Berry: Texas is back, so OU football needs Alabama to stay down

Berry: Texas is back, so OU football needs Alabama to stay down

Does the Texas-Is-Back/Alabama-Is-Human result in Tuscaloosa make OU’s mission into the Southeastern Conference easier or harder?

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Sep 12, 2023, 2:37pm CDT

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Sep 12, 2023, 2:37pm CDT

The Texas Longhorns beat Alabama 34-24 Saturday in Tuscaloosa and looked good doing it. Which is rather redundant, when you think about it. Been a long time since anyone beat the Crimson Tide with their B game.

South of the Red River, the Texas-Is-Back crowd can relax. It’s finally true. North of the Red River, the scoffers can stop laughing.

Texas be back. You don’t dominate the Crimson Tide without being back. There was nothing flukish about the UT beatdown of Bama.

So riddle me this. Does the Texas-Is-Back/Alabama-Is-Human result in Tuscaloosa make OU’s mission into the Southeastern Conference easier or harder? Are the Longhorns going to make it more crowded at the top, or is the Crimson Tide slipping, creating a crack in the Georgia/Alabama chokehold on the SEC?

I asked Brent Venables. And he smirked.

“Alabama falling? I’m not sure,” Venables said.

Venables praised the ‘Horns, pointing out that though he didn’t see the game, Texas must have played “pretty dang good,” else you don’t go into Bryant-Denny Stadium and win. “So credit to them for that.”

Then Venables got all tongue-tied. “I don’t necessarily think that’s indicative of Nebraska…” He recognized his mistake. “Er, Texas falling.” He did it again. It was as if he couldn’t say the phrase.

“All right, Alabama falling,” Venables said. “I don’t even know what to say. That doesn’t sound right. So I don’t know how to say a thing like that, apparently.”

Doesn’t sound right to most of us. Nick Saban’s reign of terror — six national championships from 2009-20; nine national-title games from 2009-21 — appeared to have no end.  But Georgia clearly caught, then surpassed the Crimson Tide on the SEC and national food chain, and some pundits of note have suggested that Bama has returned to mere mortal status.

If so, that’s balm for the sting of Texas being back.

A Longhorn revival is the last thing the Sooners needed upon joining the SEC. When OU pledged to the Land of Cotton in July 2021, the Alabama/Georgia bottleneck seemed unnavigable. Then Louisiana State hired Brian Kelly, and you knew the Bayou was going to be bolstered.

But at least the Sooners had Texas. The ‘Horns were down, OU was dominating the series and Dallas in October would be tonic for whatever SEC wounds lay ahead. Then came 49-0, and now comes Texas waxing Alabama, and it’s the sum of all Sooner fears. ‘Horns a Plenty and the SEC.

“You know, this is the league that we signed up for, and this is college football,” Venables said. “Those are two really good programs. And Alabama’s been the gold standard for a long time. That doesn’t mean they’re not vulnerable to a great game. And they came up on the short side of it.

“I don’t think it’s indicative of necessarily that Alabama is going to fall off the face of college football either.”

OU would take that trade, of course. A risen Texas and a fallen Alabama is better for the Sooners than the status quo of recent vintage, when Bama was unbeatable (at least for the Sooners) and Texas was a thorn in the flesh.

The Texas is Back mantra has bubbled repeatedly over the 13 years of Longhorn malaise.

After the 2016 season opener, when Texas upset Notre Dame in double overtime. Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger flat-out proclaimed “We’re baaaaack” after the 2018 Longhorns beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, only to go 19-16 in Big 12 games the next four seasons.

Texas’ standards got so low, the rally cry bubbled after defeat. Home defeats. To Louisiana State in 2019, to Alabama in 2022.

Through it all, the whys and tries and lies and cries and sighs of Texas became a punchline for foes, an albatross for the ‘Horns.

Then came Saturday night, a Dixieland Delight for the Bevos.

“This game is not going to define our season,” said Texas coach Steve Sarkisian. “We got 10 more regular season games to play, but it does serve as a benchmark of what we are capable of and the potential for who we can be as a team.”

Sarkisian, remember, has Alabama experience. He worked for Saban in 2016, then again in 2019-20. He knows how difficult it is to beat the Crimson Tide.

“I’ve been in that (Bama) locker room,” Sarkisian said. “A lot of people walk in that stadium, and with the mystique of Alabama, they are beat before the game starts. I had to make sure that our players understood that they were good enough to come in here and win. The moment doubt creeps in, that’s when you can make mistakes that can get you beat.”

Texas never succumbed to the doubts, even after Alabama rallied for a 16-13 lead with 14 seconds left in the fourth quarter. From that point on, the Longhorns had the ball four times. They scored three touchdowns and grinded out a 12-play, 34-yard drive that ate up the final 7:14 of the game.

The Longhorns were the better team. Better at quarterback with Quinn Ewers. Better at the playmakers with Ja’Tavion Sanders, Xavier Worthy, Adonai Mitchell and Jordan Whittingham. Better on the lines. That’s right. Better than the Alabama lines.

“Everybody’s got basically two choices,” Saban said. “You can throw in the towel and quit and be mediocre, or you can fight and grind and do the hard things that you need to do to be successful. And I think you don’t wanna waste a failing, and we certainly don’t wanna waste this failing.”

We’ll see if Alabama stays down. Sure would help the Sooners if the Tide did, because it sure looks like Texas will stay up.

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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