Alabama football: With Week 1 revelry over, Texas Week and a true road challenge await
The gluttony of a record-setting, opening-night pounding provided enough sheer fun, offensive explosiveness and defensive dominance for roughly half the fall. Bryant-Denny was alive and daunting once again for an overmatched team, this time Utah State, and Bama smelled blood from the beginning.
It ended 55-0, the biggest margin of victory ever in a season opener in the Crimson Tide’s illustrious history. It probably could’ve been 85-0, all things considered.
But as Nick Saban probably pointed out before his players even left the locker room late Saturday night, all that joy and freewheeling is over now. The Tide is simply 1-0, and the outmanned Aggies have happily bolted from Tuscaloosa.
The Week 1 carnage is complete.
And now, it’s Texas Week.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide will head to Austin for a high noon ET showdown with the Longhorns and the truest of road games. On Sunday, Caesars Sportsbook installed Bama as an early 19-point favorite, which is a bold reflection of how highly it thinks of the Tide and what it believes Saban’s crew is capable of doing amid the sea of burnt orange and white at Memorial Stadium.
The gaudy spread is also likely a reflection of Texas’ slow start in Saturday’s victory over the same Louisiana-Monroe team that Bama will see on Sept. 17 in Tuscaloosa. Yes, the Longhorns got rolling eventually and won 52-10. But highly touted Ohio State transfer Quinn Ewers threw an interception on the 2nd pass of his highly anticipated Texas debut before settling in and finishing with 225 yards passing and 2 touchdowns.
Ewers’ 72.4 QBR on Saturday was less than inspiring against a Sun Belt foe he could have, and should have, feasted on. For comparison’s sake, Bryce Young’s QBR was 96.0 in Saturday night’s rout of the Aggies, when he tossed 5 touchdown passes in the 1st half alone and added a rushing score early in the 2nd before calling it a night. Perhaps the Young-Ewers matchup alone coming out of Week 1 is what helped send the spread skyrocketing to almost 3 touchdowns.
Perhaps it was Bama’s near-flawless defensive performance, and the fact that Caesars sees what the ravenous Tide defense can possibly do to Ewers, the Texas native who returned to the blueblood program of his home state and only won the starting job a few weeks before the start of the season when he beat out Hudson Card. Ewers took all of 2 snaps in his 1 season in Columbus and did not throw a pass.
So Ewers has enormous potential. But he’s still very raw. And raw quarterbacks with potential usually don’t fare too well against Alabama’s defenses, whether they’re playing the Tide in Tuscaloosa, on a neutral field or even in the comforts of their new home stadium. Now the 6-2, 206-pound Ewers faces the ultimate early career crossroads on Saturday afternoon in Austin.
In one regard, he has all the pressure in the world on him while staring down Will Anderson Jr. and Jordan Battle. After all, he’s the new “Chosen One” quarterback for a tradition-rich program in a state that might love football even more than Alabama. Put him together with 2nd-year head coach and former Tide offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, and many in the Lone Star State expect the Longhorns to finally start contending for national championships again.
Then there’s the other argument when dissecting the unique dynamic of Saturday’s stage. That there’s no or hardly any pressure on Ewers. That he’s only a freshman, that he has time to grow and the perfect guy in Sarkisian from which to learn. That he’s playing against a defense led by a linebacker who might be the No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL Draft and against a program that plays big-time road games all the time in the SEC.
And then, of course, there’s that fat 19-point spread that heavily favors the program that came within a quarter of winning it all over the program that went 5-7 in Sarkisian’s first season and is just trying to regain some traction in the national landscape. Taking down the No. 1 team, or even making Saturday competitive, would go a long way toward restoring the luster that the Longhorns have frequently had in their own illustrious history.
There are the curious cases of Saturday’s giant point spread and the winding road Ewers has taken from Southlake, Texas, to Columbus, Ohio, and back to Austin. Then there’s the unique history that intertwines these behemoth programs. The Longhorns are 7-1-1 all-time against the Tide, but that 1 loss Texas suffered was in the 2010 BCS national championship game that sent it spiraling from the national picture and launched Saban’s legendary run of 6 titles in a 12-year span.
The programs haven’t been the same since that night at the Rose Bowl, when the Tide rolled to a 37-21 win over Mack Brown’s Longhorns after Colt McCoy was injured early. Young and Ewers were in elementary school at the time. Texas has reached double-digit wins only once in the 12 seasons since. And Bama football entered its latest run of glory in a long history full of it, and it hasn’t stopped winning since.
Now — in what promises to be a steamy September Saturday afternoon in Austin, in a noon start that can sometimes be tricky for the road team if it’s not ready to meet the predictable early emotional wave — burnt orange and maroon and white will converge once again.
Saban shouldn’t have any problems motivating his players in the coming days.
The cool exhilaration of the season-opening blowout is long gone.
It’s time for Bama to hit the road and try to avoid the dreaded early season pitfall, whatever the point spread is.
It’s Texas Week.