No. 1 Alabama staved off a tremendous upset bid from Texas on Saturday as Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young engineered two late drives that resulted in 10 fourth-quarter points for a 20-19 Crimson Tide road victory. Kicker Will Reichard drilled a 33-yard field goal with 10 seconds remaining to send the Tide over the Longhorns at Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas.
With the victory, Bama avoided falling for the second time in as many years to an unranked opponent from Texas and dropping a regular-season nonconference game for the first time since 2007. The win marked the 19th consecutive 2-0 start to a season for coach Nick Saban, continuing the nation's longest active streak.
Despite losing starting quarterback Quinn Ewers late in the first quarter, the Longhorns used four field goals by Bert Auburn -- including a 49-yard connection with less than two minutes remaining -- to jump ahead of the Tide until Young's final scoring drive. Ewers suffered a clavicle injury as the result of a late hit from Alabama linebacker Dallas Turner in the red zone and did not return. Ewers was moving the offense with ease, registering 134 yards passing to start the game. From that point, however, the 'Horns offense struggled to generate consistent opportunities.
Alabama let Texas stay in the game thanks to the most undisciplined game the Saban era. The Tide posted 15 penalties, a sum not previously met in a single game by any of Saban's teams at Alabama or LSU. All-American linebacker Will Anderson Jr., touted as the best player in college football to start the season, was notably off his game, contributing four costly penalties to only five total tackles.
Backup Texas QB Hudson Card took advantage with 158 yards passing, including a massive 29-yard connection with wide receiver Casey Cain to jump into field goal territory in the game's final minutes. Auburn's 49-yard field goal looked to put the 'Horns on top for good, but fell just short of being a game-winner. Texas running back Bijan Robinson also had several huge runs and catches, finishing with 131 all-purpose yards.
Texas' defense played a fantastic game with six tackles for loss and a pair of sacks on Young. The 'Horns also nearly had another sack and safety on Young in the third quarter that would have swung the game, but it was overturned and ruled an incomplete pass. Linebacker Jaylan Ford played a fantastic game with 10 tackles and two tackles for loss.
Young completed 27 of 39 passes for 213 yards, engineering a huge fourth-quarter touchdown drive and the go-ahead field goal drive with 10 seconds remaining. His pass-catchers picked up down the stretch, but one of the reasons Alabama struggled most of the game was due to drops from that unit, which amassed just three receptions for 14 yards entering the fourth quarter.
Let's break down the takeaways from Saturday's Week 2 thriller in Austin.
Missed opportunities for Texas
The Longhorns were the better team in this game, but a few missed plays and decisions ultimately swung the outcome. Texas got into the red zone five times against Alabama's highly touted defense, but only one of those drives ended with a touchdown. Perhaps the most discouraging was settling for a field goal on fourth-and-4 from the 6-yard line in the fourth quarter. Alabama went and converted a 75-yard touchdown drive 11 plays later to take a 17-16 lead.
That's not all. A major officiating swing will unquestionably live in Texas fans' heads for a long time. With Alabama playing out of the shadow of its own goal posts, Texas defensive lineman T'Vondre Sweat appeared to sack Young for a safety. However, a shocking targeting and roughing the passer call wiped it out. The plays were overturned on review, but the play was ruled an incomplete pass. Those two points were critical in a one-point affair.
Across the board, there were moments that could have clinched the game. Ewers had Worthy for a wide open touchdown pass on the first drive of the game that fell out of the wide receiver's hands. Cornerback Ryan Watts also seemed to have a game-sealing sack on Young in the fourth quarter, but he went too high and Young converted it into a 19-yard run to help set up the eventual game-winning field goal.
If any one thing goes different, Texas probably wins the game. The Longhorns, however, couldn't capitalize.
Alabama's receiver woes
When Alabama receivers Jameson Williams and John Metchie III went out before last year's College Football Playoff National Championship, the Crimson Tide struggled to find replacements. Despite an offseason of development and adding in a pair of big-name transfers, those issues don't seem to be resolved.
Young put together some Heisman-type moments down the stretch, but no receiver on the roster finished with more than 39 yards receiving on the day. Running back Jahmyr Gibbs was easily the best target on the team with 74 yards receiving and a touchdown.
For years, Alabama had some of the best receiving rooms in college football. Despite recruiting at a high level, none of the receivers look ready for prime time. If the receiver room doesn't improve, Alabama isn't a real national title contender.
Longhorns defense is legit
Alabama was fully healthy and ran out the same unit that dropped 55 points on Utah State a week ago. Outside of an 81-yard run by Tide running back Jase McClellan, the Longhorns were fully up for the moment in the first test of Year 2 for coach Steve Sarkisian.
Pete Kwiatkowski's defense held Young to just 5.5 yards per pass attempt and no completions longer than 23 yards. The defensive front actually generated a decent pass rush and had offensive linemen jumping to anticipate blitzes.
Outside of the rushing touchdown, Texas' defense held Alabama to just 4.7 yards per play. Special credit goes to Jaylan Ford and cornerback Anthony Cook, both of whom put together breakout performances. If Ford's growth is sustainable, this unit is going to be much different. Credit Kwiatkowski and linebackers coach Jeff Choate for finding ways to grow after a difficult first season.
Complaining about "college kickers" has become a rite of passage in college football, but both programs owe their kickers a fruit bowl after sensational performances. Much will be made about Alabama kicker Will Reichard's 33-yarder with 10 seconds remaining, but that only scratches the surface.
Reichard nailed a booming 52-yarder in the first half of the game to give Alabama a 3-0 lead and salvage a shaky first drive. It ultimately made a massive difference. On the other side, freshman Texas kicker Bert Auburn nailed four field goals, including a gutsy 49-yarder that seemed to be a game-winner. He missed one in the first half, but that was more of a result of a bad snap. Texas would not have been in position to pull the upset if not for Auburn's impressive efforts.
Ewers hype is deserved
He may have only played one quarter, but Ewers looked every bit the part of the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the country in his first real start. Ewers threw for 134 yards on just 12 pass attempts and did a sensational job of reacting and making throws under pressure.
In fact, only one of Ewers' passes was truly off the mark. He should have had 35 more passing yards after tossing a perfect pass to Worthy that was dropped for a touchdown. Another pass just wasn't caught through traffic. Regardless, 11.2 yards per pass attempt and 134 yards in 15 minutes of action is unbelievable.
If Ewers stays healthy, Texas wins this game. However, the Longhorns have just another quarterback injury vs. Alabama to add to the list of painful memories. Considering Ewers' injury is only a clavicle sprain, though, Texas fans should be excited that he could hopefully return and play meaningful games in 2022.