the go-ahead touchdown in the National Championship a couple of seasons ago. Mitchell missed most of his sophomore year with injury, but is an exciting, big-bodied player who gives Ewers another deep threat.
With all of that weaponry, though, the rushing game has still been the bread and butter of Sark’s offense in his first two seasons. While replacing Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson is impossible, the Longhorns still have a couple of promising backs ready to step up. Veteran Jonathan Brooks is a speedy playmaker in space, and 5-star freshman C.J. Baxter is his co-starter as the more powerful back of the two.
The offensive line is the spottiest part of the team. Sophomore LT Kelvin Banks Jr. is the former 5-star that shut down Will Anderson as a freshman last year, and has developed into one of the best OL in the country. Past that, though, there’s a lot of uncertainty.
There’s a lot of weapons and a great playcaller behind this Texas offense that makes them extremely dangerous. However, I also think they have some cracks/weaknesses in some of the most core parts of the offense, and that gives them a lot of boom or bust potential. Get a little pressure up the middle on Quinn Ewers, and things will probably fall apart quickly. But if you don’t get that pressure and let Sark get into his bag with playcalling and getting the ball out to all those skill position players, they can snowball a lot of points.
For my part, I think Alabama is well equipped to make the former happen. Kool-Aid McKinstry and Terrion Arnold are some of the best athletes around at corner, and freshman safety Caleb Downs adds a level of elite athleticism that can keep up with UT’s wide receivers.
As long as the Tide makes their tackles on horizontal stuff and the defense gets a decent amount of interior push, I think they can make this a really tough day for the Longhorns and keep them to around 21-27 points.
According to the Draftkings Sportsbook, Alabama is favored by 7 with an Over/Under of 53.5. Essentially, they’re expecting a 31-22 victory for the Tide. Defensively, I think this is pretty close for the Tide. This just seems like a good matchup for them.
On the other hand, Alabama’s offense is wild card right now with new QB Jalen Milroe. If the Alabama offense can move the ball with the explosiveness we saw last week, they can quickly hang 40 points on UT. On the other hand, if Milroe isn’t able to hit those deep shots and still doesn’t have a mid-range passing game, it could be a long night for the Tide, and who knows where things go at that point.
The game will be on ESPN in their 6:00 p.m. CT primetime slot, and the entire country will be tuned in to watch it.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.