In a little over 24 hours, No. 3 Texas football will kick off the action in the College Football Playoff Semifinals game at the Allstate Sugar Bowl against the No. 2 Washington Huskies.
Texas-Washington in the Sugar Bowl will be the second of the two College Football Playoff Semifinal games to take place on Jan. 1. The first is the CFP Semifinal game at the Rose Bowl between the No. 1 Michigan Wolverines and No. 4 Alabama Crimson Tide. Michigan-Alabama will kickoff at 4 p.m. CT at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA, on Jan. 1.
The matchup between Texas and Washington in the Sugar Bowl will kick off at 7:45 p.m. CT at the Sugar Bowl at Caesars Superdome in New Orleans, LA, on Jan. 1.
This College Football Playoff feels like the first in a long time where all four teams in the field have a legitimate shot to win the National Championship. Texas, Washington, Alabama, and Michigan all have realistic paths to winning the title.
Notable concerns for No. 3 Texas football vs. No. 2 Washington in the Sugar Bowl
For Texas to think about winning a national title, it must win the rematch from last year's Alamo Bowl against Washington in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day this postseason. This is a tough Washington squad that boasts the nation's top passing offense. Head coach Kalen DeBoer and the Huskies are led by the Heisman runner-up, super senior quarterback Michael Penix Jr.
Washington is very formidable at the skill positions, boasting a top receiving corps in the Power Five and a quality downhill running back in senior Dillon Johnson.
The Washington defense isn't elite by any means, but it's been slightly above average when compared to the rest of the Power Five. That is all this Washington team needed given how explosive and efficient the offense is.
Here are three major concerns for the Longhorns in the Sugar Bowl against the Huskies on Jan. 1
Washington's ability to hit the deep shot
Washington runs a pass-first offense in DeBoer's spread scheme. This offensive system emphasizes spreading out opposing defenses and connecting for deep plays through the air on intermediate and deep passes.
Not only does Washington boast the nation's top passing offense (averaging 343.8 passing yards per game), but they also lead the nation in deep passing completions and ended the regular season leading in deep passing yards.
Penix and the Huskies have consistently hit deep shots this season to his favorite targets in the receiving corps, redshirt junior star Rome Odunze and breakout redshirt sophomore Ja'Lynn Polk. Odunze and Polk were both 1,000-yard receivers during the regular season. Both ranked in the top 10 in the Power Five in deep receptions and deep receiving yards.
Odunze is the star of this receiving corps. He led the PAC-12 in receiving yards this season, with over 1,400. He is a consistent big play threat, averaging nearly 18 yards per catch. Nearly half of Odunze's receiving yards came on deep targets. He also led the nation in deep receiving yards this season.
Odunze is an absolute burner at receiver. He's got that combination of quickness and acceleration to get the jump on the opposing DB in coverage at the line of scrimmage. And his long speed allows him to generate separation to get open for Penix to hit him with precision over the top.
While Polk isn't as big or explosive as Odunze, he is still a fast receiver who can generate ample separation for Penix in the intermediate and deep passing game. You still have to worry about Polk, as he is one of the nation's most explosive receivers this season.
Washington's one-two punch of Polk and Odunze has given opposing defenses fits this season.
Considering one of the weaknesses of the Texas defense this season has been defending the deep ball, this is an area Washington is likely to exploit with the deep ball in the Sugar Bowl. Among Power Five teams and against Power Five competition, Texas has given up the 12th most deep completions and the 13th most deep receiving yards this season.
Texas needs the safeties to keep the play in front of them and the defensive line to get some pressure up the middle on Penix to disrupt his timing and throwing motion in the pocket. If Texas can get pressure on Penix and collapse the pocket and the safeties can hold their own in coverage, that will be in a good spot to at least limit the effectiveness of Washington's deep ball.