What does the Texas Longhorns football squad have to do to stop Oregon's high-powered spread offense?
That must have been the one question defensive coordinator Greg Robinson has been pondering this December despite all the hoopla surrounding Mack Brown's coaching career.
This just in: The Oregon Ducks are fast.
De'Anthony Thomas is fast. Marcus Mariota is fast. Oregon's leading rusher, Byron Marshall, is fast. Wide receiver Josh Huff is fast. The comparisons to the offense remind many of the Baylor Bears, the team that beat the Longhorns in the last game of Big 12 play.
And all that kept Texas alive in the Baylor game was the strong defense aided by the cold weather. The Longhorns had a couple opportunities to take control of the momentum in the game, but missed fumble recoveries by the defense and special teams limited the chance. Also, Case McCoy wasn't playing his best game, but that's neither here nor there.
So what does Texas, a team that let BYU rush for a record 550 yards in September, have to do to stop the Oregon offense?
Oregon has been stopped before. In fact, the Ducks have two losses. Breaking news? Oregon lost at No. 5 Stanford, 26-20. And two games later, they only scored 16 points in a 42-16 loss at Arizona.
Maybe getting Oregon out of their home stadium could help as they've lost twice on the road. But that's not likely. Stopping the run and tackling are keys for Texas in stopping Oregon's spread offense.
Contain the run
In the loss to Stanford, Marshall rushed 11 times for 46 yards. Thomas rushed six times for 30 yards. A rush for nine yards was the long for Thomas. Mariota had an eight-yard scamper but recorded negative rushing yards thanks to three sacks.
Sure, Stanford got off to a great lead and controlled the clock, something that will be extremely important for the Texas offense to do. But Oregon still gets four downs on offense.
And Oregon's rush was halted by Arizona in their second loss. Much like the Stanford game, the Wildcats didn't allow the Ducks to get a rushing touchdown. Running back Marshall injured his ankle in the loss, only getting four yards on three carries. And Thomas gained 83 yards with only a 20-yard long on 16 carries. While still decent for Thomas, the Wildcats weren't torched by the Ducks' blazing speed.
And in terms of containment, don't let Mariota run wild. He's a dual-threat quarterback that can come alive at anytime. The Longhorns looked terrible stopping the read-option in their four losses this season. That's key if they want to be anywhere close come halftime of the 2013 Alamo Bowl.
A simple solution to stopping the quarterback on the read-option? Hit the quarterback on every play. When Mariota runs the read, make sure one defensive lineman is going after him. If he hands the ball off, 10 guys should be ready. If he keeps it, one lineman should be right there.
Of course, if it was that easy for the Longhorns to stop the read-option, then they would have less than four losses.
Tackle, Tackle, Tackle
Quarterback Mariota has thrown four interceptions in the last two games. Until that point, he hadn't thrown a single pick. He's been outstanding.
The Ducks get the ball out of Mariota's hand fast. That limits the opportunity for sacks, a strength of the Texas defensive front. When the ball gets into open territory, the Longhorns need to make the tackle.
There will be screens, slants and quick out routes. The Ducks will run the read-option, especially since the Longhorns have a bad track record against it.
Tackle, tackle, tackle.
In both of Oregon's losses, the Ducks' longest plays were under 30 yards. Other than that, they've broken off plays of 40 yards or more against every team. That means tight coverage and watching the ball. The Longhorns need to always keep an eye on Mariota with the ball and must be prepared to make the tackle. See the embedded video below of how the Longhorns should not defend Mariota.
In the Longhorns' four losses, they've allowed an average of 306.5 rushing yards. Quarterbacks have had field days, and Mariota must be licking his lips. It's going to be tough for the Longhorns to stop the Ducks' high-powered offense, but there's still a chance. It's been done before.