Valero Alamo Bowl Primer: Oregon vs. Texas
By John Baker
Valero Alamo Bowl: Oregon vs. Texas
Most schools wouldn’t think a 10-win season was a major disappointment, but the Ducks enter its battle with Texas as a team wondering what might have been — twice. Still, Oregon offers an entertaining offense, plenty of big-play potential and the realization that, as good as they’ve been, the program doesn’t carry the cache of its opponent.
The Longhorns enter Mack Brown’s twilight as coach with an 8-4 record. With his imminent departure after 16 seasons of great to moderate success in Austin, plenty of question marks exist about the team, the job and the program's background politics. A win over Oregon, which was in the national title hunt most of the season, would be a nice segue into a new regime.
Motivation: Oregon watched its national title, Pac-12 championship and BCS bowl opportunities fall to the wayside not once but twice in 2013. Oregon was bullied in a loss to Stanford, then watched the Cardinal fall two weeks later and had everything to play for the rest of the way before laying an egg in the desert of Arizona. Oregon’s players, coaches and fans feel they left a lot of glory on the field and would like nothing better than to unleash its point-a-minute offense on an unsuspecting and possibly distracted Texas team. The names are the same: Marcus Mariota, De’Anthony Thomas, Bralon Addison, Josh Huff and the crew can score at will. That’s the game plan against Texas.
If You’ve Never Seen Them: Oregon is the poster child for up-tempo, no-huddle offense. The Ducks use their offensive possessions as a weapon against the defense, seeking to tire out the opponent and then let their speed wreak havoc. It’s worked pretty well over the years. Mariota, who struggled down the stretch, is healthy and one of, if not the, best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation. He can throw accurately all over the field or use the read option to keep it and go 70 yards for a score, outrunning most defensive backs in the process.
Weakness: Oregon sometimes can shoot itself out of games with quick three-and-outs, which a good team will turn into scores, preferably on long drives. But the real question mark is Oregon’s defense. Some weeks its ability to run and play in space is remarkable. Other weeks you wonder if tackling is optional in the Oregon camp. The Ducks have been shaken by good running teams that aren’t afraid to play between the tackles. Stanford humbled the Ducks by running the same plays over and over as they simply played more physical than Oregon. Arizona unleashed Ka’Deem Carey on the Ducks and even Oregon State ran roughshod between the tackles in the Civil War game. Can Oregon’s front seven stop the run and turn Texas into a passing team? They’ve done it well most of the season, but not in the games that mattered most.
Motivation: Win one for Brownie? Could be, but there’s a larger issue at stake here: Texas playing the way its talent and pedigree suggests it should. Yes, those who are still faithful to Mack Brown want to send him out with a win over the Ducks, but this is also the first gateway into the new regime, so players and assistant coaches are looking to make an impression. Texas should be playing with an air of desperation in this one, so flying around the field shouldn’t be a question. Texas hopes to silence its critics with one stellar final performance under Brown.
If You’ve Never Seen Them: Much-maligned quarterback Case McCoy and his 56 percent completion percentage and 1-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio will lead an offense that ranks 55th in total yards (423.0) and 52nd in points per game (31.2) nationally. Not bad numbers, but light years behind the Ducks. The Longhorns do want to run the ball; look for Malcolm Brown to be the biggest hammer. Texas has some playmakers, but has been something of a drifting ship offensively, particularly with McCoy struggling to gain a rhythm. If they can run the ball, the outlook gets much better for the Longhorns.
Weakness: Can the ‘Horns defense do anything with Oregon’s offense? Despite having the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in Jackson Jeffcoat (12 sacks, 21 tackles for loss), the Texas defense is suspect. Brown fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz after the loss to BYU and hired Greg Robinson to coordinate, and the Longhorns ran off a six-game win streak. The defense looked like it was rounding into shape. But giving up a combined 68 points to Oklahoma State and Baylor in two of its final three games left nothing but questions. And with Oregon, a team that is every bit as potent as the Cowboys and Bears, waiting in the wings, one has to wonder if Texas can withstand the impending storm.
Las Vegas Hilton Line: Oregon -14.
Related: Scouting The Valero Alamo Bowl