CHRISTIAN CAPLE

10 Texas players to know as UW Huskies prepare for Sugar Bowl

Dec 9, 2023, 9:58 AM

UW Huskies Texas Sugar Bowl...

Xavier Worthy of the Texas Longhorns against the Washington Huskies on Dec. 29, 2022. (Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

(Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

Not only are the Texas Longhorns among college football’s small handful of true blueblood programs, but the UW Huskies just played them — and won — a little less than a year ago.

UW Huskies’ DeBoer named coach of the year and Penix wins Maxwell – is Heisman next?

So you might recognize some of Texas’ key playmakers from last season’s Alamo Bowl, which the UW Huskies won, 27-20, to finish 11-2. The stakes are just a little higher for the rematch in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1.

Before the Huskies arrive in New Orleans later this month, let’s take a look at 10 Texas players who could factor significantly into the outcome of UW’s College Football Playoff semifinal.

All recruiting rankings are via the 247Sports Composite. Where cited, the “stops” statistic, via Pro Football Focus, refers to tackles made on plays that constitute a failure by the offense.

1. DT T’Vondre Sweat

As a recruit: 3-star, No. 605 overall (2019)

Stats: 42 tackles, 25 stops (PFF), 8.0 TFLs, 2 sacks

The Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and Outland Trophy finalist goes 6-foot-4 and 362 pounds. Those aren’t measurements the Huskies often see in the Pac-12. UW’s offensive line is coming off its best performance of the season against Oregon in the conference championship game, and now faces an even bigger test: keeping Sweat out of running lanes, and preventing him from wrecking the pocket when Penix drops to throw. Even as he consumes double-teams, Sweat has 28 pressures and 23 hurries this season, per PFF, and is a big reason why Texas ranks fifth in FBS in yards per rush allowed (2.87).

2. DT Byron Murphy II

As a recruit: 4-star, No. 393 (2021)

Stats: 26 tackles, 8.0 TFLs, 5.0 sacks, 19 stops

Murphy, listed at 6-1 and 308 pounds, doesn’t cut quite the same figure as Sweat … but he’s still a force on the Texas d-line, and leads the Longhorns with a whopping 40 pressures and 30 hurries this season, per PFF, tied for fifth in FBS among interior defensive linemen. It’s hard to fathom a more imposing d-line duo than Sweat and Murphy. The Huskies’ interior offensive line has its work cut out for it. (Both played in the Alamo Bowl last season and logged one pressure each.)

3. QB Quinn Ewers

As a recruit: 5-star, No. 1 (2021)

Stats: 248-for-351 (70.7 percent) 3,161 yards, 9.0 YPA, 21 TDs, 6 INTs, 13 big-time throws (PFF), 8.1 average depth of target (PFF)

The Huskies saw Ewers in the Alamo Bowl last season, when he completed 31-of-47 for 369 yards and a touchdown but also missed a number of throws. He’s been more consistent as a third-year sophomore, boosting his completion percentage by more than 12 points, and his YPA by 1.6 yards (though with an average depth of target 2.4 yards shorter than last season). Ewers missed two games this season, reportedly due to a sprained AC joint in his right throwing shoulder, but returned to play well in Texas’ last four games, including a 452-yard, four-touchdown performance in the Big 12 championship against Oklahoma State. Since transferring from Ohio State after his redshirt season, Ewers has continued to develop toward his five-star potential. Remember, he graduated from high school a year early, so this is really supposed to be his redshirt freshman season.

4. WR Adonai Mitchell

As a recruit: 4-star, No. 383 (2021)

Stats: 51 catches, 813 yards, 10 TDs

The Georgia transfer leads Texas in touchdown receptions, and could be a matchup problem at 6-foot-4 and 196 pounds. Mitchell is coming off a 109-yard, one-touchdown game against Oklahoma State, and caught two touchdown passes in Texas’ victory over Alabama. He’s Ewers’ most frequent downfield target, with 52 of his 78 targets this season coming 10-plus yards beyond the line of scrimmage, per PFF.

5. OT Kelvin Banks Jr.

As a recruit: 5-star, No. 33 (2022)

Stats: 912 snaps, 1 sack allowed (PFF)

No Texas player logged more snaps this season than the true sophomore left tackle, who has started every game since he arrived on campus as a much-hyped recruit. Banks has the highest pass-blocking grade of any regular Texas player, per PFF, and was a first-team All-Big-12 selection after earning Freshman All-America honors last season. There should be some fun battles between the 6-foot-4, 324-pound Banks and Bralen Trice/Zion Tupuola-Fetui.

