Instant Analysis: Oregon 30, Texas 7

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
10:05
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SAN ANTONIO -- No. 10 Oregon beats Texas 30-7 in the Valero Alamo Bowl. A few thoughts on the game:

It was over when: Oregon safety Derrick Malone picked off a Case McCoy pass over the middle midway through the fourth quarter, then went 39 yards for the score. The Ducks went up 30-7 on McCoy’s second pick-six of the night.

Game ball goes to: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was masterful both on the ground and through the air, throwing for 253 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 133. A month off to heal a nagging knee injury did him plenty of good.

Stat of the game: McCoy finished with 48 passing yards and no touchdowns. The two passes he completed to Oregon defenders were returned for a total of 75 yards and two touchdowns.

Unsung hero: Oregon safety Avery Patterson, who gave the Ducks a 7-0 lead just 68 seconds into the game when he picked off a McCoy pass and scored on a 37-yard return. The senior added nine tackles in his final game.

Best call: The Ducks’ first score on offense came when Mariota, with Jackson Jeffcoat fast approaching, flipped to Josh Huff on a shovel pass and he found the end zone from 16 yards out. Huff finished with 104 receiving yards and a school-record 1,140 in 2013.

What Oregon learned: If Mariota makes good on his promise to return in 2014, Oregon should once again have a preseason top-10 team and plenty of firepower to make a run at a college football playoff bid.

What Texas learned: Nothing it didn’t already know, really. Its Case McCoy-led offense can pound the rock but couldn’t keep up with elite teams and capitalize on opportunities. The Longhorns couldn’t give Mack Brown a satisfying sendoff. Now it’s time to find his successor.

To watch the trophy presentation of the Valero Alamo Bowl, click here.
video
As expected, Day 2 at the Under Armour All-America practices were smoother, more concise and much more productive. The players are now starting to think less and play more. Natural ability is starting to come to the forefront, which allows for them to be more productive. There have been fewer dropped passes, fewer misses by the QBs and the offensive lines are starting to jell quicker than expected. Perhaps the most impressive thing about this group is there have not been any true letdowns. They have stepped up and been as advertised almost top to bottom for both squads. Let’s hit the highlights of the day:

Top performers

WR Cameron Sims (Monroe, La./Ouachita Parish): Sims might not wow anyone with his 40-yard dash time, but it may not matter. Sims is so similar to Mike Evans at Texas A&M. He just makes plays. He has extremely long arms and is outstanding when in contested matchups. The ball will look like it is uncatchable and then next thing you know he jumps out of nowhere, extends and makes a play and the defender is left scratching his head. When it comes down to it, the QBs for Team Highlight can trust that if they need to throw it up, Sims will make a play. The most basic thing about the position is catching the football and Sims has no problem doing that.


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Pac-12 lunch links

December, 30, 2013
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She could not explain in so many words, but she felt that those who prepare for all the emergencies of life beforehand may equip themselves at the expense of joy.

Valero Alamo Bowl roundtable

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
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Pac-12 reporter Kevin Gemmell and Texas reporter Max Olson break down the biggest storylines in Monday’s Valero Alamo Bowl matchup featuring Texas and No. 10 Oregon:

How do you think Mack Brown's resignation affects this game?

Max Olson: Throughout the past few weeks, Brown has stuck to the same message publicly: Texas players should win this game for themselves, not for their coach. They’ve had a brutal season, overcome plenty and have a chance to cap it with a ninth win and a few good memories. Brown keeps saying he wants this to be about the kids, not him.

What we’ll get out of kids, though, I just don’t know. They’ve been big underdogs before. They came out firing against Oklahoma and built real momentum. They held Baylor to 3 points in the first half but ran out of gas. Which Texas team shows up Monday? They’ll need plenty of motivation and good fortune.

Kevin Gemmell: My first thought was that this was going to be a huge motivation advantage for Texas -- and I’m a big believer that the bowl season is all about which team is motivated to be there. But I think the recent news that Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti is also retiring balances things out in the Oregon locker room. While he’s not as big of a name nationally as Brown, he’s as much an Oregon institution as Brown is to Texas.

