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Alabama vs Texas Preview: Q&A with Burnt Orange Nation

Fraternizing with the enemy... I would never!

Rice v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Over the last few weeks, I’ve spent some time doing various media forms of previews with our brethren over at Burnt Orange Nation.

For the second year in a row, they invited me onto their podcast, so go check it out (this was before week 1, so some of my opinions are outdated)

My friend Gerald Goodridge and I then did a couple of Q&A’s this week. Here are my answers over at BON, if you’re interested:

And, for the content you actually came here for, here was his answers back to my meticulously crafted questions:

1. So, from the outside, it seems Texas fans have been pretty happy with Steve Sarkisian so far. The first year was rocky, but the Longhorns showed a lot of signs of improvement last year, and come into 2023 with a lot of hype. What’s the overall feeling on him as a head coach from within the Texas fanbase?

Like most football fans, it depends from moment to moment or even play-to-play in some cases. I think the overall sentiment on Steve Sarkisian in year three is positive, but still cautious because we’ve been hurt before. The staff’s ability to recruit has done him a ton of favors and it feels like the overall trajectory of the team is heading in the right direction. Sark came in with a pretty clear vision of what his staff needed to do to make this roster competitive both for the short and long term, executed on a roster flip at key positions in his first offseason, and landed back-to-back top 5 recruiting classes that are comprised of not just high-level talent, but high-level talent at the right positions. For example, the 2022 class that ranked No. 5 had 28 players, 14 of which play along the offensive and defensive line.

I think Texas fans have Sark in a “show me” state for this year, with the proof being a trip to Arlington for the Big 12 Championship game, which feels fair given the state of the conference.

2. Let’s talk QBs: While I watched significantly less snaps of Texas football than you (and anyone in your fanbase), I thought Hudson Card was a more effective QB than Quinn Ewers last season. And, during the offseason, it seemed like Texas fans were all on board with Arch Manning or even Maalik Murphy taking the job from Ewers. Fast forward to week 1, and Ewers seems to have the full support of the Texas fanbase again as the next elite QB. Are you on board? Or do you still have some trepidation that there might be better QB options on roster?

This is always the axiom for football, but it goes double for Texas fans, that the backup quarterback is always the most popular guy in town. Maalik Murphy took advantage of playing against some scout teamers and put on a show in the spring game, flashing the arm talent that caused Sark to offer him when he was still the OC at Bama. There was a contingent of folks that thought Murphy should have been the guy coming out of the spring, but it seems like once they knew it wasn’t happening everyone fell in line behind Ewers.

With Arch, the common sentiment is that his family wants him to redshirt this year and get acclimated to the game, rather than come in and be seen as the savior of the program. If you see Arch getting significant time this year, it means that something went sideways really hard and there are bigger fish to fry.

Now onto Ewers and my feelings on Ewers. I’ve long said that he plays the quarterback position like a guy who has always been the most talented guy on a team that was more talented than 90% of their opponents, which was the case at Southlake Carroll. He has relied on his natural talent, rather than some of the fundamentals that make a great quaterback and it shows, especially on some of the deep shots that miss, which has become a recurring headache. I’m not “out” on Ewers by any stretch of the imagination, but I don’t think Sark and Milwee have done what it takes to break him of some of his bad habits and then double down on it with their playcalling.

3. Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson were two of the top 10 running backs in all of college football last year, in my opinion (Bijan #1, and Johnson somewhere above 10). How on earth do you go about replacing those guys? And will Keilan Robinson finally get a big role??

You can’t really replace those guys by any stretch of the imagination. Bijan is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of player and Roschon wasn’t just a great runner, he was the beating heart of that offense.

That being said, running backs coach Tashard Choice inhabited potentially one of his predecessor’s best evaluations of all-time, Jonathon Brooks a 3* recruit out of a 3A Hallettsville High School, and then added to the stable with the No. 1 back in the 2022 class CJ Baxter. Funny enough, Brooks and Baxter’s play style maps pretty well to the functions Robinson and Johnson played in the offense, so the plan is really to employ Baxter as more of a heavier, between-the-tackles runner, with Brooks playing more of the wide-open playmaker role, especially in the passing game.

