Texas coach Mack Brown doesn't view Monday night's Alamo Bowl against Oregon as a goodbye party, but that will undoubtedly be the overriding theme.
Now that longtime Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti has announced his retirement following the game, both teams will want to send their coach out a winner.
“We love Coach Brown," said 'Horns safety Adrian Phillips to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "We are just going to fight with Coach Brown every straw against Oregon and come out right."
The Ducks are still a heavy favorite to beat the Longhorns. VegasInsider.com has Oregon as a 14.5-point favorite. If Texas wants to make Brown's last game memorable for all the right reasons, here are three things it must do:
Contain a Finally Healthy Marcus Mariota
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota was visibly limited in the second half of the season with a left knee injury. He should be ready to go against Texas, which means the Longhorns have to be prepared to defend both the pass and the run against him.
There's no magic number Texas can hold Mariota under to slow down the Ducks offense; Oregon has won when Mariota is a non-factor running the ball and when he's thrown multiple interceptions. Rather, the key will be getting Oregon off the field on third and fourth downs and forcing multiple turnovers. Those were two common themes in the Ducks' losses to Stanford and Arizona.
That sounds simple, but it's really not. Oregon ranks among the top teams in the country in fourth-down attempts (31), converting just under 50 percent. Texas' defense, meanwhile, has only lined up on fourth down 13 times this season.
To contain Mariota and get Oregon off the field, defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat will have to live up to his Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year billing. The Longhorns are fifth in the nation in sacks and tied for 22nd in tackles for loss. It's going to be hard to contain all of Oregon's weapons, but if Texas can contain Mariota, it's taking away nearly 60 percent of the Ducks offense.
Malcolm Brown Must Have the Game of his Career
Texas' offense is at its best when the running game takes pressure off quarterback Case McCoy. Yet the 'Horns will be thin at running back.
Johnathan Gray has been out for the year with a torn Achilles tendon, which he sustained in a 47-40 win over West Virginia in November. Also, Daje Johnson and Jalen Overstreet are academically ineligible.
That leaves Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron to carry the load. Brown has come on strong since the Oklahoma game, accounting for 711 of his 774 yards in his last seven games. Bergeron is a good short-yardage back, but he's had fumbling issues. That means Brown should see a bulk of the carries against the Ducks.
Brown has battled health issues for most of his career, but he's shown over the past couple of months why he was such a heralded recruit coming out of Cibolo Steele high school—just outside San Antonio, of all places.
In two losses to a pair of excellent rushing offenses, the Ducks have given up a combined 578 yards. Texas should look to exploit that again with Brown.
“The 3‑4 [defense], we feel like we can do a great job of running the ball right at them,” Brown said of Oregon to the Dallas Morning News.
Make Oregon Inefficient on Offense
When you can score as quickly as Oregon can, time of possession and playing from behind matter little. In fact, the Ducks have only led in TOP twice this season: against Colorado and Washington.
But when combined with offensive inefficiency, suddenly TOP matters more. In two losses, the Ducks have run 176 plays—still roughly on par for their season average—while averaging just 18 points, a full 28 below their season average.
Stanford flat-out stuffed Oregon in its 26-20 win, holding the Ducks to just over three yards per play. Arizona gave up double the yards per play but forced Oregon off the field on third down and allowed just one fourth-down conversion on three attempts.
If Texas can play keep-away—hence the importance of the running game—while knocking Oregon off balance, it will have a realistic chance of winning. The Ducks will still run plenty of plays, but the less they can get out of each play, the better it is for the Longhorns.
That's going to require not only great push up front by the Texas D-line, but the secondary will have to lock down receivers and make throwing the ball a nightmare for Mariota.
“If you control the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball, you can beat these guys,” Stanford coach David Shaw said of Oregon, via the Dallas Morning News.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All stats courtesy of the NCAA. You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenKercheval.
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