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Three takeaways from the Alabama game

Ian Boyd09/13/22
Article written by:On3 imageIan Boyd

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Ryan Watts (Will Gallagher/Inside Texas)

Texas certainly gave Alabama all they wanted and more last Saturday. The Longhorns didn’t lack for any of the necessary components in terms of atmosphere, physicality, trench play, and schemes to compete with the SEC’s perennial champion. All they needed was better health at quarterback in order to keep pace with the Tide’s own signal-caller, who very well might be the best football player in the nation.

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Bryce Young made most of the key plays down the stretch and Alabama consequently won the game. Obviously Texas would have had an amazing chance to win if not for injurie(s) at quarterback. It’s an important lesson though for the Texas quarterbacks to learn. The worst injuries are caused by the ground, you have to know how to fall and avoid putting yourself in a position where the defender controls how you go down. Defenders will try to hurt you if they can and finishing a tackle to the ground is the best way to leave a mark. This is just part of the learning curve in becoming a veteran on offense.

There was a lot in this game which should translate really well for Texas over the rest of the year if they can maintain their level of execution for the rest of the season.

Counter play-action

The Big 12 has a lot of really good Edges, it’s been a concern for this team all offseason because of the questions for Texas at offensive tackle. Overall it went pretty well against the Tide and one big reason for the success enjoyed by Texas was their pass protection schemes and big, mobile guards.

In this particular protection it was “tight ends double one, running back and pulling guard double the other” with Andrej Karic serving as one of the tight ends. Quite effective. They also mixed in this number:

Ja’Tavion Sanders wasn’t quite up for blocking the tandem 1-on-1 too often but he could do it with help and he could make them think twice by doing work as a receiver off these protections.

The moral of the story? A team who routinely bought time for the offense to have good looks down the field a year ago can certainly do so this season with all the upgraded personnel and diversified schemes. Having good Edge rushers won’t be a get out of jail free card for teams like Kansas State or Oklahoma State when they try to stop the Texas passing game.

Ryan Watts was a huge factor

The game’s outcomes and narratives haven’t really centered enough around how big of a factor Ryan Watts was for Texas’ defense. Obviously he missed a tackle on what could have been a game-winning sack, leading instead to Bryce Young’s scramble which set up the winning field goal for the Tide.

Before that, he played a lot of press-man coverage in the boundary which freed up Jerrin Thompson to aggressively fly around the field. Watts was also a physical force on the perimeter in run support or the blitz.

This is what was hoped for in spring when Watts came aboard and was positioned in the boundary. A player who could press up receivers frees Texas to use the boundary safety in a few different fashions.

Because they have rangy, versatile, yet physical defensive backs to position on either perimeter at nickel and boundary corner, Texas is getting away with a lot this season. Check out the first play above. Like Texas, Alabama also used a good deal of 20 personnel and two-back formations because of their depth at running back. Jahmyr Gibbs is one of their best players yet their most dangerous way to get him the ball is often by having Bryce Young throw it to him rather than handing off.

Texas didn’t handle the running back swing motion perfectly in the example above but the upshot was they only had five defenders in the box. Yet it’s merely four-yard run and they live to defend another down without being put in an overly compromised position.

The Longhorns are playing modern defense, clamping down on passing routes and forcing opponents to run the ball on honest fronts while bringing timely support from a physical and well-coordinated secondary. This was the right way to play Alabama and it’ll be the right way to play the Big 12.

Credit where credit is due, great performance by Pete Kwiatkowski

Gary Patterson’s arrival at Texas has been well-timed for most everyone save for Pete Kwiatkowski, at least in terms of getting any particular credit for the Horns’ defensive growth. The secondary is playing better and the overall defensive backfield looks much more cohesive while playing a lot of what are unquestionably standard Patterson schemes.

The defensive front was terrific in this game too and the improvements made by PK’s direct charges Ovie Oghoufo and Barryn Sorrell have been stark. Those two appear to be as solid a pairing as most of the Big 12 can offer and the freshman back-ups have shown a lot of promise.

Texas’ pressures and fronts are all Kwiatkowski. Patterson’s fronts at TCU were designed to make do with smaller players and relied on slanting and man-blitzes. Kwiatkowski prefers having big defensive tackles who can two-gap and anchor paired with defensive ends who can drop into coverage to diversify the blitz package. He has the personnel this year to execute this vision. Beyond their excellent play against the Tide run game, check out some of their pressures:

The first blitz shows a five-man front with the Will linebacker (Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey) on the edge to hold attention but then Jaylan Ford shooting an A-gap untouched. The second blitz drops both Edges and brings both inside linebackers, forcing a quick throw underneath. The final blitz is one you’d have seen from TCU as well, Texas plays one of their base trips coverages to the field but blitz the corner from the boundary.

This is what Sark was looking for when he hired this staff and in year two it’s coming together.