The Texas Longhorns started 2019 in victorious fashion, defeating the Georgia Bulldogs 28-21 in the Sugar Bowl on Tuesday at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
Jake Fromm helped make it a seven-point game with 14 seconds remaining after hitting D'Andre Swift for a five-yard touchdown. Texas recovered the ensuing onside kick before running the remaining time off the clock.
Sam Ehlinger capped off his sophomore season by going 19-of-27 for 169 yards. The Longhorns used their running game to set the tempo. Ehlinger ran for 64 yards and three touchdowns, and Tre Watson was the game's leading rusher (91 yards).
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Ehlinger is the first Texas quarterback with three rushing touchdowns since Vince Young in the 2006 Rose Bowl.
Fromm threw for 212 yards and three touchdowns as the Georgia offense struggled to find a rhythm for much of the game. Elijah Holyfield finished with 62 yards on the ground, but Swift had just 12 yards on eight carries.
Key Personnel Losses Will Make Progress Difficult for Longhorns in 2019
Given the program's history and rabid fanbase, pondering whether Texas is back has become an annual tradition for college football fans.
Ehlinger is only a sophomore, the Longhorns' record has improved over each of Tom Herman's first two years and the team is on pace to have the No. 9 recruiting class in 2019 after finishing third in 2018, per 247Sports' composite team rankings.
After Tuesday, the hype surrounding the Longhorns is likely to hit a fever pitch.
The Big 12 title race looks pretty open as well.
Oklahoma and West Virginia are losing their starting quarterbacks, while the Mountaineers have to replace head coach Dana Holgorsen. The Athletic's Bruce Feldman reported Holgorsen accepted a five-year, $20 million deal from Houston. Iowa State is on the rise, but the Cyclones have never won more than nine games in a season.
Texas has some big questions to answer itself, though.
The Longhorns defense drew a lot of praise for its Sugar Bowl performance.
Adam Rittenberg @ESPNRittenberg
The next Big 12 team to win a national title will have an edge on defense. #Texas is showing one tonight. Not saying Horns will win it in next year or two but they’re making quick progress. This is also why #Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator hire is the most significant in CFB.
That unit relied on a lot of experienced players who aren't returning in 2019. Four of the team's top five tacklers are seniors (Gary Johnson, Anthony Wheeler, P.J. Locke III and Kris Boyd), and sack leader Charles Omenihu is graduating.
Texas could be without a few of its best juniors, too.
Brandon Jones received a grade from the NFL's College Advisory Committee and told reporters he was "pretty pleased with the feedback." In his most recent NFL draft big board, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranked Collin Johnson and Lil'Jordan Humphrey among the top 10 receivers in the 2019 class.
Compounding matters, the Longhorns have LSU second on their 2019 schedule. What's shaping up to be a significantly reshuffled roster will face a big test early into the year.
Texas fans should savor the team's Sugar Bowl win but avoid expecting too much of the Longhorns heading into next season.
Embarrassing Defeat Will Fuel Georgia Playoff Push in 2019
In retrospect, Georgia players should have waited until after the Sugar Bowl until they thought about throwing shade at the College Football Playoff selection committee. Rather than taking their frustrations out on Texas after missing the playoff, the Bulldogs started Tuesday's game like a team that wanted to be anywhere else but New Orleans.
Although the Sugar Bowl was more even in the second half, Georgia had dug itself into too deep a hole for it to make a difference.
This year's Sugar Bowl had the feel of the 2009 edition. Alabama lost one game and finished fourth in the BCS standings to miss out on a national championship berth during the 2008 season. The Crimson Tide proceeded to meet an unbeaten Utah in New Orleans and laid an egg, losing 31-17 to the Utes.
Alabama responded by running the table in 2009 and winning the first of three national titles in a four-year span. In retrospect, getting manhandled by Utah laid the groundwork for the Tide's incredible run of success.
The 2019 Sugar Bowl could have a similar effect for Georgia.
The Bulldogs had a national championship within reach a year ago, but they were essentially playing with house money. Nobody expected them to be that good that early into Kirby Smart's tenure. Georgia was No. 15 in both of the 2017 preseason polls.
In 2018, the Bulldogs had to deal with the weight of expectations. They were third and fourth, respectively, in the preseason polls, with almost all of their key players returning. Anything short of a playoff berth was a disappointment. When that disappointment became a reality, Georgia fell apart.
The Bulldogs lose D'Andre Walker and Deandre Baker, two of their best defensive players, but they'll have the pieces to again hold justified playoff ambitions.
Smart was on the Alabama staff when the Tide were upset by Utah and then turned around to finish unbeaten. He'll know what buttons to push to avoid a repeat of this underwhelming finish.
The Longhorns welcome in Louisiana Tech on Aug. 31 to kick off next season. The Bulldogs open the 2019 campaign on the road against Vanderbilt on Aug. 31.