Oregon Ducks' Strengths and Weaknesses Leading Up to the Alamo Bowl

Brandon Oliver@@BOatBRContributor IDecember 16, 2013

Quarterback Marcus Mariota leads Oregon's offense through the air and forces the defense to account for him on the ground.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota leads Oregon's offense through the air and forces the defense to account for him on the ground.Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

The Valero Alamo Bowl between Oregon and Texas could be affected more by one team's state of mind  than either team's ability to execute the game plan.

While the Longhorns will be trying to prepare for the Ducks, they will also have to deal with the emotion that comes with the resignation of head coach Mack Brown,

If Texas rallies around its long-time head coach and plays to its potential, the Longhorns have the ability to give the Ducks all they can handle.

Mack Brown is on his way out the door after the Alamo Bowl,
Mack Brown is on his way out the door after the Alamo Bowl,Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

If the Longhorns come out flat and play like a team in limbo, the Ducks could run over the Longhorns in Brown's final game as coach.

There are a number of distractions leading up to a bowl game, but having a lame-duck coach tops the list. The future of the Texas program is up in the air, with players not knowing which coaches will remain on staff. 

Some Texas players might be waiting for a new coach to be announced before deciding whether to stick around, transfer or leave for the NFL. 

Oregon's players are more secure. Despite being in his first year as the head coach, Mark Helfrich has been with the Oregon program for five years and isn't going anywhere. 

The Ducks might be disappointed to have their season end in San Antonio, but they have plenty of pride and want to prove that their late-season slide isn't indicative of where the program is headed.

The Ducks could play like they don't care, or they could come make it clear that leaving them out of the BCS was a mistake.

Texas has a much wider range of emotions to deal with, including anger, disappointment, sadness, confusion and uncertainty. The Texas coaches have an entire roster to keep focused while they try to maintain a balance during the emotional roller-coaster on which they find themselves.

If the Longhorns rally around Brown, the Ducks are in for a fight.
If the Longhorns rally around Brown, the Ducks are in for a fight.Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Given the current state of both programs, it would appear that Oregon's biggest advantage is the stability within its program. While it isn't a BCS game they are preparing for, it is business as usual for the Ducks.

Emotion will play a major role in the game, but what about the actual football being played on the field?

What other strengths does this Oregon team have that will help it finish off the season with an 11th win? What weaknesses do the Ducks have that could help the Longhorns send their coach out with a huge win?

Offensive Strengths


In recent years, the Ducks were a team that dominated with an elite rushing attack. The run game was strong again in 2013, but their biggest strength might be the versatility the offense possesses in comparison to recent Oregon teams.

Led by quarterback Marcus Mariota, running backs De'Anthony Thomas, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner, the Ducks still make the run game the priority. The run game hasn't been as efficient as it has in recent years, but the Ducks have four players who can change a game with their work on the ground.

What makes this year's team even more dangerous on offense is that the passing attack is stronger than it has been in years. Wide receivers Josh Huff and Bralon Addison give the Ducks their best receiving combo in years. 

On defense, the Longhorns have been much better against the pass than they have against the run. The Longhorns rank tied for the No. 47 defense against the pass, allowing 221.8 yards per game. By giving up 180.33 yards per game on the ground, the Longhorns rank No. 81 against the run.

Assuming the game goes the way of the numbers, the Ducks should be able to have their way with the Longhorns on the ground. That being said, Mariota and the Oregon receivers should be able to stretch the field with some big plays against the Longhorns secondary.

Quarterback Play

The Longhorns have been in search of the right quarterback since their current starter Case McCoy's older brother, Colt, graduated and moved on to the NFL.

The Ducks are in the opposite position as they have one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the program at the helm.

At the beginning of November, Mariota was the Heisman favorite. After the award was handed out on Saturday, the voting revealed that the former favorite didn't even finish among the top 10 in the Heisman voting.

Marcus Mariota fell off the Heisman radar after a loss to Stanford.
Marcus Mariota fell off the Heisman radar after a loss to Stanford.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

In comparison to the first eight games of the season, he struggled down the stretch. The good thing for the Ducks is that Mariota's production in the last four games would be welcomed at many programs.

Mariota's experience and athletic ability give Oregon a huge advantage over Texas at quarterback. The redshirt sophomore has already made it clear that he will return for another year in Eugene.

With that issue no longer a distraction and his sprained knee feeling stronger each day, Mariota should be in for a big day against a strong Texas defense. The Longhorns held Baylor to 30 points, but a healthy Mariota gives the Longhorns another problem to solve.

