The big 2013 Alamo Bowl breakdown: Mismatches and motivation fuel Ducks-Horns

Jonathan Ferrey

On paper, the Alamo Bowl (Dec. 30, 6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN) features one of the biggest mismatches of the bowl season. But while Oregon was evidently fighting motivation issues late in the year, that won't be a problem for Texas; the Longhorns will be in "Win it for Coach!" mode. Can they?

Beware, Oregon.

On paper, it's difficult to figure out exactly how Texas is supposed to beat Oregon in the Alamo Bowl. The Ducks' offense is much better than the Longhorns' defense, and the Oregon defense, though off the pace of previous Duck Ds, is still better than the offense Texas will put on the field in San Antonio. Oregon is a top-10 team, and Texas is barely a top-40 team.

But despite what appears to be a pretty solid mismatch overall, those in confidence pools had to have pretty mixed reactions to the news that Mack Brown would be serving as Texas' head coach for the last time in the Alamodome. Brown's resignation put a check in the Longhorns' "Motivation" column, and every year there are a few bowls decided simply by who wants to be there.

Playing a motivated team in front of what will basically be a Texas home crowd, will Oregon show up? Will Nick Aliotti's announced retirement give the Ducks a boost they didn't have at times in 2013? The Ducks already potentially faced a motivation issue in November after losing to Stanford; if they are a step slow and Texas is a step fast, Oregon's advantages all disappear.

How they got here

UO's season to date

Miss you, Mike and Kiko. While the loss of end (and high Draft choice) Dion Jordan didn't impact the Oregon pass rush much, the Ducks' defense regressed considerably against the run in 2013, perhaps reeling a bit from the loss of linebackers Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso and their 24 tackles for loss, mostly against the run.

While the focus was on Oregon's offense and the impact of a nagging, late injury to quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Oregon offense was still a top-10 unit for the season as a whole. Aliotti's final Duck defense, meanwhile, fell out of the Def. F/+ top 25.

This didn't matter for much of the year. Oregon reached November undefeated and remained No. 2 in the polls. The Ducks scored at least 42 points in each of their first eight games, at least 55 in six. But when the offense struggled to convert scoring opportunities against Stanford, the defense failed at getting the Cardinal and their running game off of the field in a 26-20 loss. And again, third downs were their enemy in a jarring, 42-16 destruction at the hands of Arizona.

Oregon still finished 10-2 and is still in the top 10 of both the BCS and F/+ rankings. But when you almost never lose, your season is defined by losses. Oregon had plenty of deficiencies in both of them, and thanks to Oklahoma claiming a Sugar Bowl bid, the Ducks fell all the way to the Alamo Bowl.

UT's season to date

Strangely enough, Texas' hopes for an automatic BCS bid lasted longer than Oregon's. Texas returned a ridiculously high number of starters from last year's slightly improved squad, but injuries and impatience hurt the 'Horns early.

The Longhorns' defense got destroyed for 84 points and 1,128 yards by BYU and Ole Miss in the second and third weeks of the season, and the Mack-resignation watch began immediately (as if it hadn't at the end of last season). Brown fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz after the BYU disaster -- whether it made sense to do so or not, firing Diaz after one bad game was reactive and proof that, if he was going to give Diaz that small a leash, he should have just let him go last year -- and it took interim DC Greg Robinson a little while to figure things out.

But Texas did indeed begin to put some pieces together. 1-2 when conference play began, the 'Horns won six straight games to not only get Brown temporarily bumped down on the hot seat list, but also keep them involved in the conference title race.

Despite a blowout home loss to Oklahoma State, they still had a shot at the conference title on December 7 thanks to Oklahoma's upset of OSU. But Baylor handled Texas rather easily, 30-10, and took the title. And after weeks/months of rumors, Brown indeed resigned in mid-December.

Data dump

Team Record BCS F/+ Rk Line Off F/+ Rk Def F/+ Rk ST F/+ Rk
Oregon 10-2 10 8 -14 6 26 24
Texas 8-4 NR 39 46 43 30
Std. Downs S&P+ Pass. Downs S&P+ Rushing S&P+ Passing S&P+ First Down Rate Explosive Drives Methodical Drives
UO Offense 6 5 2 7 7 8 99
UT Defense 61 27 62 36 30 63 17
Adj. Line Yards Opportunity Rate Power Success Rate Stuff Rate Adj. Sack Rate Std. Downs Sack Rate Pass. Downs Sack Rate
UO Offense 4 5 91 14 60 65 53
UT Defense 61 50 63 47 8 48 5
Std. Downs S&P+ Pass. Downs S&P+ Rushing S&P+ Passing S&P+ First Down Rate Explosive Drives Methodical Drives
UT Offense 50 56 66 40 56 79 85
UO Defense 43 46 57 56 43 6 21
Adj. Line Yards Opportunity Rate Power Success Rate Stuff Rate Adj. Sack Rate Std. Downs Sack Rate Pass. Downs Sack Rate
UT Offense 28 94 102 22 35 18 28
UO Defense 79 18 116 125 41 28 85
Field Position Adv. FG Efficiency Punt Efficiency Kickoff Efficiency Punt Return Efficiency Kick Return Efficiency
UO Special Teams 14 99 102 74 3 9
UT Special Teams 46 12 45 96 24 70

UO's biggest advantages:

Oregon's offense isn't identical to BYU's, but... Perhaps the strongest complaint about Manny Diaz's tinkering near the end of his Texas tenure was that he got a little more complex than he needed to. This was never more evident than against BYU, when his Longhorn defense was overthinking and attempting a lot of different things while struggling to master even the most basic option principles.

