With Texas’ top two running backs - Bijan Robinson and Roschan Johnson - opting out of the bowl game to focus on NFL Draft prep, things just got a whole lot easier, for both me writing this preview, and the Husky defense. Likely taking their place will be the freshman Jonathan Brooks, who has 24 carries for 179 yards and 4 touchdowns this season. While he’s received significantly fewer carries, his PFF grades are similar to Roschon Johnson’s. He’s seen as the future of the Texas running back room, but will split carries with Keilan Robinson and Jayden Blue in the bowl game.
With the engine of this offense not playing in this game, the responsibility will fall on QB Quinn Ewers and the trio of WR Xavier Worthy, WR Jordan Whittington, and TE Ja’Tavion Sanders to move the ball downfield. Ewers was the top overall prospect in the country in 2021 and not surprisingly has all the tools to be an elite modern day QB. He’s 6-3 with a strong build, good athleticism, and an arm to make all the throws from very angle. In nine games this season, he’s throw for 1,808 yards, 14 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, completing 55% of his passes. The Baylor game aside in which he took 5 sacks, he’s been very good at working the pocket and avoiding hits. But, like many young quarterbacks, has had painful moments to go along with his brilliance. After returning from injury and putting together two incredible performances against Oklahoma and Iowa State, he was poor against Oklahoma State throwing 3 interceptions. Two weeks later he had another poor performance completing just 43% of his passes, albeit against playoff-bound TCU.
The best weapon outside for Texas is speedy WR Xavier Worthy. While he’s good for more than just go routes down the sideline, his straight ahead speed makes him a true deep threat. The numbers bear this out - his average depth of target is 17.8 yards downfield, more than double that of Sanders and Whittington. He’s caught 9 touchdowns this season to go along with 676 yards. WR Jordan Whittington will line up in the slot mostly, and is a good yards-after-catch player. TE Ja’Tavion Sanders is a great athlete for the position and has produced in every game this season, compiling 49 catches for 577 yards and 5 touchdowns. For a program that brings in as much talent as Texas does, they have found very little production from the tight end position in over a decade, so the emergence of Sanders as a legitimate impact player has been a huge surprise.
This is an offense that strives to be balanced - with duo of Robinson/Johnson in the backfield, Texas put together the #45 EPA/rush attack in the country, countered by the #44 EPA/pass attack in the nation. Similar to Washington, they are among the nation’s best in points per play, meaning they are highly efficient. With Bijan Robinson, the offense was all about getting him going and then hitting Xavier Worthy over the top. Knowing Sarkisian, and quotes out of Texas practice, they want to throw the ball against Washington.
Without the threat of the All-American RB Bijan Robinson, it’s hard to see Texas having the same offensive success they’ve had all year. Not to mention the shadow of Arch Manning looms large over Ewers, who I suspect may want to prove in this game that he is unquestionably the starter going into next season. That said, Washington rates much higher on the “who wants to be there more” scale and this could lead to a situation in which Ewers plays too much hero ball and forces things.
This is a Sark coached team, so expect Texas to look sharp and crisp on their opening drive, possibly scoring a touchdown. Whether they continue playing at that level is hard to say, but they will come out looking ready as many Sark teams do.