Baylor's Bryce Petty can throw it all over the field, but outside of Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch, Mariota is unmatched as a dual-threat quarterback.

If he is at or close to 100 percent, Texas could be in for a long day. Mariota is all about the team and getting the win, but any competitor wants to prove his critics wrong. 

After falling out of the running for the Heisman Trophy, expect Mariota to play better, showing everyone why he was so highly thought of earlier in the year.  

Offensive Weaknesses

Offensive Line

The Ducks are known for having one of the best offenses in the nation, so calling the offensive line a weakness is probably unfair.

Over the past few games, however, the offensive line has been very average. The leader of the unit, center Hroniss Grasu, recently admitted as much when he said the line takes responsibility for some of the late-season struggles.

Center Hroniss Grasu leads the Oregon offensive line, who struggled down the stretch in 2013.
Center Hroniss Grasu leads the Oregon offensive line, who struggled down the stretch in 2013.Steve Dykes/Getty Images

"I think we have to start just going out there and playing and stop thinking so much and just attacking identifying the attack, get to your man and drive him,” Grasu told Comcast Sports' Aaron Fentress.

There is talent all across the line, but the individual talent hasn't played like the type of unit it needs to be to help the Ducks play up to their potential on offense.

Defensive Strengths

Pass Defense

Oregon's secondary is among the best in the country. The numbers might not reflect as much, but considering the amount of pass attempts the Ducks have faced, they have been very good. The Ducks rank No. 11 in pass defense rating, with a rating of 108.73. They rank No. 5 in the nation with an average of 5.7 yards per attempt.

Texas QB Case McCoy leads the Longhorns in the passing game but has been inconsistent throughout his career. The Ducks should be able to force him into some mistakes and force some turnovers with their aggressive defense.


Defensive Weaknesses

Stopping the Run

Under defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, Oregon has always set out to stop the run first. The Ducks have been good at limiting the opposition's run game in most years. 2013 has been a different story.

In their two losses, the Ducks allowed Stanford and Arizona to run it down their throat at an alarming rate. With a strong offensive line and a very good run game, Texas will play to its biggest strength and Oregon's biggest weakness.

This season, the Longhorns averaged 197.58 yards per game on the ground for a total of 2,371 yards. They rushed for 444 yards in their last two games of the season. 

The Ducks rank No. 67 in rush defense, giving up an average of 164.33 yards per game on the ground.

Texas Running back Jonathan Gray is out for the season, but veteran Malcolm Brown has been very good in his absence. Brown is the more physical runner between the two, which bodes well for the Longhorns. Stanford showed everyone what having a powerful offensive line and a tough running back can do to the undersized Oregon defense.

Overall, the Ducks have many more strengths than they do weaknesses, but their level of focus during bowl preparation will be evident early in the game.

Oregon's defensive front was exposed as they were unable to stop the run in losses to Stanford and Arizona.
Oregon's defensive front was exposed as they were unable to stop the run in losses to Stanford and Arizona.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

If the Ducks play physical and disciplined football on offense, defense and special teams, they should be able to win the game.

If they show a lack of focus and come out expecting to win, the Longhorns have the ability to use their talent and ride the wave of emotion to a big win.


Getting Off the Field

The Ducks have had plenty of issues in getting off the field and getting the ball back for the offense. It was never more evident than in the Stanford game, when the Cardinal converted on a startling number of third downs. For the game, the Cardinal went 14-of-21 on third-down attempts.

In fairness, the Ducks faced the third-most third downs in the country as a defense. According to cfbstats.com, the Ducks rank 123rd in the country after facing 213 third downs as a defense. Of those 213 attempts, the Ducks allowed the opponents to move the chains on 40.85 percent of them, good for No. 77 in the country.

The good news is that Texas is tied at No. 57 in the country, converting just 41.38 percent of their third-down attempts on offense.

Oregon's defense couldn't get off the field against Arizona.
Oregon's defense couldn't get off the field against Arizona.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

 In terms of talent these teams are evenly matched, but mental and emotional aspects of the matchup will likely play a bigger role than anything. Both teams dealt with disappointment late in the season and have uncertainty ahead.

Oregon might lose some stars to the NFL, but Texas is losing the face of its program and the Longhorn players don't know what the future holds.

It will boil down to which team has been more focused during the tweeks between the season finale and the bowl game. The team that wants it more will likely walk away with a big win.