TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — The hype is coming for the Texas Longhorns like it hasn’t in years. That’s what happens when you knock off Alabama on the road and get your first win over a top-five team in 15 years.
The Longhorns, who vaulted seven spots to No. 4 in the AP Top 25 on Sunday following that 34-24 win, seem determined not to get swept up in it. It’s still early September, after all. Alabama fell from third to 10th.
“Game over with,” Longhorns receiver Xavier Worthy said, after it had been over with for an hour or so. “We’re on to Wyoming.”
Yes, Wyoming. It’s the kind of week-to-week focus that Texas needs to prove this team is really one of the nation’s best after some hard times by the standards of a program with three AP national championships. Texas’ last victory over a top-five opponent before this one: 45-39 over No. 1 Oklahoma in 2008.
Now, the Longhorns can move on to trying to win their first Big 12 Conference title since 2009 before they join Alabama in the Southeastern Conference.
Coach Steve Sarkisian’s players seem to be taking his message to heart.
“This game’s not going to define our season,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve got 10 more regular-season games to play. I think it does serve as a good benchmark to us of what we’re capable of and who we can be as a team moving forward.”
This is hardly uncharted territory for the Texas program, or Sarkisian, who was offensive coordinator on Alabama’s 2020 national championship team. It certainly isn’t new for wide receiver Adonai Mitchell, who was part of two Georgia national championship teams and caught two fourth-quarter touchdown passes from Quinn Ewers.
But most of the Longhorns haven’t gotten this kind of win before, or the accompanying attention. The last three coaches for one of college football’s five winningest programs have losing records against Top 25 teams, including Sarkisian (now 3-7).
“This is something that we embrace, something that we’ve got to take in and keep us moving,” running back Jonathon Brooks said. “Use it to catapult us moving forward. We’ve got a long season ahead of us.
“The main thing for us is to not be complacent. We don’t want to come out weak next week or the week after that. So just keep pushing.”
The Longhorns got a star-making performance from Ewers, who passed for 349 yards and three touchdowns. They got big plays from receivers, and the defense racked up five sacks of Jalen Milroe.
In essence, Texas bullied an Alabama team that’s been doing that to opponents throughout coach Nick Saban’s tenure.
“It’s still early,” Ewers said. “We’ve got a lot of games left to play.”
Sarkisian can appreciate how his players handled playing Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium, So can four members of his staff who also worked for Saban.
“I’ve been in the locker room,” the former Saban assistant said. “A lot of (opponents) walk in this stadium. The mystique of Alabama (means they’re) beat before the ball gets kicked off. I had to make sure our players understood that we’re good enough to come in here and win. The moment doubt creeps in, that’s when you can start making the mistakes that get you beat.”
Sarkisian got his breakthrough win with the Longhorns in a stadium where he resurrected his career against a coach who helped him salvage it after his ouster at Southern California.
“I owe everything to him,” Sarkisian said. “I would not be standing here in front of you guys without Nick Saban. That’s very clear, and I’ll never waver on it.”
Texas had been 14-12 under Sarkisian coming into the game. Brooks knows the Longhorns still have to prove they’re worthy of the fans’ belief.
“I think there’s a lot of people out there that based on the games we’ve had in the past or the seasons we’ve had in the past, some people try not to believe the hype,” Brooks said. “Or they don’t want to get let down. To them, I would just say, just have faith in us. We don’t want to be the ones that let people down. So just have faith in us.”