Longhorns the real deal: Beat Bama 34-24

Alabama's 21-game home winning streak, previously the longest active mark in the nation, came to a dramatic end Saturday night as No. 11 Texas upset the No. 3 Crimson Tide 34-24 in a marquee showdown between future SEC foes. The outcome also ended Alabama's 43-game winning streak in nonconference home games and dropped coach Nick Saban's record against former assistants to 28-3 as third-year Texas coach Steve Sarkisian claimed a long-awaited signature victory.

Sarkisian worked as Alabama's offensive coordinator in 2019-20 and had a golden opportunity to beat his former team last season before the Tide escaped with a 20-19 victory on a late field goal in Austin, Texas. In that game, the Longhorns were hampered by an early injury to quarterback Quinn Ewers and failed to overcome a Bryce Young-led Tide squad.

Fast forward one year, and Texas enjoyed the edge at quarterback as a fully healthy Ewers threw for three touchdowns with no interceptions. Alabama's Jalen Milroe struggled by comparison with two interceptions that led to 10 Texas points, including a game-changing miscue that helped the Longhorns build a two-possession lead early in the fourth quarter. 

The win was Texas' first road victory against a top-three team in the AP Top 25 since 1969, and it marked Saban's first regular-season nonconference loss since 2007, his first year at Alabama.

Quinn Ewers gets redemption

When Ewers exited the 2022 loss against Alabama in the first quarter after taking a late hit, it left Texas fans playing a game of, "What if?" What if Ewers had played the whole game? Well, Saturday night's outcome provided a telling answer to that question. With a healthy Ewers, Texas is superior to Alabama. 247Sports' No. 1 overall prospect in the Class of 2021 completed  24 of 38 passes for 349 yards, finding nine different receivers as part of a performance that cemented his name in program history.

The explosiveness of Texas' passing game was particularly striking as the Longhorns connected on six plays of 30 yards or more. Adonai "AD" Mitchell was on the receiving end of two Ewers' touchdown tosses in the fourth quarter as he furthered his reputation for being a Bama slayer. The former Georgia wideout also caught a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of the Bulldogs' 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship win over the Tide.

The only other opposing quarterbacks to throw for at least 300 yards and three touchdowns without an interception while playing at Alabama during Saban's tenure are Arkansas' KJ Jefferson (2021), LSU's Joe Burrow (2019) and Ole Miss' Chad Kelly (2015).

Alabama's got a QB question

Debate figures to continue in the days ahead over whether Milroe is truly the team's best option at quarterback. The redshirt sophomore never looked comfortable in the pocket against the 'Horns while finishing 14 of 27 with 255 yards, two touchdowns and those two critical interceptions. 

While Milroe showed his big-play capability with touchdown throws of 49 and 39 yards in the second half, Alabama struggled to find a reliable rhythm through the air. Milroe's speed and willingness to run set him apart from backup QB Tyler Buchner, but Texas rarely let Milroe get free on the ground. He also took five sacks, which reflected the discomfort Milroe displayed in the pocket.

Sanders shines

Texas tight end Ja'Tavion Sanders made just three catches for 4 yards in last year's loss to the Crimson Tide before going on to enjoy a breakout season with 54 catches for 613 yards. The former five-star prospect put his development on full display Saturday with five catches for 114 yards.

Though he didn't record a touchdown grab, his 50-yard reception on the second play of the fourth quarter set up a score on the following play. Sanders has already been generating buzz as a potential first-round selection in the 2024 NFL Draft -- going at No. 27 overall in a recent CBS Sports mock draft -- and that buzz should only increase in the wake of his blockbuster night against the Crimson Tide. What sets Sanders apart at 6-foot-4 and 243 pounds is his speed, and that trait was evident as he covered ground in the open field against Alabama.

SEC West off to a woeful start

With Alabama's loss to Texas, No. 23 Texas A&M's loss to Miami and LSU's Week 1 loss to Florida State, the SEC West's top brands are in early trouble. While none of the defeats have been conference losses, the bad start for multiple schools from the division diminishes the SEC's margin for error when it comes to competing for College Football Playoff spots.

The CFP has never taken a two-loss team, which leaves the SEC West with a razor-thin margin for error after just two full weeks of the season. While No. 20 Ole Miss took care of business with a win at No. 24 Tulane on Saturday, the Rebels face a treacherous path this season that includes a road game at No. 1 Georgia in addition to the usual landmines of SEC play.

For much of the 21st century, the SEC West could stake a claim to being the toughest division in college football. But in the final season before conference realignment rocks the league and the rest of the sport, the SEC West's hold on the title has evaporated.

Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher (aka HP Pundit) is not a Democrat or Republican. He is a free thinking independent bringing you news and commentary with a dose of much needed common sense.

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