Robinson publicly focused on simplification, and Texas' defensive output in Big 12 play certainly suggests that got the 'Horns somewhere. Texas allowed 465.4 yards per game through five contests but improved to just 331.7 per game in the next six. But it's difficult to watch highlights of Taysom Hill carving up the 'Horns and not picture Marcus Mariota doing the same once or twice.

Texas' defense found a lot of success once it had leveraged opponents into passing downs. Ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed combined for 21 sacks and 39 tackles for loss in 2013, absurd totals. But Oregon's read system will both take Jeffcoat and Reed out of their comfort zones and, with success, keep Oregon out of passing downs altogether. Texas will have to prove it has righted some of early-September's wrongs against an offense that, when healthy, is a lot better at the things BYU tries to do.

Oh, and Mariota has gotten some rest for his ailing knee. (He was still pretty good with one knee.)

Oregon doesn't give up many big plays, and Texas doesn't do methodical very well. Well, the 'Horns don't do anything very well, actually. They're not terrible at anything either, but to put it kindly, consistency has been an issue here.

Since taking over for the injured David Ash, quarterback Case McCoy has been all over the map -- 13-for-21 for 190 yards, two scores, and a pick against Oklahoma; 12-for-34 for 54 yards, a touchdown, and two picks against Baylor -- and the offense as a whole has followed suit. No. 1 target Mike Davis is not all enough to be a solid all-or-nothing target (54 percent catch rate with 14.6 yards per catch), Jaxon Shipley's catches don't tend to go anywhere (70 percent catch rate, 10.6 yards per catch), Kendal Sanders is neither efficient nor explosive, and while Marcus Johnson is kind of exciting, he's only targeted about three times per game.

The inconsistency rubs off on the running game. Recruiting rankings suggest that the outright floor for this rush attack should be about 40th in Rushing S&P+; the 'Horns are 66th. Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron aren't in any way explosive, and McCoy offers no threat with his legs like brother Colt did. The offensive line is keeping defenders out of the backfield, but it's not opening up huge running lanes. Meanwhile, Oregon's defense isn't nearly as disruptive as it was in recent years, but it should be able to prevent Brown's and Bergeron's open-field opportunities.

UT's biggest advantages:

Texas backs will get a running start. The odds of Brown and Bergeron averaging more than about five yards per carry are low, but if they can keep Texas moving forward and avoid disastrous steps backwards, they can move the chains, keep Oregon's offense off of the field, and take steps toward winning the field position battle.

You can certainly grind away at Oregon, four yards at a time. Just ask Tyler Gaffney and Stanford. If these bigger backs don't have to make moves in the backfield and are allowed to generate some momentum, they'll do at least a little bit of damage.

Mr. Mariota, meet Mr. Jeffcoat and Mr. Reed. My Kansas State friends are annoyed by how much I bring this game up, but 15 years ago in the Alamo Bowl, Purdue beat KSU, and the general narrative was that KSU didn't want to be there. Maybe they didn't, but the real problem in that game was that the Wildcats had no answer for Purdue ends Roosevelt Colvin and Chike Okeafor. It was basically Purdue's only matchup advantage -- even quarterback Drew Brees struggled for the most part until the game-winning drive -- but Colvin and Okeafor were in the backfield on every single play, forcing changes of direction in the run game and hurrying quarterback Michael Bishop on seemingly every pass.

You probably get where I'm going with this. Jeffcoat and Reed are probably the best pair of ends Oregon has seen this year. And while a system of sturdy read options can neutralize unblockable defenders, there are two of them. This could be an incredibly disruptive pair, and it could define a good portion of the game, especially if Texas' offensive line is also performing well (a potentially faulty assumption). What we perceive as motivation issues is sometimes just one line playing better than the other.

Overreactions for 2014

We tend to overreact to particularly positive or negative bowl results when it comes to projecting forward for the next season. How might we overreact to this game?

For Texas, the Alamo Bowl is a valedictory. Despite all the returning starters, this is still a pretty young team, projected to start only eight seniors in San Antonio. Granted, Jeffcoat is among those seniors, and quality juniors like Cedric Reed and corner Quandre Diggs could end up in the pros. Still, Texas' new coach will inherit a pretty seasoned, experienced team.

But until we find out who that coach is, and until we figure out what he intends to do, there are no expectations for Texas in 2014, and this game won't change that.

From a 2014 standpoint, this game means a lot more to Oregon. Marcus Mariota has declared that he will return to Eugene next fall, and while a junior or two could declare for the Draft, Oregon's bowl depth chart contains only six seniors. The Ducks will once again be a top-10 team next year, perhaps higher, but if they overcome emotion and whatever else to dominate the Alamo Bowl, they could once again be given top-three or so support.

Another frustrating loss, however, would further the unfair sentiment that Mark Helfrich isn't Chip Kelly and that he might not be right for the job. (Why unfair? Let's just say that you could find people saying the same thing about Chip Kelly when Oregon was going 10-3 in his first year, too.)

Summary

F/+ Projection: Oregon 41, Texas 25
Win Probability: Oregon 83%

Statistically, this is a mismatch. Tactically, it's difficult to get past the idea of Texas facing an option-and-pace team much better at option and pace than BYU. Plus, it's difficult to move beyond Case McCoy's last impression, a stinker against Baylor. If this game weren't in Texas' backyard, and if this weren't a grade-A "Win it for Coach!" situation, this would be an easy prediction.

But it is in Texas' backyard, and it is a grade-A "Win it for Coach!" situation. Texas should be up for this game, and I would assume the Longhorns will play well. And they do have one hell of a pair of defensive ends and plenty of team defensive speed.

It's not difficult to envision a scenario in which Texas' advantage allow them to generate an early lead. It's up to Oregon to assure that the lead neither grows nor lingers. Can the Ducks do that?

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