Texas football TE JT Sanders will be a matchup nightmare in 2022

JT Sanders, Texas Football Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
JT Sanders, Texas Football Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports /

This was a big first week of the regular season for a few notable players for Texas football, as this team downed the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks in dominant fashion on Sep. 3 by the final score of 52-10. Texas and head coach Steve Sarkisian saw one new starter step up in a big way on the offensive side of the ball in this game in the former elite five-star recruit and sophomore tight end JT Sanders.

Sark and the Longhorns saw Sanders emerge as potentially the offensive MVP in this 42-point win over head coach Terry Bowden and the Warhawks on Sep. 3. He finished up this game with six catches for a game-high 85 receiving yards (14.2 yards per catch) and one touchdown catch.

The second catch of the game for Sanders resulted in his first career touchdown and the first career touchdown pass for redshirt freshman quarterback Quinn Ewers.

All game long, Sanders was a very productive outlet for Ewers to look to in the passing game.

In fact, Sanders was about as reliable as it gets in this game. He caught all six of the passes that went his way.

JT Sanders will be a load to deal with for opposing DCs facing Texas football’s offense this fall

But it was what Sanders did after the catch that showed how his potential could really stand out for the Longhorns this fall. Sanders registered an incredible 50 yards after the catch, good for a whopping 8.3 yards after the catch per reception. That’s unheard of for a tight end getting his first start.

Sanders also posted three missed tackles forced and five first downs in this game.

All of this was good to be the second-highest graded receiving tight end in college football in Week 1. He only trailed Louisiana’s Johnny Lumpkin, who had a career week with nearly 100 receiving yards and two touchdown catches.

Now look, I get it that Sanders did all this while playing a pretty porous ULM defense. He will face a much more difficult test as soon as next weekend when Texas squares up against head coach Nick Saban and the No. 1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.

But the fact of the matter is that the 6-foot-4 and 250-pound Sanders is just a gifted tight end that you don’t find very often. He is the type of talent that Texas didn’t have at the tight end position for at least the last decade.

Sanders gives Texas an extremely potent and overwhelming force in the passing game at the tight end position. He showed the ability in this game to flex out at tight end and run routes more as a natural wide receiver. Sanders also was able to be a threat on short routes and out in the flats when Ewers needed an outlet.

The versatility of Sanders came to the forefront in this game as he was able to get a 15-yard catch in all three areas of the field in front of the line of scrimmage.

While Sanders was most often looked to as the second or third read in the passing game against ULM, he was able to effectively run a few different routes lining up on the offensive line and motioning out as a wideout.

What we didn’t see from Sanders in this game, though, was the ability to make some difficult contested catches. That was mostly due to the lack of a need for Texas to take those chances against the ULM defense that was overmatched for much of this game.

But it will be interesting to see what Sanders is able to do in that respect in the next two weeks against Alabama and the UTSA Roadrunners as his physical tools should allow him to shine in contested ball situations.

Moreover, it’s not only what Sanders is able to do in the passing game, but he is also a very productive and reliable blocking tight end. He didn’t allow any quarterback pressure in the nearly half-dozen snaps he took in pass protection against ULM. Sanders was also pretty proficient in run blocking when called upon this weekend.

It is this combination of potency as a weapon in the passing game while maintaining a pretty proficient level as a blocker in different situations that makes Sanders so lethal for Sark and the Longhorns this season. Sanders is a jack-of-all-trades for Texas that defenses will now have to devote additional resources and game planning to on a weekly basis this fall.

Texas now has a weapon at the tight end position that can beat opposing defenses as an outlet in the flats or as a larger target in the passing game bringing down those contested balls on the sideline. Pair that with the speedy weapon that is star sophomore wide receiver Xavier Worthy and the experienced and agile redshirt junior wideout Jordan Whittington, and you get a trio of Texas targets that will make this offense so difficult to prepare for and matchup against.

This should negate a major problem that Texas had last season. Down the stretch in Big 12 play last season, opposing defenses started to load the box to shut down star running back Bijan Robinson. That limited what Bijan could do to spark this offense.

And then, defenses were able to effectively slow down Worthy at times when they focused double coverage on him on all passing plays.

But the emergence of Sanders means that opposing defenses might not be able to devote those additional resources to limiting the duo of Robinson and Worthy. Sanders is just too potent at multiple different levels of the field and in a variety of different offensive packages for opposing defenses to treat him as just another pedestrian tight end.

This begs the question, who do you assign to cover Sanders?

ULM figured out the hard way that you can’t match up a slower safety or linebacker on Sanders. He is just too fast to expect a linebacker to keep up with him in pass coverage and too tall and physical for most safeties to hang with him.

Sanders toasted the ULM defenses when he was matched up against a free safety or linebacker, going perfect with three catches on three targets for 69 receiving yards and one touchdown.

But this essentially means that for a lot of opposing defenses to hope to limit Sanders, they have to devote an important resource in pass coverage with an adept safety or a cornerback to match up with him.

Sanders will continue to make life difficult for opposing defensive coordinators who now have another factor in this offense to worry about.

Another dimension of this offense that is elevated by the presence of Sanders is the passing game with a new starter in Ewers. It will make life much easier for Sark getting Ewers settled in as the starting quarterback to have an insanely potent outlet for him to look to that is as reliable and dangerous after the catch as Sanders.

It’s crazy to think that Sanders was averaging more than 14 yards per catch in Week 1 while having an average depth of target just shy of six yards. That shows that he was often looked to as a target in the short passing game, but he was still able to pick up 10+ yards most of the time he got the ball in his hands.

To say that is a valuable aspect of this Texas offense doesn’t even begin to describe how important Sanders’ ability to pick up yards after the catch is.

Sanders is clearly going to be a very potent and versatile part of this Texas offense in 2022. His blocking ability combined with his production, reliability, and crazy efficiency in the passing game means that he will be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses this season, especially in Big 12 play.

Next. 5 key recruits impressed by Texas' win over ULM. dark

Texas moved the record on the season to 1-0 (0-0 Big 12) after knocking off ULM at home on Sep. 3 52-10. Next up for Sanders and the Longhorns is a highly-anticipated matchup against Alabama at home at DKR on Sep. 10, with the kickoff time set for 11 a.m. CT.