As far as Robinson, he is a fan favorite but has really struggled to find his place as a featured back in Sark’s inside-zone running scheme. Offensively, he’s been used more in some gadget packages (which we might see this week), but he’s really made a name for himself as a special teams stud and punt block specialist for Jeff Banks.

4. Fun fact: Alabama had a JUCO transfer cornerback named Khyree Jackson. He started two game for Alabama: Once in the national championship in 2021 when both of the Tide’s starting corners got hurt, and once the following season against Texas before Alabama benched him for Terrion Arnold the following week. In both of those games, he was beaten for long touchdowns down the right sideline (including the go-ahead 4th quarter score in the Natty). Now, both of the receivers who did that to the guy are on the same team - Xavier Worthy and Adonai Mitchell. Throw in Jordan Whittington, and Texas has a very exciting receiving group. Go out on a limb: Will you make the claim that it’s the best trio of receivers in the country??

I hate making definitive statements like this, but I wouldn’t trade the group of pass catchers Texas has for any group in the country. Your readers know exactly what Worthy and Mitchell are capable of and I don’t know if I’ve loved a wide receiver more than I love Whittington. He’s not only the guy that Ewers looks to on third downs to make the conversions, he is a willing and capable blocker, which makes my heart sing.

Add to that group JaTavion Sanders at tight end and you’ve got one heck of a group out there. The bench isn’t too shabby either, with Isaiah Neyor and 5* recruit Johntay Cook as your first two off of the bench.

Now, can Ewers stay upright long enough and/or put the ball in the right place? That remains to be seen.

5. Let’s move to defense. While doing all kinds of mock drafts for my favorite NFL team this spring, there were a BUNCH of Texas players that I remembered studying up on for the preview for this game last year. This year, I don’t immediately recognize any names. Who are going to be the difference makers on this defense?

I think the first name you’re going to want to look out for is T’Vondre Sweat. While Keondre Coburn got a lot of the NFL buzz and media attention last year, many folks thought Sweat was not only a better player but a better pro prospect. If the Texas run defense is successful, it’s because he’s made the most of his 362 pounds and clogged up things in the middle, allowing returning all-conference linebacker Jaylan Ford to do his thing and steal all of the headlines.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Jahdae Barron, who is one of the most slept-on DBs in the Big 12. Barron was left off of the all-conference list last year after turning in 75 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and two interceptions in his first year as a full-time starter. He’s the ideal player for his role in Pete Kwiatkowski’s scheme and he just seems to always be around the ball.

*Note: after asking this question with very little research, I realized that I did, in fact, know Jalen Catalon and Jaylan Ford. Sorry for the slander!

6. Are there any true freshmen that look like they could wind up being superstar studs this year?

The answer most would expect is Anthony Hill, but by all accounts he’s still getting accustomed to playing a true linebacker position and will be deployed more as a package/situational guy this year.

Malik Muhammad is the player to watch. He’s that guy that when you watched South Oak Cliff a year ago, a school with six or seven Power-5 guys on the roster, he’s the one that stood out the most. He’s a 6’, 180-pound defensive back that has worked his way into the starting lineup as a true freshman and has the body type and skillset to grow into a lockdown corner when it’s all said and done.

7. Your turn: What’s your prediction for the game?

I hate predictions and I’m not a gambler, but I think Vegas is probably right that this is a seven-point game.

I usually have a strict “never pick against Bama” rule, but because I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Longhorn fan and grad, I’m going to do it.

24-21 Texas.

8. Go big: What’s your prediction on the overall results for Texas’s season?

Some Texas fans got mad at me, but I said that Texas could go 9-3 in the regular season and still win the conference championship and its true, just because of how the Big 12 cannibalizes itself every year. That being said, I really do think this is a 10-win team, especially because of what we saw from some of the other Big 12 squads in Week 1.

Gerald and crew all do great work over at BON, even if they are fans of an orange team. Give them a follow and check out some of their work if you need a little more content to get you to Saturday. Starting tomorrow, though, we are enemies. Roll Tide!