Texas Longhorns: Marcus Mariota

Instant Analysis: Oregon 30, Texas 7

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
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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.

Three keys for Texas in Alamo Bowl

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
4:00
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The Mack Brown era at Texas comes to a close Monday night during the Valero Alamo Bowl (5:45 p.m. CT, ESPN). Pac-12 power Oregon provides a stern test for the Longhorns as UT tries to send Brown out with a win.

Here are three keys for Texas:

Success on the ground. In Oregon’s two losses, to Arizona and Stanford, the Ducks allowed 289 rushing yards per game. In the Ducks' 10 wins, they allowed 139.4 rushing yards per contest. The Longhorns have a talented backfield with Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, so Texas could try to take the Ducks’ explosive offense out of the game by ramming the ball down the throat of their West Coast opponent, much like Stanford did. UT’s chances of success can’t rest solely on the shoulders of Case McCoy.

Slow the Ducks' tempo. Few offenses can operate as quickly and efficiently as the Ducks. Oregon finished among the top five nationally in points per game, yards per game and yards per play. Texas must figure out a way to slow their offense. The best way would be getting consistent pressure on Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota, so Big 12 co-defensive player of the year Jackson Jeffcoat will need to show why he earned that honor.

Big plays. UT’s destiny in this game depends on big plays, both creating them and preventing them. Texas must limit an Oregon offense which had 27.7 percent of its plays go for 10 yards or more, second in the FBS. Ducks running back De'Anthony Thomas is a big-play machine and the rest of the attack is full of speed and athletes. Fortunately for UT, the Longhorns match better than most teams with their athletes on both sides of the ball. Only 16.9 of UT's plays went for 10 yards or more so if the Longhorns find a way to have more explosive plays than Oregon their chances of winning will skyrocket.

Valero Alamo Bowl roundtable

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
1:30
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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.

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.

Stats that matter: Valero Alamo Bowl

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
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Each week, we team up with the ESPN Stats & Info crew to dig into the numbers that matter most and find three statistics that could make a big difference. Here are the numbers to remember going into Texas’ season finale against No. 10 Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Jan. 30 (5:45 p.m. CT, ESPN).

1. 75.4

There’s no better way to prepare for Oregon than playing Texas Tech and Baylor, right?

Texas Tech (88.4) and Baylor (82.4) actually ran more plays per game this season than Oregon, whose average of 75.4 is about on par with what the Ducks did during Chip Kelly’s tenure.

They’d prefer to run more, of course, but when you’re No. 2 in the nation in yards per play at 7.6, you tend to move down the field too quickly to need 80 or more. Still, the Ducks’ famed tempo makes it difficult for defensive substitutions and its wide assortment of option looks should challenge Texas greatly.

The Longhorns can take comfort in knowing they held Baylor’s No. 1 scoring offense to 30 points and just 3 in the first half. Oregon, by the way, is outscoring foes by a margin of plus-147 points in the first half this season. If the Ducks get this high-speed offense rolling from the start and avoid turnovers, they can be awfully hard to stop.

2. 62-10

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has been masterful in his first two seasons as the Ducks’ starter. His Total QBR since the start of the 2012 season is 89.0, second-best in FBS behind only Jameis Winston (who didn’t play last season), and his career TD-to-INT ratio is a whopping 62-10.

Of course, what makes him especially dangerous against Texas is his rushing ability. Mariota has averaged more than 53 rushing yards per game in his career and has gained 10-plus yards on 53 of his runs. A knee injury slowed him to 71 total rushing yards in Oregon’s final four games, but he’s expected to be 100 percent healthy for the Alamo Bowl.

Two things worth noting there: Mariota has fumbled on nearly 10 percent of his rushing attempts in his career, and Texas’ defense is currently in the top 12 nationally in sacks with 37 on the year. With how Oregon runs the zone read, Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed have to play smart while also applying plenty of pressure.

[+] EnlargeMalcolm Brown
AP Photo/LM OteroTexas tailback Malcolm Brown, who has rushed for 774 yards this season, will see the bulk of the carries vs. Oregon.
3. 675

Texas can’t win this game without an overpowering rushing attack and an ability to down the Ducks at the point of attack. A few running backs have had serious success against Oregon in 2013.

Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey rushed for 206 yards and four touchdowns in a blowout win over Oregon. Washington back Bishop Sankey, a fellow Doak Walker Award finalist, ran for 167 and UW trailed by just one score entering the fourth in a 45-24 loss.

In Oregon’s other loss, Stanford’s Tyler Gaffney pounded out 157 yards on 45 attempts. And Oregon State running back Terron Ward gained 145 in a one-point loss in the Civil War Game.

Add it all up and that’s 675 yards by four backs. Malcolm Brown punished Baylor early, to the tune of 118 first-half yards, but Texas doesn’t have any other backs besides Brown and Joe Bergeron available for this one. If they can’t get going against a fairly porous Duck run D, that’s just more pressure on Case McCoy.