Both pregame speeches will be rousing. Heartstrings will be tugged. But ultimately it comes down to what happens on the field. If Oregon is able to set aside its disappointment of not being in a BCS game, then who is coaching on which sideline shouldn't matter because on paper Oregon is the stronger team.

What should be expected of a 100-percent healthy Marcus Mariota?

Gemmell: For starters, an extra element to the Oregon offense that makes them that much tougher to stop. Consider Mariota in the first seven games of the season before his knee injury. He averaged 70.4 rushing yards per game and scored nine touchdowns -- including at least one rushing touchdown in all seven games. Since hurting the knee against UCLA, he’s averaged just 17.8 rushing yards with zero rushing touchdowns.

He also threw four interceptions in the final two games after going pick-free for the first 10, so aside from his rushing abilities -- which are substantial -- his throwing mechanics should be much stronger. I’m of the belief that when he’s 100 percent healthy, Mariota is the best football player in the country. And if Texas gets a 100 percent Mariota, he’s going to be very, very difficult to stop.

Olson: Mariota is one of the many reasons why this is just not a good matchup for Texas, especially considering its defense has had legitimate issues defending the option against mobile quarterbacks. Of quarterbacks who started the last two seasons, nobody in the country has a better Total QBR than Mariota at 89.0. He’s the real deal. I fully expect him to put up big numbers in the Alamodome, and it’ll be interesting to see how Texas defends him, probably with Jackson Jeffcoat reprising his freestyle “spinner” role.

Who will be the key player in this game?

Olson: If you’ve been following this Texas team, you know the key isn’t getting a huge performance from Case McCoy. Yes, he needs to play relatively mistake-free and hit on the big passes when they’re there. But Texas doesn’t stand a chance in this one without a big night from Malcolm Brown.

The San Antonio native had rushed for 421 yards in the four games since Texas lost Johnathan Gray, including 118 in the first half against Baylor. He did a terrific job of hitting cutback lanes against the Bears, and run defense hasn’t been a strength for Oregon. Brown needs to get rolling or Texas could fall behind quickly.

Gemmell: Take your pick from any number of superstars on both sides of the ball for Oregon. Be it Mariota, Josh Huff or Byron Marshall. Defensively, cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is as lockdown as they come. But the guy who always seems to show up in the postseason is De’Anthony Thomas.

Last season against Kansas State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, he returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown, caught four balls for 60 yards and a score and rushed twice for 15 yards. In the 2011 Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio, he carried twice for 155 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Wisconsin. He also caught four balls for 34 yards and returned five kicks for 125 yards. Thomas is a big-game player with blazing speed and scary elusiveness. When he’s hitting on all cylinders, he’s a difference maker.

Top stats to know: Alamo Bowl

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
12:31
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Oregon and Texas will clash in an Alamo Bowl (ESPN, 6:45 pm ET) that represents the end of an era for a significant figure in college football. What are the top stats to know from this game?

1-- This will be Mack Brown’s swan song as head coach of the Longhorns. Since 1950, Texas has had seven different head coaches. In that span, Darrell Royal is the only one to win his final game as head coach.

Brown is just nine victories behind Royal for most in program history. But since 2010, Texas has the fifth-best win percentage (.600) among FBS programs in the state of Texas.

2-- Oregon has scored 73 offensive touchdowns this season, including 48 on drives lasting 2 minutes or less. The Ducks’ 48 touchdowns on such drives is the second most in the FBS behind Baylor (57) and three more than they had all of last season.

The Ducks’ average touchdown drive has lasted 1:50, fourth fastest in FBS.

Oregon has four players with at least 500 yards rushing, each of whom average at least six yards per carry. Oregon is the only FBS team this season with that distinction, and only four other teams even have three such players.

Oregon has 337 touchdowns over the last four seasons. That number may not mean much, until you consider this: that’s 46 more than any other team in that span (Baylor, 291).

