(Photo: USA TODAY Sports Images)
The rematch has arrived. One year after squeaking out a 20-19 win in Austin, Alabama is set to host the Longhorns this Saturday in one of the biggest regular season matchups in college football this year. Nick Saban's squad checks in at #3 in the latest AP Poll and boasts one of the best defenses in the country along with an offense led by a new quarterback.
Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young is now a member of the Carolina Panthers. After a contested QB battle during fall camp, former Texas commit Jalen Milroe was given the starting nod and turned in a good performance week one against Middle Tennessee State (13 for 18, 194 yards and 3 passing TD's while also adding 48 rushing yards and a pair of TD's on the ground). The threat of Milroe's legs is something that will be heavily talked about leading up to kickoff. His 6'2, 220 pound frame allows him to absorb hits and be a consistent factor in the run game. While Young was known as more of a scrambler, Milroe's number will be called on designed runs far more frequently.
RB Jahmyr Gibbs, who had a great game in Austin in 2022, is also now in the NFL and will be replaced by a committee approach. Texas native Jase McClellan, who busted a 80-yard TD in last year's matchup, led Alabama RB's in carries week 1 with 10. Senior Roydell Williams and sophomore Jamarion Miller (another former Texas commit) will also see action along with a talented freshman duo (Justice Haynes and Richard Young). The Alabama receivers had an up and down performance in Austin last season, but much of the talent returns as they search for more consistency. Jermaine Burton and Isaiah Bond are the two main receivers to watch. Junior college transfer Malik Benson and sophomore Kobe Prentice will see action as well.
The Alabama offensive line is anchored by RT JC Latham and LG Tyler Booker. Both have the potential to be high round NFL draft picks. True freshman Kadyn Proctor drew the start at LT last week and checks in at a massive 6'7 360 pounds. Similar to the Texas offensive line, this unit had their ups and downs in week 1.
New defensive coordinator Kevin Steele took over for Pete Golding this offseason and inherited a pretty nice situation. Dallas Turner and Chris Braswell strike fear in any offense coming off the edge. Jaheim Otis is another great player who could play inside or straight up on an offensive tackle. The strength of Alabama defense is the front 7. Running the ball could be tough sledding for the Longhorns on Saturday night.
In the backend, Kool-Aid McKinstry is the Crimson Tide's best corner and will likely spend a lot of time against Xavier Worthy. The rest of the Alabama secondary is inexperienced and/or has some injury concerns. Starting nickel Malachi Moore and starting safety Jaylen Key both left the Middle Tennessee State game with injury and their status is unknown headed into Saturday.
Texas was able to catch Alabama off balance at times last year by mixing in tempo with some different formations that had not been shown previously. It will be interesting to see if Saban and Steele come out with a more aggressive gameplan in an attempt to put Texas on their heels instead of the other way around.
Defensively, this appears to be a typical Nick Saban team. It would be pretty surprising if Texas got into the 30's or 40's in this game. The good news for the Longhorns is the majority of the question marks for the Crimson Tide come of the offensive side of the ball. Texas played well defensively week 1 and the unit could have the ability to carry the team in a low-scoring affair.
If Jalen Milroe gets into a rhythm and Alabama puts up some points early, it is going to be tough for Texas to walk out of Tuscaloosa with a win. The path to a Texas victory likely involves some early scripted success offensively and forcing Milroe into a turnover or two. If the Longhorns do that, they will likely find themselves with a chance in the 4th quarter to win the game.