Three more to remember

244: Career wins for Mack Brown. With one more, he’ll move into the top 25 all-time among all college football coaches.

71: The number of missed tackles Texas’ defense accounted for in the regular season. The Longhorns missed 112 last season.

Seven: Texas has won seven bowl games since the 2004 season, tied for most in FBS in that span.

Texas gets scariest matchup yet: Oregon

December, 9, 2013
12/09/13
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AUSTIN, Texas -- The great unknown of Texas’ future remains unsolved two days after Texas’ loss to Baylor. But the imminent future was at least settled Sunday: Texas is returning to the Valero Alamo Bowl, this time to take on No. 10 Oregon.

And that proposition looks about as scary as anything Mack Brown and his loyalists might see in the next few weeks.

We don’t know what’s next for Brown. He traveled to New York on Sunday with UT president Bill Powers and athletic director Steve Patterson for the College Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. He’s supposed to hit the road this week for in-home visits with recruits.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesTexas has troubles defending the option. Marcus Mariota and Oregon run it perhaps better than anybody.
Whatever is in the works in the meantime remains unknown. Texas’ grand plan is far from clear. But this much is certain: When the dust settles, the Longhorns have plenty of work to do and 15 practices to do so. At some point, preparations to face Oregon will begin.

The response from fans and pundits on Sunday night was relatively consistent: Texas (8-4) is going to get smoked by Oregon (10-2). It won’t be pretty.

Oddsmakers have made the Ducks a two-touchdown favorite, which is familiar territory for the Longhorns by now. This team liked playing the underdog role in 2013, so perhaps there’s no better way to end the year than with Texas’ most difficult matchup yet.

Oregon has a two-time All-Pac-12 quarterback in Marcus Mariota. He ranked No. 2 in the nation in QBR this season behind Florida State's Jameis Winston. If not for an MCL sprain that limited his game late in the season, Mariota would likely be New York-bound as well this week. The way this Heisman field fell apart, he still might.

The Ducks' famously fast tempo won’t be what causes this Texas defense trouble. The Longhorns have seen faster this season, and Oregon’s plays-per-game-average of 75 is down from a year ago.

The problem will be the option. Among spread offenses, nobody does that better in college football than the Ducks. It’s a big reason they’re 56-9 since 2009, the year former coach Chip Kelly took over.

Mariota rushed for 695 yards excluding sacks this season, his second as the starter. He says the knee injury that prevented him from running effectively should be 100 percent healed by the Dec. 30 bowl game.

And he’s surrounded by options: Three running backs surpassed 500 yards this season, led by second-year back Byron Marshall’s 995 yards. He has an ankle injury, but also plenty of time to recover.

And don’t forget De’Anthony Thomas, as explosive a player as there is in college football. He’s healthy again after missing four games with an ankle injury. Miss him once in space and he’ll hit the home run. And when you sell out to stop the run, Josh Huff (1,036 receiving yards, 11 TDs) can sneak behind the defense and make you pay.

“These guys are like Baylor," Brown said. "They can score fast and they do a tremendous job."

Read option, speed option, triple option, veer, packaged plays – the Ducks do it all. No other bowl team has more 20-yard runs this season than Oregon.

And few bowl teams struggled more to stop the option and the quarterback run than Texas. For all the progress Greg Robinson and the defensive staff made in the past 10 games, this remains the team's Achilles’ heel.

The Longhorns gave up the ninth-most rushing yards to quarterbacks in the bowl subdivision. As Brown joked midway through the season: If Texas’ opponents don’t run the option, they’ll put it in the playbook.

It was just too easy, even against a defense with a pair of All-Big 12-caliber ends. Injuries have rendered this unit thin at linebacker and defensive tackle. Robinson, his coaches and his defenders will need these 15 bowl practices to find answers.

Oregon’s defense is far from flawless, but it did hold foes to 19 points per game in its wins. It’s a top-three scoring defense in the Pac-12 and No. 4 in total defense. At the moment, though, the attention of Texas’ offense will be on fixing itself.

Case McCoy is coming off the worst start of his career. The Longhorns gained 59 yards in the second half Saturday at Baylor. Their only touchdown drive began at Baylor’s 11-yard line, and they still needed seven plays to score.

They’ll need every practice and film session afforded to them this month. Stanford beat Oregon with pure power. Arizona blew out the Ducks with an elite running back. What’s it going to take for Texas to pull this one off?

The Longhorns have their own problems to solve first, and plenty of preparation ahead. If you think the next three weeks will be rough and messy off the field, it can get a lot worse if Texas doesn’t stay focused on its toughest test yet.