3-- Texas is currently on pace to allow the second-most yards per game in program history, surpassed only by last season. A big night by Oregon would push this season to the worst in Texas football history.

Texas has allowed 189 fewer rush yards per game in its wins compared to its losses. The biggest issues have been big plays and rushing quarterbacks. In their four losses, the Longhorns have allowed 44 rushes of 10 yards or more, and opposing quarterbacks have averaged more than 109 rushing yards per game.

4— How do you beat the Ducks? One team that has developed a pattern of knocking off Oregon is Stanford. Since 2009, the Cardinal have three wins over the Ducks – and have followed a similar pattern in each victory: They’ve held the ball for at least 37 minutes, rushed at least 46 times, and rushed for at least 200 yards.

5— Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has a total QBR of 85.7 this season, second in FBS behind Jameis Winston (89.0). He had a total QBR of at least 95 in four games this season, matching Bryce Petty for the most such games in FBS this season.

Mariota has excelled throwing the deep ball, completing 57 percent of his passes thrown at least 15 yards downfield, the highest rate among players from automatic-qualifier conferences with at least 50 such attempts.

Valero Alamo Bowl preview

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
11:00
AM ET
No. 10 Oregon and Texas face off Monday (6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN) in the Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. A few key players and matchups to watch:

Who to watch: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota says he’s 100 percent healthy, and that’s very good news for the Ducks. A knee injury suffered against UCLA in October limited his ability to run in Oregon’s final five games, two of which were losses. Now that he has had time off to recover, expect the Ducks’ high-tempo option attack to be back to full speed. Mariota is coming back for 2014 and has a chance to end his sophomore campaign with a big game against a Texas defense that has proven vulnerable to running quarterbacks.

What to watch: What can Texas do up front to grab control of this game from the Ducks? These Longhorns are capable of big upsets when their offensive line owns the line of scrimmage, and they’re reshuffling to put All-Big 12 left guard Trey Hopkins at right tackle. On defense, defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed must be disruptive, and you could see Jeffcoat play all over the field in a hybrid role. Texas can’t win this game without being the more physical team.

Why to watch: Mack Brown’s last hurrah after 16 seasons as head coach of the Longhorns. Texas has won seven of its past eight bowl games dating back to 2004, and its players want to send Brown off with one final victory, the 245th of his career. When everybody counted them out, Brown’s players rallied and knocked off No. 12 Oklahoma 38-20 in the Red River Rivalry this season. Can the Longhorns pull off another stunner?

Prediction: Oregon 38, Texas 17. Oregon simply has too much firepower for Texas, whose four losses have come by an average margin of 21 points. Retiring Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti gets the celebratory final Gatorade bath.

Predictions: Alamo and Holiday bowls

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
9:00
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Kevin improved to 3-1 for the bowl season by picking Washington over BYU in the Fight Hunger Bowl and is 78-18 on the year. Ted is 0-4 in the bowl season and 74-22 on the year.

Valero Alamo Bowl: Oregon vs. Texas

Kevin Gemmell: Again, this is a question of motivation for me. Does Oregon want to be there? Probably not. But the news that Nick Aliotti will be stepping down after this game, in my mind, balances out the fact that Mack Brown is also leaving. Nationally, it’s not as big of a story. But Aliotti is as much an Oregon institution as Brown is to Texas. Marcus Mariota is healthy and De'Anthony Thomas always does his best work in bowl games. On paper, Oregon is a far superior team, and probably a little ticked off. That could be a scary combination for Texas. Oregon 48, Texas 24.

