No. 20 Texas vs. No. 12 Washington: Offensive storylines for the Longhorns in the Alamo Bowl

No. 20 Texas vs. No. 12 Washington: Offensive storylines for the Longhorns in the Alamo Bowl

SAN ANTONIO – No. 20 Texas Longhorns and the No. 12 The Washington Huskies are nearing game time at the Alamodome in San Antonio for Thursday’s Alamo Bowl with a nine-game winning season on the line for Texas coach Steve Sarkisian and the Longhorns.

“Well, there’s nothing like us getting nine wins,” Sarkisian said Wednesday. “Look at the last decade of Texas football; how many times have there been nine wins in one season?”

The answer, of course, is that the Horns have only had two nine-win seasons since playing for the national championship following the 2009 campaign — in 2012, when a win over Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl signaled the last high point in Mack Brown. era, and in 2018, when Texas beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl to cap a 10-win season. Unfortunately, the Longhorns didn’t bounce back, with Sarkisian still trying to take over the program closing in on the two-year mark of his tenure.

“We’re trying to build something that’s durable, that can stand the test of time,” Sarkisian said. “We don’t want to be a one-hit wonder. We want to be able to build this the right way, and I think we’re doing that. I think our players understand that.

“But validity is winning, isn’t it? You are who your data says you are. That’s why I think this game is definitely very important for all of us in our organization. It will take a really good effort. We’re going to have to play really well in this game to do that.”

Here are some stories to keep track of during the game.

Can Quinn Ewers bounce back from his late season struggles?

For a young quarterback, it’s perhaps not surprising that Ewers thought he had it all figured out when he completed 21 of 31 passes for 289 yards and four touchdowns against Oklahoma. Three interceptions and a loss to Oklahoma State followed two weeks later, bringing Ewers crashing back to earth.

In the build-up to the bowl, Ewers refocused on fundamentals, particularly regarding his connection with sophomore star wide receiver Xavier Worthy.

“With X, we went back to the basics, like we were talking about before,” Ewers said Tuesday. “These bowl practices, you really just get that feel back, whether it’s deep balls or just short game and stuff like that.”

Sarkisian saw improvement from Ewers in practices leading up to the Alamo Bowl.

“I think over the last two weeks he’s probably thrown the ball and we’ve executed the passing game better than we have for the last two months, honestly, and that’s encouraging because I think a lot of that is his acquisitions.” his desires, his devotion to her. “Not that he wasn’t committed before, but there’s a different level of commitment that you go to as a player,” Sarkisian said.

Now Ewers must execute on the field. If he struggles early, he may need more support for Sarkisian, who was slow to work on the perimeter and provide Ewers with easy passes at TCU when his new quarterback started with a slow.

But if Ewers can show growth, it will be a hugely positive development for him heading into an offseason quarterback competition set to add Arch Manning, the No. 1 prospect. 1 of the country, in the coming weeks.

An extended first look at Jonathon Brooks

Aside from five carries for 33 yards against Kansas last season after Bijan Robinson went down with an elbow injury that ended his sophomore season, Brooks has only gotten carries at the end of kickoffs, situations that offer little use for a real assessment of his skill set. his. .

“The one thing Jonathon can do, he’s a natural runner with the football in his hands, and whether it’s between the tackles, on the perimeter, he’s got great ball skills,” Sarkisian said. “So the biggest thing for us is for him to just come out and be himself, not try to do more than what he’s already shown us. He is more than capable of being a very good footballer for us. Now it’s just about being in the moment and just being him and not trying to do more.”

What is Sarkisian’s preferred personnel package offensively?

For most of the season, Texas graduated to 12 personnel with two tight ends on the field. But with tight end Andrej Karic leaving for Tennessee, someone else will have to step up to fill that role if Sarkisian decides to use him.

“The things that we do where we add a sixth offensive lineman is something that coach Sark and I have done now even before we came to Texas, so we’ve done that in the past,” the offensive coordinator/offensive line coach. Kyle Flood said Tuesday. “We’ve always trained more than one guy to be in that role, and Andrej was in that role, but Andrej is not with us right now, so we have a couple of other guys who are ready to step into that role. because it’s always been a big part of our offense.”

Who that player might be is less clear — it could be freshman Cam Williams, who has played mostly on special teams, or perhaps DJ Campbell, who has backed up freshman Cole Hutson at guard.

Sarkisian could also turn to the cleaner 12-man lineup that Baylor used effectively late in the game with sophomore Gunnar Helm, a less accomplished blocker at the line than the much larger, which can however serve as an actual host threat.

Without much buzz about a third wide receiver emerging, the possibility of a player like redshirt freshman Casey Cain or redshirt freshman Savion Red seems less likely beyond short-term use of the situation.

How much have the young attacking players grown?

The top seven offensive linemen got regular work in practice on the two-deep chart with Hutson and left tackle Kelvin Banks starting every game. But aside from Banks earning freshman All-America honors, and the extent to which Hutson mostly held his own before suffering an ankle injury against Baylor, the reps in bowl practice were still important to the forwards of two starters and five other starters. linears.

“That bowl prep for those freshmen has been invaluable, invaluable,” Flood said. “I’m pleased with the way those guys have performed and I’m excited for what the future holds for them.”

Depending on Hutson’s health, and perhaps even if he is healthy, Campbell could get more playing time once he’s inserted into the rotation late in the season.

“The fact that we were able to stay healthy most of the season created some continuity and really helped, and I think some of these younger guys started to come along — DJ is the most obvious you see , but we see other things in practice with Neto [Umeozulu]with Cam — I think that’s allowed us to get better as the year goes on.”

Robinson regularly covered up small mistakes from the offensive line with his ability to make defenders miss, even near the line of scrimmage, so continued improvement from the offensive line may be necessary to allow Brooks room to played going to the second level. .

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