Texas Football: 3 major concerns for UT in CFP semis vs. UW

Quinn Ewers, Texas football
Quinn Ewers, Texas football / Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman
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Derek Williams Jr., Texas football
Derek Williams Jr., Texas football / Mikala Compton/American-Statesman / USA

Texas's safety play against Washington's receivers

Speaking of the Texas safeties, they will be maybe the most important position group for the Texas defense in the first half of the Sugar Bowl against Washington. That's because Texas will be down true freshman safety Derek Williams Jr. in the first half of the Sugar Bowl, who's serving the last half of his suspension for a targeting call.

Williams was flagged for targeting in the second half of the Big 12 Championship Game on Dec. 2 against the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

Williams is Texas's best cover safety this season. Not having him in the first half of this game against the nation's top passing offense and arguably the nation's best receiving corps is obviously a huge detriment to Texas's secondary.

It also hurts Texas's depth at the safety position heading into the Sugar Bowl that Williams is out for the first half. And it's not just Williams out for the first half of this game that has hurt Texas's safety depth heading into the CFP Semifinals.

Texas also lost multiple scholarship safeties to the transfer portal during the December window, including senior Jalen Catalon and sophomore BJ Allen Jr.

In the Sugar Bowl, Texas is down to just three scholarship safeties. Those three are senior Kitan Crawford, senior Jerrin Thompson, and redshirt sophomore Michael Taaffe.

The Longhorns have been running Crawford and Taaffe as the first-team safeties in bowl practice this week. Given the issues we've seen at times this season with Crawford not consistently and properly reading developing route concepts, he is likely someone Washington will try to target in coverage in the intermediate and deep passing game.

To add more quality depth at safety heading into the Sugar Bowl, senior nickel Jahdae Barron has cross-trained at the position in practice. True freshman Jelani McDonald has also reportedly (per Inside Texas) taken more reps at safety in bowl practice.

If needed, I'd expect to see Barron taking some reps at safety in the first half of the Sugar Bowl.