Ted Miller: So… how are your bowl picks going? I've been trying to catch Gemmell by picking against the Pac-12 and, yeesh, that hasn't gone well. The problem is: If I start picking the Pac-12 teams, will that jinx them? If you don't believe in jinxes, chat up your favorite Oregon State or California fan about what happens to their teams when I pick them to win football games. They think I'm the guy smugly insisting the Titanic is unsinkable. Oh well. As for the Valero Alamo Bowl, I'm given pause by Texas playing inspired football in Mack Brown's last game and the possibility of Oregon being flat as it is playing its first non-BCS bowl game since 2008. But the word in Eugene is QB Marcus Mariota is back to 100 percent. The Ducks are the better team, and if they show up they win decisively. Oregon 40, Texas 24

National University Holiday Bowl

Kevin Gemmell: Not having Marion Grice -- if that is the case -- hurts. But it doesn’t hurt enough to sway my opinion too much. D.J. Foster is more than capable of shouldering the load -- but they do lose a little bit of versatility on offense without both of them on the field at the same time. Still, there is no better back-shoulder connection in the country than Taylor Kelly to Jaelen Strong, and Chris Coyle is a mismatch for most teams. Defensively, ASU’s opportunistic unit -- which notched a league-high 21 interceptions -- should add a couple of more against an uncertain Texas Tech quarterback to be named and a team that throws a lot. Arizona State 42, Texas Tech 24.

Ted Miller: Texas Tech is a little like Oregon State is that its schedule was backloaded. The Red Raiders are bad on defense, ranking 92nd in the nation in run defense and 89th in scoring defense. They throw the ball around a lot -- nearly 400 yards per game -- but aren't terribly efficient, ranking 58th in the nation in passing efficiency. Even without Grice, the Sun Devils should be able to move the ball and put up points. And I'm not sure you can beat the Sun Devils with a one-dimensional offense. Arizona State only loses this one if it plays sloppy, which it hasn't done often this fall. Arizona State 45, Texas Tech 28.

3-point stance: Cheers to Aliotti

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
5:30
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1. College football will be a lot duller Tuesday because Nick Aliotti will have coached his last game as the Oregon defensive coordinator. Aliotti has done a terrific job under Rich Brooks, Mike Bellotti, Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich. Last spring, newly a grandfather, Aliotti sounded like a guy who could live without the game. “Football doesn’t define me. It’s what I do for a living,” Aliotti said. “I just happen to be a football coach. Do you know what I’m saying? I don’t need people to interview me. To be honest with you, I’d be perfectly happy to be on the golf course, just being with my wife and my kids.”

2. The difference between a winning season and a losing season? It will be hard to find one snap more important in any bowl than Syracuse freshman Brisly Estime's 70-yard punt return to the Minnesota 14. Estime’s return with 2:00 to play set up the Orange’s winning touchdown in a thrilling 21-17 victory in the Texas Bowl. The Golden Gophers dominated the fourth quarter to that point, fighting back from a 14-3 deficit to take the lead. The best part? It was only Estime’s fourth punt return this season.

3. Miami had a 6-0 record and a No. 7 ranking when the NCAA announced in October that the Hurricanes’ sanctions would include no more bowl bans. Without that NCAA sword hanging above the Canes, they could realize their ambitions, right? Not with this defense. Miami lost four of its last six games, bookending 27-point losses to Florida State and Louisville around 18-point losses to Virginia Tech and Duke. Al Golden can now recruit without having to worry about what the NCAA will do. He needs to.
SAN ANTONIO -- Aside from a social media message here or there, four-star defensive tackle Trey Lealaimatafao (San Antonio/Warren) has been relatively mum about his recruiting. Lealaimatafao is a Texas commit who has made three outside official visits and has one more remaining.


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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- One thing is for sure for all the 2014 Under Armour All-Americans: This isn’t high school anymore. Day 1 is about gauging the competition. Some guys dive right in and some test the waters with their big toe, but by the end of the first day of practice, all those in attendance have a pretty good idea of where they stand and what they need to do to compete and get better.

Given that it is Day 1, the playbook is introduced (Team Nitro is going no huddle with wrist bands and limited plays), and there can be sloppy moments of indecision and uncertainty. With each rep, most, if not all, prospects began to get a better feel for what is expected. Most importantly, the center-quarterback exchanges were very good for the most part, which is generally the biggest worry. Upon completion of the first practice, here are some observations and things to look for over the week:

Top Performers


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USC's Pendergast factor

December, 28, 2013
12/28/13
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A couple of you have asked about the difference Clancy Pendergast made for USC's defense this fall, which is a pretty easy to quantify.

