AUSTIN, Texas — First came the twisting, falling backward touchdown throw. Then came the duck and dodge slip away from a sack that turned into a 20-yard scamper.
Two fourth-quarter plays by Bryce Young once again carried top-ranked Alabama to a victory. The Crimson Tide escaped Texas with 20-19 win Saturday after Young’s scramble set up Will Reichard’s 33-yard field goal with 10 seconds left.
“Houdini act,” Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said of the player he once helped recruit when he was an assistant at Alabama.
Texas had pressured last season’s Heisman Trophy winner for most of the day, only to lose its grip on him late.
“We know what it takes,” Young said of the final drive that started at the Alabama 25 and moved across midfield in two plays. “We embrace that challenge. That’s where we want to be at.”
Young’s clutch play rescued Alabama on an uncharacteristically sloppy day for the Crimson Tide (2-0), who struggled with penalties and dropped passes and was forced into six consecutive punts in one stretch. Texas (1-1) stuffed Alabama on fourth-and-inches late to set up a go-ahead field goal by Bert Auburn with 1:39 remaining.
“When his best was needed, he was really good,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said of Young. “And that’s what we needed.”
Young also spoiled what could have been a program-defining victory for Texas and Sarkisian after last season’s 5-7 finish. Longhorns quarterback Quinn Ewers was knocked out with a shoulder injury at the end of the first quarter. Sarkisian said Ewers had a sprained clavicle and would have more tests to determine how bad it is.
The steady hand of backup Hudson Card and an inspired defense helped Texas build a 16-10 lead early in the fourth, and then drive for the lead again on Auburn’s fourth field goal of the day.
Young was 27-of-39 passing for 213 yards with the scrambling TD throw to Jahmyr Gibbs that gave Alabama a 17-16 lead. Jase McLellan had an 81-yard touchdown run for Alabama in the first quarter.
Alabama avoided its first nonconference regular-season loss since 2007 against Louisiana-Monroe in Saban’s first season.
“Nobody gave us a chance in this game. … None of you, no one in the national media,” Sarkisian said. “We played like a team that believed it could win the game.”
Alabama: The Tide was all out of sorts. Eleven first-half penalties and dropped passes showed a level of sloppy play seldom seen by Saban teams. Last season’s Bronko Nagurski Award winner Will Anderson struggled to make plays against an inexperienced Texas offensive line that started two freshmen.
“It’s all about discipline, making the right choices and decisions, whether it’s post-snap, it doesn’t matter. We’ve got to play better, there’s no doubt about that,” Saban said.
Texas: Texas looks reborn on defense. Sarkisian hired defensive guru and former TCU head coach Gary Patterson as a special assistant last spring. But Texas now has new questions at quarterback if Ewers is out for an extended period. He was electric early against the Tide and had already passed for 134 yards in the first quarter before he was hurt. Card, who lost the starting job after two games last season, finished 14-of-22 passing for 158 yards.
BACK ON TRACK
Saban won his first 25 matchups against former assistants who became head coaches, and then lost two last season against Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M and then Kirby Smart of Georgia in last season’s national championship game. Sarkisian was Saban’s offensive coordinator when Alabama won the 2020 national title.
This could be one of those rare situations where the top-ranked team gets penalized for not playing well in a win, while the loser earns respect for nearly stealing a victory in what was expected to be a blowout. If voters weren’t impressed by Alabama, the Tide could drop behind No. 2 Georgia. Texas, unranked but receiving votes, may have been impressive enough to sneak into the bottom of the rankings.
RECORD CROWD FOR FUTURE RIVAL
Texas, which is scheduled to join the Southeastern Conference ahead of the 2025 season, drew a record crowd of 105,213 to Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Anderson was impressed by a crowd that hampered Alabama signal calls at the line of scrimmage all game.
“This is probably like the loudest environment I’ve played in. the hardest game, since I’ve been in college football,” Anderson said. “Super loud, a lot of energy.”
Texas got what initially looked like a sack and a safety that would have given the Longhorns a 12-10 lead and the ball early in the third quarter. Even the Alabama kickoff team was gathered on the field. But the game officials, who at first threw a flag for targeting, waived that off and the safety and Alabama was allowed to punt instead.
Alabama hosts Louisiana-Monroe.
Texas hosts UTSA next Saturday.