SAN ANTONIO, TX. – To quote JaMarcus Shephard, Thursday’s Alamo Bowl matchup between No. 20 Texas and No. 12 Washington will be “a street fight between the whistle”.
It may turn out to be a track meet, too.
The Longhorns (8-4, 6-3) enter the game with 29 run plays of 30-plus yards. The Huskies (10-2, 7-2) haven’t allowed a single run of 30-yards or more all season.
Something’s got to give.
“The greatest challenge up to this point against a really good football team,” UW head coach Kalen DeBoer said Wednesday. “It will say a lot about the preparation and what this means to them with the effort that they put forth tomorrow.”
Texas will be without both of its leading rushers, junior Bijan Robinson and senior Roschon Johnson, who have already announced their decision to declare for the 2023 NFL Draft and opted-out of the bowl game.
Robinson finished the regular season fifth in college football with 1,580 yards and tied for fourth with 18 rushing touchdowns. Johnson added 554 yards and five touchdowns on just 93 carries, well below the 258 attempts that Robinson had this season.
Without the duo Texas will turn to a pair of freshmen, Jonathon Brooks and Jaydon Blue, along with junior Keilan Robinson. Brooks has seen the field the most of the three and has four rushing touchdowns to his name heading into Thursday’s matchup.
“I mean, obviously Texas does a great job with recruiting,” UW co-defensive coordinator Chuck Morrell said, when asked if the Longhorns’ opt-outs has changed the game plan.
“They’ve got young talent on their squad, and we’ve had a chance to evaluate their younger running backs. I think our plan is pretty straightforward. We’ve got to be able to do a great job in the box and stop the run and force them into the drop-back game.”
Coming off the edge
If the Huskies can contain the Longhorns’ rushing attack early and force Steve Sarkisian to lean on the shoulder of redshirt freshman quarterback Quinn Ewers, UW may hold the edge with its trio of pass rushers.
Senior Jeremiah Martin is the team leader with 8.5 sacks, just ahead of sophomore Bralen Trice who has eight and junior Zion Tupuola-Fetui with 4.5. When the three are on the field together it has been one of Washington’s better defensive fronts.
“In my opinion they remind me of a pro-style defense,” Texas offensive coordinator Kyle Flood said, “and when you work in the NFL and you work against defenses that have good pass rushers, what you see on 3rd down is you see a lot of them in the game at the same time.”
The Longhorns are No. 76 in the country on third down converting just 58 of 150 times, while the Huskies rank No. 118 defensively allowing almost a 45 percent conversion rate (75 of 167), fifth-worst in the Pac-12.
“On 1st and 2nd down they like to be in nickel,” Flood continued, “but you watch the Oregon State game and they’re playing base defense like an NFL defense, something we really don’t see very much of in the Big 12.”
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Staying Ahead of the Sticks
Michael Penix Jr. has never played this late into the season in his college career. Texas hasn’t faced a quarterback as talented as the Huskies signal-caller to date this season.
UT defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said Penix and the UW offense is similar to what Texas Tech showed the Longhorns earlier this season – a 37-34 defeat in Lubbock.
“Their offense, it starts with that quarterback. Penix is an outstanding quarterback, very accurate,” Kwiatkowski said.
“O-line does a good job of keeping him clean, and they have three really good wide receivers that he can distribute the ball to, and so we’ve got a huge challenge in front of us for sure.”
Penix has only been sacked four times all season, one of the fewest in the country. The combination of his ability to stay cool in the pocket and his deep ball accuracy will be a test for a Longhorns defense that has allowed at least two touchdown receptions in five of the last six games.
Texas allowed just five touchdowns through the air in the first five games. When opposing quarterbacks have completed 30-plus throws on the Longhorns defense they’re 0-2, with both defeats coming on the road at Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.
Despite being the host state for the Valero Alamo Bowl, Texas is the road team as the lower ranked College Football Playoff team.
In a true road environment, the Huskies hang on through the shoulder of Michael Penix Jr.
Washington 38, Texas 33.