And it seems some of you asked specifically because Oregon is now looking for a defensive coordinator after Nick Aliotti announced his retirement Friday after the Valero Alamo Bowl on Dec. 30.

We sometimes do take requests at the Pac-12 blog.

With seven starters back from the 2012 unit, the improvement was dramatic and across the board, despite the Trojans switching schemes from Monte Kiffin's 4-3 Tampa 2 to Pendergast's 3-4 -- or 5-2, as he calls it.

Here are the numbers:
2012 Pac-12, 2013 Pac-12

Scoring defense 5th (24.3 ppg), 2nd (21.3ppg)

Total defense 7th (394.0 ypg), 1st (341.2 ypg)

Rushing defense 8th (167.0 ypg), 2nd (126.7 ypg)

Passing defense 4th (227.0 ypg), 1st (214.5 ypg)

Pass Eff. Def. 6th (123.9), 3rd (114.0)

Opponent 1sts, 9th (22.6), 2nd (18.5)

Oppoent 3rd percentage 8th (38.0), 2nd (36.8)

Red zone def percentage 6th (81.1), 1st (63.4)

Further, the Trojans ranked in the nation's top 32 in every above number. In 2012, they didn't rank that highly in any of the above numbers. In fact, their highest national ranking was 40th in scoring defense.

And those 2013 numbers, by the way, including the absolute white flag performance at Arizona State, a 62-41 defeat, had a lot more to do with effort than scheme, which is why Lane Kiffin was fired the same night.

Pendergast has received plenty of praise for the job he did this year at USC. This makes clear it was justifiable.

Just saying, Ducks.

ESPN 300 ATH Smith down to six 

December, 28, 2013
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ORLANDO -- One of the top prospects playing in the 2014 Under Armour All-America Game is athlete John Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly).

With his recruitment still in the balance, the No. 38-ranked prospect in the ESPN 300 has one official visit remaining, and continues to look at six schools.


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Tucker narrows list to two 

December, 28, 2013
12/28/13
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ORLANDO -- Offensive lineman Casey Tucker (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton) has narrowed down his list of top schools to Arizona State and Stanford. Tucker announced his top two on Friday after arriving at the Under Armour All-America game hotel.

Tucker, No. 46 in the ESPN 300, had been committed to USC at one point, but is now comfortable moving away from the Trojans. Despite listing a top two, Tucker says there are a few backup options just in case.


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Colt Lyerla pleads guilty

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
9:56
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Former Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla plead guilty to cocaine possession Friday, a move that will allow him to train for the NFL scouting combine.

Lyerla was sentenced to 10 days in jail with another 10 days suspended, the Eugene Register-Guard reported. He was also put on probation to the court and told to enroll in a drug treatment program.

Earlier this month, a judge denied Lyerla's request to train in Las Vegas for the combine while awaiting trial. With his plea, he will be able to get himself ready after serving his sentence.

Lyerla has until Jan. 3 to report to the jail, the Register-Guard reported.

Before he was sentenced, Lyerla said he was ashamed.

"No matter what the outcome, I'm going to use this experience to become a better person," he told the judge, according to the newspaper.


(Read full post)


A few years ago, my wires got crossed even more than normal and I somehow ended up believing a homestanding but underdog Washington team just might beat Oregon. So I picked the Huskies to upset their hated rivals. It was a bad pick, and an Oregon person let me know about it -- profanely and vociferously -- immediately after the Ducks' blowout win.

It was Ducks defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti.

At the moment, I was shocked and, yes, a bit hurt. I thought I had a great relationship with Aliotti and I had no idea he'd even be aware of, much less give two flips about, my weekly Pac-12 picks.

Oh, but he did. And that's an important part of Nick Aliotti you need to know. Behind the avuncular public face, he's a fiery competitor who is motivated by folks doubting him and his players.