3-point stance: Oregon’s road test

October, 10, 2013
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1. Oregon plays its first ranked opponent this season when it goes to play its biggest out-of-state rival, No. 16 Washington. Duck quarterback Marcus Mariota is in the middle of setting a school record, having thrown 202 consecutive passes without an interception dating back to the 17-14 overtime loss to Stanford. Here’s a streak that may end Saturday: Mariota has yet to throw a pass in the fourth quarter in five games this season.

2. The story broke Thursday that Tennessee and Virginia Tech will play in 2016 somewhere within the 160,000-seat Bristol Motor Speedway. It’s safe to say that the game will set the modern attendance record, which Michigan raised to 115,109 earlier this season when Notre Dame made its last scheduled Big House appearance. However, the all-time record remains the estimated 120,000 who jammed into Soldier Field in Chicago for the first Notre Dame-USC game in the Midwest. The Irish won, 7-6, in 1927.

3. A lot of Texas fans date the beginning of the Longhorns’ woes to Colt McCoy’s shoulder injury early in 2009 BCS Championship Game. Austin native Garrett Gilbert replaced McCoy and acquitted himself well for a true freshman in that setting. But Gilbert proved prone to the big mistake, and he transferred last season to SMU. Last Saturday, Gilbert completed 45-of-70 passes for 484 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in the three-overtime loss to Rutgers. That’s the type of game everyone thought was in him.

AUSTIN, Texas -- There was a time when Collin Klein was average.

Actually, he was slightly below average, a reserve even. One deftly deployed to beat an awful Texas team in 2010, but a reserve just the same.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
Tim Heitman/US PresswireLonghorns signal-caller David Ash improved in Year 2 as starter. What he does in his third year will determine Texas' fate.
That year Klein was a sophomore. Two years later his team is in the Fiesta Bowl, largely because of that one-time reserve.

In his second year in the program, Alabama’s AJ McCarron held on extra points. Florida State’s EJ Manuel had two starts his sophomore season, a win and a loss. Jordan Lynch, the Northern Illinois quarterback who was No. 3 nationally in total yards per game in 2012, was a backup as a sophomore.

Half of the quarterbacks in this year’s BCS games either didn’t play or were reserves in their second year in their current program. The other half is all in their second year. But of the latter group only Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota have better pass efficiency ratings that Texas’ David Ash in 2012. It’s a compelling argument that Ash, Texas’ second-year quarterback, is far from being off the rails.

Still, obviously, the sophomore wasn’t on track against Oklahoma, Kansas or TCU. Excuses can be found and fingers pointed, but ultimately Ash failed -- something he will readily admit -- to perform to his potential in those games. But that he flourished in so many others, particularly the last, in addition to the unavoidable conclusion that experience matters, should allow for those in the foam finger crowd to have a modicum of hope.

The point is, Ash is learning and the pace is not all that unnatural. In fact, it’s been at breakneck speed. True there are others, Mariota, Bridgewater and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, who have been better quarterbacks given the same amount of time within their respective programs. They have also had better offensive minds and systems around them.

Ash had a play-caller clearly trying to find his way and his identity in a BCS conference after swimming for oh so long in the guppy waters of the far west.

Already the impact of having Major Applewhite as the quarterbacks coach appears to have taken hold of Ash. After starting poorly and ending worse in the three aforementioned games, Ash was able to turn things around against Oregon State in the fourth instead of watching from the bench. That maturity was not present at any other point this season.

That finish, while maybe not finishing off all the quarterback controversy talk this offseason, at least closed the valve a bit. There may be a leak here and there, but by and large, the belief is that Ash has now shown the ability to get the job done.

He also might have the experience necessary. To start the 2013 season, Ash will be the highest rated returning starter in the Big 12 unless J.W. Walsh is selected as the starter at Oklahoma State. He will also be the winningest and most experienced quarterback in the Big 12. All of which is a long way from average.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel was better than Texas’ David Ash.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
AP Photo/Reed HoffmannQuarterback David Ash finished the regular season with 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
The sky is blue. The Earth is round. Texas is an eight-win program. There, just wanted to go ahead and state all those obvious things right up top. Because what is not so obvious, not to those who watched Ash get yanked from two games and benched for one, was that while Manziel was better than Ash, not many other second-year quarterbacks (redshirt freshmen or true sophomores) were.

In fact, only five other second-year quarterbacks had better passing efficiency numbers than Ash. And Manziel wasn’t even the leader of that group. Oklahoma State’s J.W. Walsh finished the regular season as the highest rated in passing efficiency among first- or second-year guys with a 165.67 passing efficiency rating.

That’s the same Walsh who threw a very costly interception against Texas and who could not lead OSU back after Ash led Texas on a touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter. Now, it was Walsh’s first career start. Ash was in his ninth start. And Walsh ultimately would up as the higher-rated passer although he did not win as many games as Ash.

Ash went 8-3 as a starter -- really 7-3 when taking into account the fact that he was benched in the Kansas game with Texas trailing in the fourth. Among the six top young passers in pass efficiency rating, those seven wins ranked just a shade past the middle.

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