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Alabama’s 34-24 loss to Texas in Week 2 last season had many meanings.

It was the first sign that the Longhorns were indeed a team to be reckoned with in 2024. They backed that up with a 12-1 record, winning the Big 12 and qualifying for the College Football Playoffs.

It was also the first sign that the Crimson Tide would not be a joyless killer ball machine, that the offense would struggle at times and the defense would in turn be vulnerable to motion-based attacks.

Our Summer Rewatch Series, where we rewatch Alabama’s entire 2023 season from start to finish, continues with the Tide’s Week 2 loss to Texas. We look at last season in hindsight and look for clues for 2024.

We know how the game ended. Alabama turned the game into more or less a rock fight, taking a 16-13 lead in the fourth quarter. Then Texas scored 21 points – including two touchdowns in three plays – to win by 10 points.

One story we wrote that night was that Texas beat Alabama in the trenches. Watching it again, that still rang true. The Tide finished the game with seven total pressures and didn’t sack Quinn Ewers once, while Texas managed 25 pressures and five sacks.

Alabama was really good at running the ball early on. In the first half, they ran 19 times for 114 yards. That’s 6 yards per pass. But because the passing game wasn’t much of a threat, Texas started to crowd the box. In the second half, Alabama ran just 11 times for 30 yards – including just once for a 1-yard loss in the fourth quarter.

Ewers, the Texas quarterback, was great in this game: 24 of 38, 349 yards, 3 touchdowns. According to Pro Football Focus, he completed 3 of 5 passes over 20 yards for 115 yards and two touchdowns. In hindsight, this was by far Ewers’ best long pass game. In 2023, he completed just 34% (16 of 47) of his long passes, according to PFF.

Texas coach Steve Sarkisian uses a motion-based offense to place quick passes, open running lanes and find matchups worth making. The movement forced the Tide’s defense to communicate and often forced players (especially the defensive backs) to compromise because Nick Saban’s defensive rules were so complex at times.

We saw this against Texas, where Ja’Tavion Sanders, Xavier Worthy, AD Mitchell and others were forced into heavy tackles. We saw it later in the season against Auburn, when the Tigers ran for 244 yards and nearly beat the Tide at Jordan-Hare Stadium, and again during the first drive in the SEC Championship game against Georgia.

I’m curious: How will Kane Wommack’s hive defense handle this?

Wommack’s 4-2-5 is similar to what Saban played in his later years at Alabama, but the swarm part is the difference. Saban’s defense focused on pressuring the quarterback and adjusting coverage in the secondary based on patterns. Wommack’s swarm defense is more of a spot-drop zone, keeping an eye on the quarterback and limiting big plays.

Consider these numbers: In 2023, South Alabama ranked 15th nationally in total defense. In 13 games, they allowed 139 plays of 10+ yards, which was 13th-fewest nationally, and just 43 plays of 20+ yards, which was 17th-fewest nationally.

Alabama ranked 18th nationally in total defense in 2023. The Tide allowed 151 plays of 10+ yards (25th-fewest nationally) and 59 plays of 20+ yards, which ranked in the bottom half nationally.

This isn’t a perfect comparison considering Alabama plays in the SEC and South Alabama is in the Sun Belt, but the Jaguars went to Stillwater and held Oklahoma State, which ranked 30th nationally in total offense and reached the Big 12 title game, to just 7 points.

The calculus of all this changes because Alabama is operating with a revamped secondary. Malachi Moore is still there and Keon Sabb is a great player who provides a good starting point. King Mack, DaShawn Jones, Domani Jackson have all joined, and then there’s the trio of five-star freshmen, Zabien Brown, Zay Mincey and Jaylen Mbakwe.

How quickly can they get up to speed? What new opportunities will they have? The Tide can slowly get used to the schedule, with Western Kentucky, South Florida and then Wisconsin before facing Carson Beck and Georgia after the break. But the Hilltoppers, Bulls and Badgers will all throw the ball around the yard and put these guys to the test.

We’re largely confident that the combination of Kalen DeBoer, Nick Sheridan, and JaMarcus Shephard will get the offense going, but how the defense comes together and performs will determine the Alabama team’s position in 2024.

That’s pretty much what came to mind when I rewatched Alabama-Texas.

Here are a few other thoughts on the game:

– Both by Jalen Milroe Interceptions in this game were bad bad. He got better at reading the defense after the snap as the season went on, but those interceptions ultimately led to 10 points for Texas – which was, of course, the winning point. I’m excited to see how his post-snap reads continue to improve under DeBoer.

– Sark is very good at it getting the ball to his playmakers in open space, especially in this game. Sanders finished the game with 5 catches for 114 yards, including 72 after the catch. Worthy caught 5 for 75, including 36 after the catch. DeBoer is good at that, too. It will be interesting to see how he executes that with Alabama’s personnel.

– With the advantage of In hindsight, this was James Burnip’s “breakthrough game” as a punting weapon. He punted five times and averaged 52.6 yards per punt, with a longest of 61. He pinned Texas inside their own 10-yard line three times. He finished 2024 with an average of 47.56 yards per punt, the fifth-best average nationally.

– That was Kobe Prentice’s Best game of the year: 5 catches for 68 yards. Three of his five catches were first downs and 17 of his 68 yards came after the catch. He was also 1-for-1 on contested targets and forced two missed tackles, according to PFF. That kind of performance makes you think he could fill the slot role that’s available now that Isaiah Bond has transferred to… Texas.

– Alabama revealed its run Back wheel route in this game. Late in the second quarter, Milroe hit Roydell Williams out of the backfield. He missed and sent the ball a little behind Williams, who caught it but fell to the ground and gained 5 yards. Had Milroe hit him on the run, Williams might have scored. They tried Jase McClellan again in the third quarter, but Milroe overshot him on the sideline. They ran this play again in the SEC Championship, where Milroe hit Jam Miller for a touchdown.

– Last thought: Alabama was as talented (maybe more talented) than Texas and Michigan, but the combination of mistakes and poor execution caused them to lose both games. Against Texas, the penalties and turnovers were deadly. Two penalties negated touchdowns, and Milroe’s two interceptions were obviously costly. Considering the transfer portal and NIL have created more parity at the top of college football, mistakes like these can make the difference between winning and losing in these big games.

Cody Goodwin covers the Alabama Crimson Tide for 247Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.

Alabama Summer Rewatch Series

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