6. TE Ja’Tavion Sanders

As a recruit: 5-star, No. 13 (2021)

Stats: 39 catches, 602 yards, 2 TDs

How reliable is the fleet-footed, big-bodied Sanders (6-4, 243) on throws 10-to-19 yards downfield? His PFF receiving grade on such targets is 99.9, and Texas quarterbacks are 15-of-21 for 353 yards on those throws — an average of 23.5 yards per completion and 16.8 per attempt. Sanders caught eight passes for 105 yards and a touchdown against Oklahoma State and had 114 yards against Alabama. Oregon got a lot done throwing to tight ends against the Huskies in both games this season; they’ll have to keep a close eye on Sanders on Jan. 1.

7. WR Xavier Worthy

As a recruit: 4-star, No. 62 (2021)

Stats: 73 catches, 969 yards, 5 TDs

He caught seven passes for 84 yards in the Alamo Bowl last season, though two crucial drops on consecutive plays in the second half changed the game; coach Steve Sarkisian later revealed that Worthy had been playing with a broken hand throughout the second half of the season. He bounced back to lead the Longhorns in receiving this year. Worthy did leave the Big 12 championship game due to injury and was seen on crutches on the sideline, though Sarkisian has said he is “very confident” Worthy will be available for the Sugar Bowl. His speed will present a major challenge for UW’s defensive backs, particularly on shorter throws; 54 of Worthy’s receptions have come on throws fewer than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, per PFF, with 28 of those coming behind the LOS. The Longhorns are 5-for-20 when targeting Worthy 20-plus yards downfield; they were 9-for-44 on such throws last season, per PFF.

8. LB Jaylan Ford

As a recruit: 3-star, No. 1,221

Stats: 91 tackles, 45 stops, 10.5 TFLs, 1.0 sack, 2 interceptions

An active mike linebacker (6-3, 242 pounds), Ford makes a lot of plays in the backfield and around the line of scrimmage — as you can see, a significant percentage of his tackles come on plays that constitute failures by the offense. At one point this season, the fourth-year junior made at least one TFL in eight consecutive games, and PFF grades him the second-best run defender on the team. Ford, a first-team all-conference pick this year, made 10 tackles in the Alamo Bowl last season.

9. DB Jahdae Barron

As a recruit: 4-star, No. 349 (2020)

Stats: 55 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 22 stops, 1 INT

Barron, a fourth-year junior, has made big plays all season for the Longhorns, and does a little bit of everything from his “star” nickel position. A second-team All-Big-12 selection, Barron is Texas’ most-targeted defensive back in coverage, per PFF, but allows only a 55.6 completion percentage, and has given up only one touchdown with an interception and three pass breakups. That “stops” figure is fifth on the team. Barron had seven tackles and a quarterback hurry in the Alamo Bowl last year.

10. RB CJ Baxter

As a recruit: 5-star, No. 22 (2023)

Stats: 129 carries, 595 yards, 5 TDs

Baxter, a true freshman, took over as the Longhorns’ lead tailback after starter Jonathon Brooks tore his ACL in Week 11 against TCU. Brooks was a big loss; he rushed for 1,139 yards and 10 touchdowns. The top-rated running back in the 2023 recruiting class, Baxter carried 10 or more times in three games prior to Brooks’ injury, and had his first 100-yard game — 117 yards on 20 attempts — against Iowa State the week after Brooks got hurt. Jaydon Blue, a sophomore, rushed for 121 yards in the Longhorns’ 57-7 blowout of Texas Tech, so they have options. Keep an eye out for senior Keilan Robinson, too; typically a special-teams standout, he took four carries for 75 yards and two touchdowns in the Big 12 championship game (and returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Texas Tech).

More on the UW Huskies

How past UW Huskies, including Penix, have finished in Heisman race
UW Huskies’ Penix finishes 2nd to LSU’s Daniels for AP player of the year
• Damon Huard makes Heisman case for UW Huskies’ Michael Penix Jr.
• Texas reporter details what UW Huskies are facing in Sugar Bowl
• Huard: UW Huskies getting a new ‘force’ on defense for CFP
• Pac-12 Networks’ Yogi Roth: UW Huskies ‘very capable’ of winning title
• Why No. 2 UW Huskies got the best path to national title in CFP

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