In roughly 24 hours, head coach Steve Sarkisian and No. 11 Texas football will kick off in Tuscaloosa against head coach Nick Saban and the No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide. In the biggest non-conference game of the regular season for Texas (and maybe in all of college football), the excitement is building for the potential for this team to make a statement on the national stage.
This is expected to be a close matchup between the Longhorns and Crimson Tide this weekend. Texas enters this game as a seven-point underdog on the road at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Sep. 9.
Major concerns for Texas football heading into the Alabama game in Week 2
And given how stout both defenses look heading into Week 2, this could be a lower-scoring game than many would expect from the traditional Saban offense in the last decade against the high-flying Sark offense. There will be some surprises and a lot of physical football between many future NFLers between Texas and Alabama on Saturday night under the lights at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Here’s a look at three major concerns for the Longhorns in this battle against the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa on Sep. 9.
Quinn Ewers under a bright spotlight on the road
There’s no way around it: redshirt sophomore quarterback Quinn Ewers needs to play one of the best games of his career to date if Texas wants a shot at upsetting the Tide this weekend. Texas doesn’t have a Bijan Robinson or Roschon Johnson in the backfield to take the pressure off Ewers.
Ewers must show the composure and consistency he did in the short and intermediate passing game in the win over the Rice Owls in the opener on Sep. 2. Ewers posted the best quarterback rating of any starting Power Five QB (minimum 20 passing attempts) in Week 1 on throws at a depth of 19 yards or fewer.
Putting up those numbers in the short and intermediate passing game against Rice at home is one thing; doing it under the lights at Bama is completely different.
Texas isn’t likely to set the tone on the ground in this game. Alabama is stout along the defensive front in run defense, meaning Ewers will need to get the offense juiced up with some horizontal passes and potentially a few deep shots. The RPO passing game will also be a critical component of the offensive gameplan for Sark, Ewers, and the Longhorns.
The deep passing game is another obvious area of concern for the Longhorns. Ewers was 0-for-6 on deep passing attempts against Rice in Week 1. And none of those half-dozen deep passing attempts were to targets that were double-covered. All those targets went to targets in one-on-one coverage.
I don’t think Texas needs to hit deep ball after deep ball to beat Alabama this weekend. But at least a connection or two on deep shots will be key to stretch out the Alabama defense and getting some chunk plays to put this offense in prime scoring position.
It’s also worth noting that the Longhorns must play a complete game against the Tide this weekend to pull off the upset in Tuscaloosa. Texas has not proven so far that it is a big-time fourth-quarter team. Sark’s squad did a better job of holding onto second-half leads last season than they did two years ago.
If this game is close heading into the fourth quarter, Ewers must be composed and rhythmic leading the offense down the field. That’s easier said than done in a primetime scenario against a top-three-ranked Alabama team on the road.