Repeat after me: there is no conspiracy. Texas has never hidden its intention to take over the SEC (and, thus, the college football world) for years to come.
It’s just that no one expected this nefarious plan to be years ahead of schedule.
The unranked Longhorns, an SEC member in waiting, outplayed No. 1 Alabama for three quarters on a steamy, humid Austin afternoon, only to fall in a way that only a true Tide rival can.
But Alabama has one advantage. Bryce Young led the Crimson Tide back twice in the fourth quarter and set up Will Reichard’s game-winning field goal with 10 seconds remaining in a harrowing, 20-19 victory.
This was Alabama’s worst performance since last year’s Iron Bowl.
The common thread? Young, having a very un-Heismanesque performance only to strike the pose late, and Iron Bowl hero Ja’Corey Brooks, who once again made the momentum-shifting catches. They connected twice in the fourth quarter to set up the go-ahead touchdown, when Young contorted his body like Linda Blair in the Exorcist to somehow twist, turn and thread a pass to Jahymr Gibbs in the end zone for the go-ahead score.
But the 17-16 advantage would be short-lived, forcing one more miracle reply.
Thus, the Tide spoiled Texas’ coming out party after a decade of irrelevance. But the guess here is that this performance was no fluke. Texas is coming’, people.
Start with head coach Steve Sarkisian, the best offensive coordinator Nick Saban had back in Tuscaloosa, who knew how to exploit Alabama’s defense. Add the rocket-armed freshman quarterback, Quinn Ewers, who was better than advertised. He made only a cameo, due to injury, but a lasting impression.
But the biggest difference was a Longhorns defense — seriously, Texas plays defense?!? — that left the Crimson Tide bloodied, befuddled and looking out of its element for 45 minutes. After giving up scores on Alabama’s first two possessions, the high-flying Longhorn defenders transformed into lockdown beasts, forcing five straight three-and-outs before Alabama finally got the engines revving again.
As the fourth quarter began, and Texas expanded a 13-10 lead to six points, the Tide had 15 penalties and only six first downs. Don’t blame the officials. Alabama’s performance was sloppy from the opening kickoff. The lone exception — Jase McClellan’s 81-yard bolt to the end zone on Alabama’s second series.
Crimson Tide fans still bothered by the refrain, “What if Colt McCoy hadn’t got hurt?” from the 2009 national title game better get used to the 21st Century reboot.
Ewers, the Ohio State transfer who came back to his home state to play for Sarkisian, was out there only briefly before sustaining a shoulder injury on a Dallas Turner hit. (OK, you can quibble with that officiating call, which resulted in a roughing-the-passer penalty)
In less than a quarter of play, he completed 9 of 12 passes for 134 yards, with the Tide defense showing no way of slowing him down.
Enter Hudson Card, Texas’ part-time starter a year ago, who ended up directing Texas to the lead despite taking a hit that left him with a limp the rest of the way.
Like Young, Card would get a final shot at heroics. After Texas stopped Alabama on fourth-and-1 at the Longhorns 24-yard line with 3:55 to go, he patiently drove the Longhorns into Alabama territory as time tick-tocked away to set up freshman Bert Auburn’s 49-yard field goal in the waning moments.
But it was too much, too soon. Young got the ball back with 99 seconds and two timeouts remaining. And Reichard began warming up on the sideline with one intention.
Spoil Texas’ diabolical plan.
Doug Segrest, a former SEC beat reporter, is a freelance columnist.