Oregon's Nick Aliotti Leads an Impressive Defensive Stand at the Alamo Bowl

Brandon Oliver@@BOatBRContributor IDecember 31, 2013

Longtime Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti coached his final game for Oregon in San Antonio and walked away a winner.
Longtime Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti coached his final game for Oregon in San Antonio and walked away a winner.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

They say you are only as good as your last game. If that is true, Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti is finally due the respect that is usually reserved for the Ducks' high-flying offense.

A week ago, Aliotti wasn't even on the media's radar as they began coverage of Monday's Valero Alamo BowlThe looming departure of Texas head coach Mack Brown was the dominant story in the weeks leading up to the game.

As he has done during the majority of his coaching career at Oregon, Aliotti took a backseat to a more media-friendly narrative. 

With all the hoopla surrounding Brown and the Texas coaching search, Aliotti quietly prepared his oft-overlooked defense. But once the game started, it was the outgoing Oregon coach who had the bigger impact on the field.

On a night when the Oregon offense was mostly out of rhythm, it was Aliotti and the Oregon defense that kept the Ducks' lead at a comfortable margin.

SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 30:  Linebacker Joe Walker #35 of the Oregon Ducks celebrates with defensive lineman Sam Kamp #99 after sacking quarterback Case McCoy #6 of the Texas Longhorns during the Valero Alamo Bowl at the Alamodome on December 30, 2013
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Aliotti announced last week that the matchup with Texas would be his final game before retirement. After a dominant effort from his defense on Monday night, the Ducks made sure their undervalued and sometimes maligned coordinator went out on a high note.

Usually it is Oregon's high-flying offense which keeps Aliotti and his defense out of the spotlight. In front of the second-largest crowd in Alamo Bowl history, the Ducks made sure their defense and its longtime coordinator took a backseat to no one. 

For the first time since a 7-6 loss to Harvard in the 1920 Rose Bowl, Oregon held a bowl opponent to seven or fewer points. Other than a one-yard quarterback sneak from Texas quarterback Case McCoy late in the first quarter and the ensuing point after, the Ducks didn't allow another point.

Against the Ducks, the Longhorns had as many punts as they did points. Texas punter Anthony Fera totaled 295 yards on seven attempts, outgaining his own team's offense by 59 yards.

Other than running back Malcolm Brown, who ran for 130 yards on 26 carries, the banged-up Longhorns were lifeless on offense. The Ducks shut down the weapons that Texas was able to put on the field, and when they didn't, the Longhorns shot themselves in the foot by dropping a handful of passes.

Texas is far from the offensive juggernaut that it was during most of the Mack Brown era, but it is still a talented group. That being said, the Ducks never allowed the Longhorns to utilize that talent and smothered them from the opening kickoff.

Aliotti's aggressive defensive style was on full display against Texas in the Alamo Bowl as the Ducks shut down Texas.
Aliotti's aggressive defensive style was on full display against Texas in the Alamo Bowl as the Ducks shut down Texas.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It started on the game's third play when safety Avery Patterson snared a tipped pass from Texas quarterback Case McCoy and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown. It continued when linebacker Derrick Malone intercepted a McCoy pass and returned it 38 yards for a score with nine minutes remaining in the game.

Unfortunately for Texas, the Oregon defense didn't let up until after it stopped Texas on a fourth down in the red zone with 3:23 remaining in the game. Between the opening kickoff and the fourth-down stop, the Ducks allowed just 236 yards of offense. 

The Ducks weren't able to turn their own 469 yards of offense into touchdowns as the Texas defense was up to the challenge of facing the Ducks and their high-powered offense. It didn't matter. On just two plays, the Oregon defense doubled the scoring output of the entire Texas team.

On the night when the Ducks set a school record for total yards in a season, the defense nearly outscored its much more famous teammates. The Ducks were held to one offensive touchdown and four field-goal attempts in five trips inside the Texas 25-yard line.

Case McCoy and the Longhorns were under pressure all night.
Case McCoy and the Longhorns were under pressure all night.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Aliotti has coached football for 38 years, including 24 with the Ducks. Fans and boosters have had a love-hate relationship with the outspoken coach during his tenure in Eugene. He never flinched when his job was thought to be in jeopardy, and he always stuck to his plan.

In recent years, the Ducks have acquired the type of athletes which have allowed Aliotti's aggressive style to thrive. On Monday night, one of the most talented groups in his 17 years as Oregon's defensive coordinator put on a clinic against one of college football's most storied programs.

Texas played hard and wanted to win the game for its legendary coach, but the Longhorns ran into a better team. Oregon also had a much-loved coach taking part in his last game, and it made sure the swan song for both coaches was controlled by a bunch of Ducks.

Oregon played as well as it ever has on defense under Aliotti against a team the caliber of Texas. Two interceptions, two sacks and two defensive touchdowns all led to a second bowl win against the Longhorns since the 2000 season.

Entering the game, the Ducks were facing many questions regarding their motivation as they prepared for their first non-BCS bowl game since 2008. As the emotional leader of the coaching staff for many years, Aliotti wasn't going to allow the Ducks to come out flat.

LB Derrick Malone was escorted to the end zone by teammates on a 38-yard interception return late in the game.
LB Derrick Malone was escorted to the end zone by teammates on a 38-yard interception return late in the game.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Maybe he had no intention of lighting a fire under his team, or perhaps the savvy veteran had this ace up his sleeve all along. Regardless of when the announcement came or why he decided that it was finally time to retire, Aliotti had one last game to coach.

Simply put, he and his players painted a masterpiece for the Ducks in San Antonio. Going out with a big win on the strength of his defense against a program like Texas is surely something he will recall fondly when looking back on his career.

He always wanted to do it his way and did just that. His style of play-calling was sometimes infuriating for fans and sometimes brilliant. Regardless of how it was classified, Aliotti never allowed an opposing quarterback or offensive coordinator to be comfortable when facing the Ducks.

Aliotti's defense was usually overshadowed by the Oregon offense.
Aliotti's defense was usually overshadowed by the Oregon offense.Steve Dykes/Getty Images

With more than two decades of service as a member of the Ducks' coaching staff and as a part of the Oregon community, Aliotti should be remembered as one of the key pieces in the development of the Ducks-heavy sports culture in Eugene

It wasn't always pretty on the defensive side of the ball, but Aliotti stuck with his vision, and it eventually worked out. Throughout the majority of his tenure with the Ducks, it has been the Oregon offense receiving all of the attention, but the defense has been as much a part of Oregon's monumental rise.

Maybe it was meant to be, or maybe it is a coincidence. Either way, the longtime architect of Oregon's defense saved his best for last, and it came at the Alamo.

With a defensive effort for the ages, the Oregon players showed how much they respect and love Aliotti as a coach and a mentor.

He has always been held in high regard within the program, but after the Alamo Bowl, Aliotti should finally receive the respect from Oregon fans which he has always earned but never truly received. 


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