Texas has chance for big turnaround against No. 1 Alabama

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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AUSTIN, Texas – Texas coach Steve Sarkisian doesn’t recall watching the last time Alabama and Texas met on the field, and most of the Longhorns were too young to remember much of anything about that game.

But to a man, they pretty much all know this about the Crimson Tide’s 37-21 victory to win the 2009 season national championship: That’s the game where “Colt got hurt.”

Three words describe the early injury to standout quarterback Colt McCoy and the ripple effect it had through more than a decade of “What ifs…” within a Texas program that floundered while Alabama established perhaps the greatest dynasty in college football history.

Top-ranked Alabama (1-0) and Texas (1-0) meet for the first time since that January 2010 matchup on Saturday. Beat the heavily favored Crimson Tide and Texas could take a huge step in what Longhorns fans hope is a rebuild back into a championship contender.

“Ultimately, this is about us,” said Sarkisian, who was the offensive coordinator at Alabama when the Tide won the 2020 national championship.

“Teams can sometimes be enamored with an opponent,” he said. “We need to be enamored with us.”

It’s easy to be in awe of Alabama, even at a big brand program like Texas.

The Crimson Tide have last season’s Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Bryce Young, last season’s Bronco Nagurski Award winner in linebacker Will Anderson, and more than a decade of crushing opponents under coach Nick Saban.

That 2010 win over Texas was the first of Saban’s six national titles at Alabama. Texas hasn’t won even a Big 12 title in that stretch and has fired three head coaches since that game.

Texas has a freshman quarterback in Quinn Ewers, two freshmen starting on the offensive line, and a defense that ranked No. 100 nationally last season. Beat Alabama with a talented but young lineup like this one, and Texas could really take off.

Saban expects to play a Texas team that at least thinks it’s ready to take flight.

“When you’re playing on the road, you gotta overcome their emotion, their intensity – the crowd – all kinds of challenges,” Saban said.

It won’t be long before this game is a more regular matchup. Texas is set to join the Southeastern Conference in 2025.

“It’s one game,” Sarkisian said. “I think one of the biggest mistakes people make is this is going to be the game that is going to define our program.

“It might,” Sarkisian said. “It might not.”

ON THE EDGE

Kelvin Banks was one of Sarkisian’s most critical recruits after the 5-7 finish in 2021 and the freshman left tackle hasn’t disappointed. He’s already in the starting lineup. But there’s no time to grow into the role. Banks’ job will be to protect freshman quarterback Quinn Ewers’ blind side from Alabama edge rush linebacker Will Anderson, one of the most dominant players in college. Anderson had 17 1/2 sacks last season.

HEISMAN HUNT

The game features one Heisman Trophy winner in Alabama quarterback Bryce Young and another player who wants to be in the conversation: Texas pre-season All-American running back Bijan Robinson. The fluid and deceptively fast Robinson ran for 1,127 yards last season before a dislocated elbow forced him to miss most of the last three games. But he’ll be running behind a line that starts two freshmen.

Robinson totaled 111 yards and scored twice in Texas’ season-opening win over Louisiana-Monroe.

“Bijan’s a great running back. Everybody knows that, everybody sees that. He’s quick, elusive, finds holes that not an average back can find,” Alabama linebacker Henry To'oto'o said.

TEXAS GAME PLAN

Sarkisian was quite honest this week when he said the game plan for Alabama was done “about three months ago.” And this game is exactly why he would hire someone like former TCU head coach and defensive wizard Gary Patterson as a Longhorns special assistant last spring. There’s no doubt Patterson has been zeroed in on this matchup with Young and the Alabama offense.

RUSHING TIDE

Saban’s description of the Tide’s running game against Utah State was simple: “Inconsistent.”

Alabama averaged a robust 8.2 yards on 32 carries in beating Utah State, but it was skewed by big plays. Young had a 63-yarder and Jahmyr Gibbs added a 58-yarder. Take away the 23-yarder and 20-yarder by freshman Jamarion Miller in the fourth quarter and Alabama gained a more modest 114 yards on 28 carries (a 4.1-yard average).

TIDE TURNS

Texas has two former Alabama players who could make a difference Saturday. Running back Keilan Robinson is the third-team tailback but has proven to be a standout on special teams. He had a punt block last year and last week returned a blocked punt for a touchdown. Wide receiver Agiye Hall returns from suspension this week and could be a big-play target for Ewers.

WVU RB Donaldson in concussion protocol, out for Baylor game

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) West Virginia running back CJ Donaldson is in concussion protocol and will miss next week’s home game with Baylor after he was injured in a loss to Texas, coach Neal Brown said Tuesday.

Donaldson remained on the ground after he was tackled on a short gain in the third quarter of Saturday’s 38-20 loss to the Longhorns. His helmet and shoulder pads were removed and he was carted off the field on a stretcher. After the game he was cleared to travel home with the team.

“He’s recovering,” Brown said. “There is a strict return-to-play (policy) that we have to follow here and I’m zero involved in it. All I do is ask the question. They don’t even start the return-to-play until they’re symptom free.”

Donaldson, a 240-pound freshman, leads the Mountaineers with 389 rushing yards and six touchdowns, with an average of 6.9 yards per carry.

West Virginia (2-3, 0-2 Big 12 Conference) is idle this week and hosts Baylor (3-2, 1-1) next Thursday, Oct. 13.

Taulia Tagovailoa says he visited brother, Tua, over weekend

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was able to visit his brother, Tua, last weekend after the Terrapins’ game against Michigan State, he said Tuesday in his first comments to reporters since Tua left the Miami Dolphins’ game against Cincinnati last Thursday with a frightening head injury.

Taulia played in Maryland’s win over Michigan State on Saturday but was not made available to the media afterward. He said Tuesday he was able to go to Florida and spend some time with his brother, who suffered a concussion four days after taking a hit in another game but was cleared to return.

“He’s doing good, everything’s fine,” he said. “My biggest thing was just seeing him and spending as much time as I can with him. I came back Sunday night.”

Tagovailoa said he appreciates the support for his brother.

“My brother’s my heart. He’s someone I look up to, someone I talk to every day,” he said. “It was just a hard scene for me to see that.”

Tagovailoa said he was in constant contact with his mother about his brother’s situation, and he was finally able to talk to Tua on Friday night.

“I really just wanted to go there and just spend time with my family, hug them and stuff like that,” Taulia Tagovailoa said. “But he told me he’s a big fan of us, and he’d rather watch me play on Saturday. … After that phone call, I was happy and getting back to my normal routine.”

Tagovailoa indicated that his brother’s injury didn’t make him too nervous about his own health when he took the field again.

“I guess when that happens to someone like my brother, or when anything happens to one of my family members, I don’t really think of how it will be able to affect me,” he said. “I just think of: `Is he OK? How’s he doing?”‘

Although it was a short visit to Florida, he said he and Tua made the most of their chance to be together.

“I just wanted to make sure he’s healthy and stuff, which he is,” Taulia Tagovailoa said.