Alabama football schedule opponent preview: Why Texas Longhorns can and can't beat Tide in September
The Crimson Tide has the talent throughout the roster, with Bryce Young and Will Anderson Jr. leading the way. But undefeated seasons are few and far between, even for Saban.
Throughout the summer, The Tuscaloosa News will take a look at each Alabama opponent that has a shot, even if slim, to upset the Crimson Tide. Sorry, Vanderbilt.
This week, we start with the Texas Longhorns, whom Alabama will face at 11 a.m. on Sept. 10 in Austin, Texas. It will be the second game on Alabama's schedule.
A Texas win over Alabama is unlikely, but here's what the Longhorns do and don't have going for them against the Crimson Tide.
Why Texas can win:
Coach Steve Sarkisian
For a while, it looked nearly impossible for a former Saban assistant to beat the Alabama coach. Twenty-four coaches tried, 24 coaches failed until Texas A&M's Jimbo Fisher broke the streak. Then Kirby Smart added onto it in the College Football Playoff Championship.
There's probably not about to be a run of Saban's former assistants beating him, but Fisher and Smart at least opened the door.
Sarkisian will aim to become the third. Having been on the staff as late as 2020, the familiarity could help the recent Alabama offensive coordinator. Plus, he's a terrific play-caller.
RB Bijan Robinson
Alabama will have to stop Robinson to win. Plain and simple.
As one of the top running backs in the country in 2021 during his sophomore season, Robinson ran for 1,127 yards with 11 touchdowns. An All-Big 12 first team selection, he averaged nearly six yards per carry. He wasn't easy to take down, either. He averaged 3.94 yards after contact per rushing attempt, according to Pro Football Focus' charting. By comparison, Alabama's Brian Robinson Jr., a bruising back himself, averaged 3.29.
New talent could boost Texas
The Longhorns signed the No. 5 recruiting class and added the No. 5 transfer portal class, according to the 247Sports composite. Included in that was quarterback Quinn Ewers, an Ohio State transfer who was the No. 1 prospect in the 2021 class.
Last year's team would have stood even less of a chance against Alabama, but the newcomers could be difference-makers depending on how quickly they adapt.
Why Texas can't win:
Offensive line questions
Will Anderson Jr., the nation's leader in sacks (17.5) and tackles for loss (34.5) in 2021, has to be excited for this matchup.
The Longhorns have more questions than answers on their offensive line after a season in which they allowed 26 sacks, one of the higher numbers among Big 12 teams. Texas ranked No. 61 in the country.
"Christian Jones has got to figure it out,” Texas defensive tackle Moro Ojomo said in April, per the Austin Amercian-Statesman. “Andrej Karic and Jaylen Garth need to grow up. It’s time. It’s time for them to figure out if it’s something they’re going to do. You’ve got seven guys coming, and they’re all hungry.”
That's far from a ringing endorsement of some returners. Sure, the 2022 signing class has some elite talent with two five-star offensive linemen, but being ready for Anderson, Dallas Turner and Chris Braswell will be a big ask in the second game of the season.
Can its defense stop Bryce Young?
Defending Alabama's quarterback could prove difficult for the Longhorns if they don't change their ways up front.
Texas averaged only 1.67 sacks per game, which tied for 98th lowest in the country in 2021. The Longhorns head into this season without any proven playmakers up front.
Even if Texas can improve on that number in 2022, that doesn't mean it will come close to slowing the Heisman Trophy winner. The defenses that beat Young in 2021 each ranked in the top eight in the country in sacks per game.
Only second year
Texas certainly looks primed to improve on its 5-7 first season under Sarkisian, but there's a difference between improving on a losing season and being able to beat Alabama.
Nick Kelly covers Alabama football and men's basketball for The Tuscaloosa News, part of the USA TODAY Network. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly