TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE: 5 observations from No. 20 Texas’ 27-20 loss to No. 12 Washington in the Valero Alamo Bowl

Dec 29, 2022; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Texas Longhorns quarterback Quinn Ewers (3) passes during the first half against the Washington Huskies in the 2022 Alamo Bowl at the Alamodome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE: 5 observations from No. 20 Texas’ 27-20 loss to No. 12 Washington in the Valero Alamo Bowl

No, 12 Washington wore down No. 20 Texas tonight, holding off the Horns for a 27-20 victory. The Longhorns’ defense battled throughout, holding the Huskies well below their season averages in points and yards, but the Texas offense could not deliver enough points to keep pace. The Horns were without their top two running backs, and the offense struggled to maintain balance and finish drives until Washington had pulled out of reach. Texas’ last chance to force overtime fell short as time expired after Ewers’ Hail Mary attempt was caught short of the end zone.

Showing their youth: In this game’s critical moments, the youth of the Texas offense came to the forefront. Several times the Longhorns seemed poised to catch fire and make the plays necessary to defeat a top-15 team on a big stage. However, each time the rhythm and timing of the offense was thwarted by a miscue or mistake.

Several presnap penalties wiped out potential big gains and dropped passes plagued the receiving corps.

These mistakes might be understandable considering the youth of the Horns’ offense and the leadership that was missing due to several key opt-outs. But the fact is, at the highest level of college football, you can’t defeat a top-flight opponent and yourself.

The miscues were all the more painful after Ewers led two late scoring drives that drew the Longhorns to within a single possession. Texas fans are forced to wonder what could have been if even a fraction of the mistakes had been eliminated.

Texas did their homework: From the outset, it was evident that the Texas defense was prepared for the Washington offense. The Huskies came into the Alamo Bowl boasting a prolific passing attack and featuring the nation’s leading passer by yardage.

But from the very first series of the game, it was clear that the Longhorns were well coached and well prepared for what Michael Penix and company would throw at them.  

Washington attempted at least three versions of a play-action pass that Texas covered very well, picking up the back leaking from the backfield and simultaneously covering the Huskies’ deep options.

The only early completion that Washington was able to accomplish came on a flea flicker that Texas nearly intercepted. This is remarkable because the Huskies coaches have been preparing the opening script for weeks, and the Horns gave up almost nothing and even forced an interception on the first third down situation of the game.

All of this underscores the stellar job that Pete Kwiatkoski and his staff have done in turning Texas’ defense into the strength of the program. The Longhorn defense was well-prepared, and it showed.

The Longhorn defense played well. They frustrated the Huskies for much of the night and gave Texas a chance to win; they just didn’t get the support they needed from the Texas offense.

Missing piece: Throughout the regular season, the Texas offense used Bijan Robinson like a Swiss army knife. Whenever the Longhorns needed a play, Robinson’s number was the one called. His ability as a ball carrier moved the chains and opened up room off of play action.

Tonight, with Robinson absent, more of the offense fell on the shoulders of quarterback Quinn Ewers. Texas leaned more on the quick passing game to distribute that ball quickly, and it was obviously part of the game plan to use quick passes as an extension of the running game. These passes were designed to pull Washington defenders out of the box versus the run and also to pull the Huskie secondary up, forcing them to commit to stopping the short passes and opening opportunities for deeper shots.

Part of the wisdom of this approach is the fact that these quick passes are easy reads for Ewers, he just has to play catch, and as a result, they allow the young passer to build confidence. Over the last several weeks of the season, Ewers seemed to struggle with making reads and delivering accurate passes under duress. The quick passing game gives him a chance to hit some easy throws and get involved in the game without asking too much of him.

The problem for the Texas offense tonight was that, except for the opening drive of the second half, they were unable to finish. The missing production and talent were too much to overcome, and facing a talented Huskies team, the Longhorns were simply unable to produce enough points to secure a win.

Chess match: One of the most entertaining elements of tonight’s game was the cat-and-mouse game between the Washington offensive coaches and Texas defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski.

Washington utilizes a check-with-me scheme in which they line up in a particular formation, then check what the defense shows them and either run the original play called or change the call to one with a better chance of success.

The Longhorns’ defense did a masterful job of changing from pressure presnap looks to coverage, or vice versa, and creating confusion in the Washington play-calling mechanism. Several times the Huskies were forced to call timeout and even to take delay of game penalties because of the confusion the Horns were creating.

The multiplicity of the Texas defense was also essential in not allowing Penix to become comfortable; the Washington quarterback was uncharacteristically inaccurate and showed signs of pressure for much of the night.

On the rise: Despite a disappointing result tonight, all of the indicators around the Texas football program are pointing up.

8-4 is a lot better than 5-7, and thanks to the recruiting efforts of Steve Sarkisian and staff, a second consecutive top-five class is on its way to Austin.

Texas is a much tougher team than they were a year ago; they might be a tougher team than they have been since the glory days.

It is safe to say that the Longhorn defense can be counted on to turn in quality performances week in and week out, and that will allow them to be competitive against anyone in the country.

The final step in completing Texas’ return to prominence is finding a trigger man that can operate the scheme Sarkisian can construct, and the good news is that the raw materials are in place. Ewers did break Colt McCoy’s record for passing yards in a bowl game, so obviously, the talent is there; it must be refined.

Between Ewers and newly signed top-rated recruit, Arch Manning, Texas fans have a lot to look forward to in the near future.

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