Alamo Bowl breakdown: Oregon vs. Texas

Saturday December 28th, 2013

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) was hampered by a knee injury late in the 2013 regular season.
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Oregon (10-2) vs. Texas (8-4)
Dec. 30, 6:45 p.m. ET (ESPN)

BOWL SCHEDULE: Matchups, dates for every 2013-14 pairing

Reason to watch: Mack Brown will coach his final game at Texas, and that should provide plenty of intrigue. While someone in Brown's camp worked recently to offer up some behind-the-scenes detail of Brown's ouster to Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports, don't expect the coach to publicly blowtorch anyone before, during or after the game. Brown is perhaps the best politician to ever coach football, and he will leave all that unpleasantness in the margins. Besides, the notion that some regents strong-armed university president Bill Powers into revoking his support of Brown is about as surprising as a Texan choosing brisket over pulled pork. When those same regents staged a power play and forced out Longhorns athletic director DeLoss Dodds earlier this year, Brown's fate was basically sealed. When he resigned, no one actually believed it was his choice despite a herculean effort by the Texas spin machine to advance that very notion. That was a shame, because Brown inherited a very average program and turned it into one of the sport's most powerful brands. Unfortunately for him, his unlocking of that potential also eliminated the tolerance for mediocrity. Essentially, Brown was devoured by the monster he helped create. This happens to a lot of great coaches. Few get to go out on their terms. But while Brown won't be able to go out as he might have wanted, he can go out a winner. To do that, he'll have to beat a better team by convincing his defense to do the one thing it hasn't demonstrated an ability to do all year.

Keep an eye on: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has had a month to recover from the bum knee that slowed him for final third of the regular season. In the Ducks' first eight games, they averaged 331.5 rushing yards. In the four games after Mariota sprained his knee against UCLA on Oct. 26, they averaged 172 rushing yards. Oregon lost ground production from Mariota and also the yards created by the mere threat that he might run. The read option is far more effective when the defense isn't sure which of the meshed players -- the tailback or the quarterback -- will emerge with the ball. The read option also is the Longhorns' Achilles' heel. BYU's Taysom Hill looked like Tommie Frazier in a 40-21 win over Texas on Sept. 7. Ole Miss and Oklahoma State also used the concept to confound the 'Horns' defense. If Mariota is close to full speed, Texas will see the best version of the read option it has seen all season. If Mariota -- who has pledged to return to campus next fall -- remains primarily a passer because of lingering injury or fear of further injury, the Longhorns will be much better equipped to slow the Ducks' offense.

Did you know? Monday will bring the end of an era at Oregon. Nick Aliotti, whose second stint as the Ducks' defensive coordinator began in 1999, will retire after the Alamo Bowl. Aliotti had planned to retire after last season, but with Chip Kelly leaving for the NFL and Mark Helfrich taking over as coach, Aliotti stayed one more season to help provide continuity. While Aliotti is most famous for the '94 "Gang Green" defense that helped Oregon to a Pac-10 title, his greatest contribution to the game might be the adjustments he made to his defense to complement Kelly's no-huddle attack. Aliotti always loved to blitz, and that high-risk, high-reward style married well to an offense that could turn a fumble recovery or an interception into a backbreaking touchdown in less than a minute. But to keep his players fresh while facing more snaps, Aliotti instituted a substitution pattern reminiscent of a hockey line change. Most defensive coordinators rotated linemen and would occasionally swap a safety for a linebacker. Aliotti rotated pretty much his entire defense. While the traditional numbers didn't look great because Oregon's offense scored so fast and handed the ball back to the other team quickly, the tempo-adjusted figures for Aliotti's defense were quite good. This season, the Ducks allowed the fewest yards per play (4.69) of any team in the Pac-12. Aliotti will leave Oregon after this game, but as offenses continue to get faster every year, more and more defensive coordinators will copy the formula he refined.

Final analysis: The motivation for the Longhorns is obvious: Send Brown out a winner. They should be as fired up as they were for the Oklahoma game on Oct. 12, and they looked fantastic that day. The Ducks' defensive players will be equally motivated to send Aliotti off properly, but what of their offensive players? These were the guys who were too bored by the idea of playing in the Rose Bowl to get up for Arizona. If Mariota is healthy and Oregon's players are engaged, the Ducks should win the game. If the ennui has continued, Texas has enough athletes to make Oregon pay for any lack of interest.

The pick: Oregon 36, Texas 30

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