[+] EnlargeNick Aliotti
Steve Conner/Icon SMINick Aliotti spent 24 years on the Oregon coaching staff, including 17 as defensive coordinator.
We've chatted -- professionally and casually -- perhaps 20 times since then, and more than a few times he brought up that moment and apologized for it again and again, and then went on to great lengths to flatter the Pac-12 blog and make it blush.

"You've always been great to me," he'd say. "And I appreciate what you do."

That's an important part of Aliotti you need to know. He's a genuinely good fellow. Gracious. Funny. Self-effacing. And I don't know if I know anyone, particularly among members of the Fourth Estate, who'd say differently.

He also is a heck of a defensive coach, which is why more than a few folks are probably surprised that he has chosen to hang it up at just age 59, announcing his retirement Friday effective after the Ducks' date with Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Dec. 30.

He has been a fixture at Oregon under four coaches -- 24 years total, 17 as defensive coordinator. He had a brief run in the NFL when Rich Brooks was with the St. Louis Rams, and he spent a year at UCLA getting scapegoated by Bob Toledo, which was such bad form from Toledo that his career swirled into the muck shortly thereafter, his having irrevocably broken his positive karmic balance.

While the Ducks have been known more for their offense during their rise to the nation's elite, Aliotti consistently put together defenses that ranked highly in the Pac-12 and nation, particularly when you went beyond obvious statistics -- such as yards per game -- and used more advanced metrics that accounted for the Ducks offense having no interest in time of possession.

Aliotti will be missed, as a coach and a personality.

"Nick's contributions to the football program at the University of Oregon cannot be overstated," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said in a statement. "His dedication to the success of this program will certainly leave a lasting impression that is hard to measure. I want to thank him for his loyalty and efforts to help make Oregon football what it is today, and wish him and his wife, Kathy, a long and happy retirement."

The first question, of course, even before we ponder the future of the Ducks defense, is whether Aliotti will stay retired. That competitive fire might enjoy a break, but after he watches the 2014 season, you'd have to wonder if his coaching jones might return. Heck, a smaller program might even want to shake his tree a bit and see if he'd be interested in one thing he's missed out on in his career: A head coaching job.

I'd rate Aliotti's potential return a definite maybe. He certainly won't be off the coaching radar when a year from now someone needs a coordinator.

[+] EnlargeClancy Pendergast
Joe Andras/WeAreSC.comClancy Pendergast transformed USC's defense in one season with a system similar to Oregon's 3-4.
As for what's next for Oregon, two names were all over the Twitterverse this afternoon: Justin Wilcox, a former Oregon player, and Clancy Pendergast, who transformed USC's defense this fall.

Wilcox, as reported by CBS's Bruce Feldman, is shortly expected to follow Steve Sarkisian from Washington to USC. He also is one of the nation's highest paid assistant coaches, making more than double the $370,000 Aliotti made this fall. Aliotti, by the way, is the Ducks' highest paid assistant coach.

As for Pendergast, he'd be a great hire, wouldn't cost $800,000 a year and he's available because of Wilcox's expected arrival in Los Angeles. He knows the Pac-12, having coached the past four years at California and USC, and that can't be discounted when you consider the diversity of offenses in the conference.

ESPN's Adam Schefter has reported Pendergast might be eyeballing an NFL job, but one suspects he is looking only for the best situation -- and perhaps some stability. Considering Oregon ran a hybrid 3-4 under Aliotti, and Pendergast ran the same sort of thing at Cal and USC, calling it a 5-2, the transition would be smooth.

If Helfrich and Pendergast haven't already chatted, that's a call the Ducks first-year coach should seriously consider making. Nothing like hiring a guy who's almost a sure-thing.

Of course, neither of those guys would hold court during a postgame media briefing like Aliotti. His winding, often lengthy, stream of consciousness answers that often ended up having little to do with the original question made postgame stories on the Ducks defense far more colorful.

And reporters were talking to him because his defense, though typically overshadowed by the Ducks prolific offense, was more often than not among the best coached units in the Pac-12.

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