Football ready for showdown with Texas in Austin

Austin Hannon | @austin_hannon1, Sports Editor

It’s been over 12 years since the Alabama Crimson Tide won the 2010 BCS National Championship over the Texas Longhorns at the Rose Bowl. 

At the time, it was head coach Nick Saban’s first championship with the Crimson Tide. Over a decade later, his hands have six rings on them as he prepares to take on yet another former assistant. 

It’s become a fairly regular situation for 70-year-old Saban, who after 25 straight victories over former assistants, lost two back-to-back in 2021-22 against Jimbo Fisher and Kirby Smart. That loss to Texas A&M in College Station was the first loss in 100 tries against unranked opponents. 

Oddly enough, the top-ranked Crimson Tide (1-0) are once again 20-point plus favorites against its Lone Star State opponent. 

Saban remembers what happened last time. 

“Everybody has heard that we’re 20-point favorites in this game, and the last time we were 20-point favorites and we went to Texas, we got our ass kicked,” Saban said. 

This week will feature another unranked opponent in the state of Texas. This time around, it’s a blockbuster showdown with the Texas Longhorns (1-0) in Austin. When he looks across the field to the other sideline, Saban will see Steve Sarkisian, former Alabama offensive coordinator. 

“Sark did an outstanding job here,” Saban said. “He’s one of the brightest, best coaches, good teacher, well-organized, players really respond well to him, is a really good play-caller in the game. I can’t say enough good things about him.” 

Sarkisian had mixed results in his first season with the Longhorns. After starting the 2021-22 season 4-1, Texas lost six of their final seven games, missing a bowl game. The 2022-23 season has a different feel for the Longhorns, who sit just outside of the AP Top-25 poll this week. A lot of that has to do with Texas’ new playcaller, Quinn Ewers. 

“He’s [Ewers] a very, very talented passer,” Saban said. “He’s got a very good feel for the game. He’s got a strong arm.” 

Right alongside him is possibly the best running back in all of college football, Bijan Robinson. Robinson had 1,422 scrimmage yards and 15 touchdowns in 2021. In last week’s 52-10 victory over UL Monroe, he had 111 total yards and two scores. 

“He [Robinson] can do anything,” Saban said. “This guy is as good of an all-around back as anyone in the country. His production really shows that.” 

Last season, a different Robinson had the running back duties for the Crimson Tide. This year’s ball carrier Jahmyr Gibbs, also has something in common with the Texas running back — they are both elite pass catchers. 

“I think that’s what every offensive coach wants,” Saban said. “Tight ends and running backs are mismatch players. So, when you have a guy that’s outstanding, that’s an advantage for you.” 

Gibbs, who had 93 yards on nine carries against Utah State, is a huge factor in Saturday’s game. 

Although the team piled up 278 rushing yards, Saban is looking for a better performance, calling the running game “inconsistent.” 

If it’s not apparent that Saban is more than prepared for an opponent like the Longhorns, the locker room is respecting its enemy just as much. 

“This is a great opportunity for us,” quarterback Bryce Young said. “[Texas is] a storied program. We know it’s going to be a hostile environment. We have to be at our best. For us it’s a great chance to step up to the plate and grow.” 

“We have a ton of respect for Texas,” linebacker Will Anderson Jr. said. “I think it’s going to be a great challenge for us.” 

The Alabama pass-rush has been one of the more anticipated position groups in all of college football this offseason. And although the Crimson Tide allowed just 136 total yards last week, it didn’t record a single sack. 

If the Longhorns want to have any success on offense, it will start with keeping the Alabama defensive line and edge rushers in check. 

The Crimson Tide offense will return one of its most important contributors on Saturday. After missing the first game of the season with a knee injury, tight end Cameron Latu will return to the lineup in a high-profile spot. Latu was seen warming up in full pads last week before watching the entirety of the game in street clothes. 

“He’s [Latu] doing well, 100%,” Saban said. “Runs well, moves well. He practiced quite a bit last week — thought he needed another week to practice.” 

Over the years, there have been multiple instances when some believed Saban would leave Tuscaloosa for the Texas head coaching job. 

Saban assured the public that those rumors were never true. 

“There was really nothing to be concerned about,” Saban said. “You can blame your colleagues on that because they created that. I never talked to these people.” 

Two of the top programs in the sport will go head-to-head in Austin on Saturday at 11 a.m. CT on FOX.

Questions or comments? Email Austin Hannon (Sports Editor) at [email protected]