Texas defense emerging as a dominant group for No. 4 Longhorns after 2 games

Texas defensive lineman Alfred Collins (95) and defensive lineman Vernon Broughton (45) celebrate a play against Rice during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Austin, Texas, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — After a routine win over Rice to start the season, Texas coach Steve Sarkisian noted there had been little talk about how good the No. 4 Longhorns' defense could be.

A road win at No. 10 Alabama should change the conversation.

The Longhorns were dominant at times against the Crimson Tide as they chased, sacked and intercepted Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe all night in a 34-24 statement victory. Texas had five sacks, two interceptions and nine total tackles behind the line of scrimmage. The Longhorns held Alabama to 107 yards rushing.

“Our speed is an advantage of ours,” Sarkisian said Monday. “I thought we were very disruptive up front. ... Our ability to create chaos in the backfield was huge.”

Chaos indeed. Texas never let Milroe get comfortable, and no Alabama running back managed more than 45 yards.

Texas senior defensive back Ryan Watts, who transferred from Ohio State before the 2022 season, said the Longhorns have the potential to be a top-five defense in the country this season.

“The ceiling is high,” Watts said. “We’re playing fast. A year ago, two years ago, we would have made a lot of mistakes.”

Watts remembers well. He critically missed a late sack on Alabama's drive to a game-winning field goal last season in an otherwise superb game. Watts and his teammates recovered from their few mistakes against Alabama this year.

A long Alabama touchdown pass in the third quarter briefly surrendered the lead. Texas and quarterback Quinn Ewers quickly responded with a three-play drive for a touchdown to quickly go ahead.

Then came the knockout punch set up by the defense. Alabama's first play after the Texas touchdown was a pass that was intercepted by Longhorns linebacker Jerrin Thompson. Texas punched into the endzone one play later and was in complete control.

Alabama's last possession ended when Milroe was sacked by freshman linebacker Anthony Hill. The Longhorns then ran out the final seven minutes before celebrating with their fans who had made the trip to Tuscaloosa.

Last season, Texas had former TCU head coach Gary Patterson, considered a defensive guru, on staff as a special assistant to the head coach. Patterson is no longer on staff, leaving all the credit for the good start with defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, who Sarkisian hired away from Washington in 2021.

Texas has held both of its first two opponents under 400 total yards. The Longhorns have four interceptions by four different players and four sacks from emerging stars like Hill, one of the top recruits in the country, and 6-foot-7 sophomore edge rusher Ethan Burke, who didn't play football until high school and had to talk himself into giving up his first love of lacrosse for college.

“We have a lot of young, hungry kids on this team,” Burke said. “To be a part of it is exciting.”


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