Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Getting You Set: Sugar Bowl, Preview & Prediction

“The royalty of college football is in assembly.” The words of the late Keith Jackson narrated the scene 18 years ago for the Texas Longhorns’ last national title in 2006. This time, Michael Penix Jr., Quinn Ewers, and their legion command two of college football’s storied powers. The game kicks off inside the Sugar Bowl, where Sam Ehlinger announced Texas as being “back” just five years ago. Texas is certainly back, but so are the Washington Huskies. From 4-8 two seasons ago, to 13-0 for the first time in program history, the Huskies will compete in the College Football Playoff for the second time. This heavy-weight matchup is one of much anticipation, and it will be played inside the Superdome on New Year’s Night.

What The Longhorns Do

Ewers at quarterback has transformed into a much more accurate passer this season. He’s completing 70.6% of his passes this year, and much of his success is built off of the run-and-run scheme. The Longhorns ran the ball effectively all season with Jonathan Brooks who is now out with an ACL injury. CJ Baxter and Jaydon Blue have carried the weight since, and Texas has nearly 2,500 yards on the ground with five yards per attempt.

The success on the ground has been coupled with the offense’s efficiency in the screen-passing game. Ewers completed 95 of 100 attempts on passes behind the line of scrimmage this season. Those throws combined for 750 yards and two touchdowns. He had over 3,100 yards passing this year and nearly a quarter of that production came on those high percentage throws. 

This scheme then opens up the passing lanes downfield, which Steve Sarkisian calls at opportune times. On medium-length passes (10-19 yards) over the middle, Ewers is connecting on 75.6% of his throws for four touchdowns and nearly 1,000 yards. It’s his most efficient category of passing. The Longhorns will take what the defense gives them, but watch for that over-the-middle passing play call that’s been so successful all season.

What The Huskies Do

Washington is a team that is going to pass the ball on more than 60% of its plays. That’s not to say that its run game isn’t a factor, because it is. But offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb’s offense is built on getting the ball downfield. The Huskies will use pre-snap motion to identify and alter defensive coverages. This gets the defense moving before the play and helps the offense begin to read the upcoming coverage.

In the pass game, Grubb utilizes the mesh concept which involves two receiver routes crossing over the middle of the field. In addition to these two wideouts, the offense will put another receiver deep on an option route, and even release the running back out as a wide receiver. This system of mesh points and post-snap receiver route decisions stresses the secondary and opens up the run game to be successful. With the wide receivers this group has, expect the Huskies to work the ball through the air on this Texas defense.

Penix Jr. is the nation’s leading passer in yards per game, and his average depth of target is 11.1 yards. 69% of the Maxwell Award-winning quarterback’s throws have come off of no play action, and have resulted in 21 of his 33 touchdowns. The Huskies work quickly to their speedy wide receivers using a combination of unique route concepts and options. It resulted in over 2,500 passing yards and 33 “big-time throws” on attempts of more than 10 air yards. The Washington passing game is high-end but will get its toughest test of the season on Monday in the Sugar Bowl.

Matchup Nightmare

Washington has three NFL-caliber wide receivers that will impact this football game. None is more significant than Rome Odunze. The 1,400-yard receiver averages 18 yards per catch and has 13 touchdowns on the year. The Biletnikoff Award finalist has an average depth of target of nearly 16 yards and a team-high 17 contested catches. On deep passes (20+ yards) Odunze has a 99.9 rating according to Pro Football Focus. On those plays, Odunze has 20 catches for 655 yards and six touchdowns. He and Penix have remarkable chemistry. Penix is comfortable giving him 50-50 opportunities as well as back-shoulder throws in tight windows. 

Ja’Lynn Polk finished the season with 1,000 yards himself, while Jalen McMillan had 500 yards through the air. No matter the coverage, it feels as though one of these three is either open, or Penix can throw him open. The Texas secondary will be tested when Penix goes through the air.

The Longhorns have allowed 40 passes of more than 20 yards this season, 69th nationally. In the latter portion of the year, the Texas secondary has had some leaks. 17 of those 20-plus yard passes were allowed in November and the Big XII Championship. Cornerbacks Terrance Brooks and Gavin Holmes have allowed 13 yards per reception each. At safety, Jerrin Thompson has given up five touchdowns on the season, including a 66-yarder. Washington is capable of spreading this group thin, and that could be a problem for the Longhorns.

Battle of the Best at the Sugar Bowl

Washington’s offensive line won the Joe Moore Award as the nation’s top offensive line. The group gave up just five sacks this year and their experience was a key piece of this offense’s production. They also excel in the run game. Tailback Dillon Johnson rushed for 5.56 yards per carry this season with over 1,100 yards. The Huskies had five games this year with over 150 yards. It’s a dominant group that has been tested by the best in the Pac-12 this season.

However, it has yet to play a defensive front as physical as the Texas Longhorns. Byron Murphy II and T’Vondre Sweat at the interior of the defensive line are two of the best in the nation. Sweat won this year’s Outland Trophy for the nation’s top interior lineman. He leads the Texas defensive line with 23 defensive stops this season in run defense. Murphy leads the team in sacks and quarterback pressures with six and 40, respectively. The two are aided by Ethan Burke who has 5.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss at the edge position this year. 

The matchup on the line of scrimmage, when Penix is calling the signals, will be fascinating. It’s good-on-good, and the winner up front will play a major role in the success Washington’s offense has downfield and in the outcome of this game.

Get Set for the Sugar Bowl, Prediction

Two of college football’s best teams this season are set for one of the premier matchups of the year on Monday. The Sugar Bowl features two coaches aiming to play in their first national title games. For Sarkisian, it would be a win over the program that gave him his first head coaching role back in 2009. Kalen DeBoer was awarded the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year. He has never lost to a ranked team during his time at Washington. Two teams, two powerful offenses, and a battle at the line of scrimmage that will be mighty. The stage is set, it’s now time for the College Football Playoff Semifinal. The words of Jackson’s historic Rose Bowl call of Washington’s last national title ring true again 32 years later, “It’s the game we’ve been waiting for… Let’s play it.”


Washington: 37   Texas:  33


More Posts

Send Us A Message