Texas lost to Alabama again, but this time it feels like progress

Texas lost to Alabama again, but this time it feels like progress

By Laken Litman
FOX Sports College Football Writer

AUSTIN, Texas — The thing about Saturday’s game was that Texas knew adversity was going to hit at some point. The Longhorns just didn’t know how eerily familiar it would be.

The last time Texas and Alabama faced each other — in the 2010 national championship — the Longhorns lost starting quarterback Colt McCoy in the first quarter, lost the game, and the program lost its way for the next 12 years.

In Saturday’s meeting between unranked Texas and No. 1 Alabama, something strangely similar occurred. The Longhorns lost starting quarterback Quinn Ewers to injury in the first quarter and lost the game, 20-19.

But this time, things feel different. The Longhorns were looking for a measuring stick and validation for head coach Steve Sarkisian’s master plan. The way this team handled adversity, the atmosphere and the pressure in big moments means there might finally be something to be optimistic about in Austin. 

“In a weird way, we feel pretty good about ourselves,” Sarkisian said. “I don’t think we’re that far off. And as I told the team, I don’t look at this as we lost. We ran out of time. 

“Now the key to the drill is to get back on the horse tomorrow and get right back to work.”

Highlights: Alabama edges Texas

Check out the highlights from Alabama’s thrilling 20-19 victory over the Texas Longhorns.

Coming in, this game was not short on storylines. There was Sarkisian facing his former boss and mentor Nick Saban; the 2010 title game rematch; Saban once being offered the head coaching job at Texas; Sarkisian knowing both QBs extremely well. 

The atmosphere was electric well before kickoff. A record 105,231 fans mostly dressed in burnt orange piled into Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium and stayed loud throughout the game. Students had started lining up outside the stadium at 4 a.m. just so they could get a good seat. One said he got there that early just so he could hopefully sit in the front row and storm the field if Texas shocked the world.

Well, that’s exactly what happened. Texas shocked the world. The Longhorns just didn’t win.

Alabama was a 20-point favorite on the road and few expected Texas to stay in the game.

“Nobody gave us a chance, OK?” Sarkisian said. “But we believed in our locker room that we could go win this game, and we played like a team that believed they could win this game. And we played like a team that thought they were going to win this game …

“I think the way our team looks at this is, Man, if that was the best team in the country and we took them down to the wire, that should instill a lot of confidence in us … we can play with anybody.”

The Longhorns started strong and stayed in it, even if they only scored one touchdown all game — Bijan Robinson on an easy 1-yard rush to start the second quarter, capping a six-play, 75-yard drive. Ewers looked comfortable and confident early, effortlessly leading the Horns downfield. He found Jordan Whittington for 17 yards with two Alabama linemen in his face, then Xavier Worthy for 46 yards on the next play. 

Then, with less than a minute remaining in the first quarter, linebacker Dallas Turner drove Ewers into the ground. The quarterback was slow to get up and went straight to the locker room, favoring his left shoulder. He returned to the sideline in the second half wearing street clothes. Sarkisian confirmed after the game that Ewers has a sprained clavicle and will get an MRI to find out the severity.

While this may have felt like deja vu for Texas fans, it wasn’t for a team barely old enough to remember the title game 12 years ago.

“We’re not a finished product by any means,” Sarkisian said. “We’re a young team right now and sometimes, that’s good. We don’t have the battle scars that can affect your performance moving forward. 

“I think we’re on the come-up. We’re moving in the right direction of the roster, style of play and mentality to go out and play against quality opponents week in and week out.”

Rather than succumb to mighty Alabama with Ewers out, backup quarterback Hudson Card pulled off a more than respectable performance, going 14-for-22 for 158 yards with no interceptions. And this was behind an inexperienced starting offensive line that includes two freshmen, two sophomores and one senior.

“Hudson was ready to go,” Robinson said. “We went to the sideline and prayed together to get his confidence up, and he was fine. I told him, ‘You’ve been practicing for this moment. Now it’s your turn to step up and be the guy.’ And he was like, ‘Bro, I’m ready to go.’”

Texas’ defense was the surprise story with an impressive game plan from coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski. The unit played tough, pressuring reigning Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young (27-for-39 for 213 yards and one TD) and making him uncomfortable for three quarters. A Texas sack late in the third quarter initially looked like a safety, but after a controversial and wildly confusing review, officials ruled targeting, then roughing the passer, then ultimately, an incomplete pass. It saved Alabama from a potentially massive momentum swing.

“That could have changed the complexion of the game,” Sarkisian said. “But that’s football.”

WILD sequence: Safety? Penalty? None of the above!

We’ve become so accustomed to Alabama scoring at will over the last decade, but at one point, the Tide had four consecutive three-and-outs. They punted on six drives. Alabama also committed 15 penalties, the most in the Saban era. 

“I think the energy in the stadium created some uncharacteristic errors on both sides, but I’d like to think we had a little part to do with that,” Sarkisian said.

Texas fans have held on tight to the notion that if McCoy hadn’t gotten hurt in 2010, the Longhorns would have won the national championship. There will likely be some of that after this regular-season game. Worthy bobbled a would-be touchdown in the first quarter and had another close score but caught the ball out of bounds, and D’Shawn Jamison nearly intercepted Young in the second quarter. Texas had enough chances but fell slightly short of capitalizing. 

Leading 17-16 late in the fourth, Alabama went for it on fourth-and-1 but Texas made a stop, leaving Card 3:55 on the clock. After getting sacked by Will Anderson Jr. on third down, the Horns kicker Bert Auburn kicked a 49-yard field goal to take a 19-17 lead with 1:29 remaining.

Unfortunately for Texas, that was too much time to give Young, who had what Sarkisian described as a “Houdini act” to get out of a sack from Ryan Watts and put Alabama in field goal range. Alabama’s 33-yard field goal ended the game. 

For Texas, it was a loss to Alabama, just like 2010. But this time, the Longhorns feel like it was a moral victory – or at least a sign of big things to come.

Read more on Texas-Alabama:

Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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About the Author

Marie Maynes
Marie Maynes is a Sports enthusiast and writes for the Sports section of ANH.