Is Oregon really that susceptible to opposing rush attacks?

Ezra Shaw

The Horns will have to get it done on the ground in the Alamo Bowl. But can they?

With one game remaining in the tenure of longtime head coach Mack Brown, it's hard to find much left to talk about with the Texas Longhorns offense.

The formula has been the same since the hazards of letting Case McCoy try to stretch the field vertically became apparent against the Iowa State Cyclones -- run the ball, run the ball, run the ball, and then try to hit some passes down the sidelines.

And so the formula against the Oregon Ducks in the Alamo Bowl on Monday will be the same.

In the worst moments of the season, the Ducks have indeed been vulnerable against the run, giving up over 200 yards rushing four times in 2013, including 304 yards against Arizona in the surprising blowout loss to the Wildcats, along with four touchdowns allowed on the ground in that contest.

Overall, however, Oregon is giving up only 3.80 yards per carry thanks to strong performances against Nicholls State (2.35 yards per carry), Cal (2.92 yards per carry), Washington State (0.17 yards per carry on only 12 attempts), and Utah (2.76 yards per carry).

The advanced metrics have Oregon has a relatively middle-of-the-road run defense, ranking No. 57 nationally in S&P+, well below the per-rush ranking of 35th.

The linebackers certainly haven't been as good as the group that departed after last season -- Oregon last star Kiko Alonso and the steady Michael Clay, who was the team's leading tackler. Together, the two combined for 182 stops in 2012.

Derrick Malone is the leading tackler this season with 102 stops, but hasn't been active behind the line of scrimmage with only two tackles for loss and is undersized at 6'1 and 212 pounds. Meanwhile, Rodney Hardrick and Boseko Lokombo have both been relative disappointments, especially Lokombo, who has, however, been solid against the run.

Along the defensive line, Oregon has a couple of big Pacific Islanders with a great deal of experience at defensive tackle in seniors Ricky Havili-Heimuli and Wade Keliikipi, so the interior of the Texas offensive line could have their hands full, as both weigh over 300 pounds. Hopefully center Dominic Espinosa doesn't experience flashbacks to previous contests against similar defensive tackles, including BYU's Eathyn Manumaleuna, though the fortunate news is that Manumaleuna is the most talented of the three players mentioned.

A lot of the success for Oregon has been in stopping explosive plays -- the Ducks have allowed only 10 rushes of 20 or more yards this season (t-20th nationally), so the Longhorns are going to have a hard time breaking off the type of long runs that have been few and far between this season.

Compounding the problem for Texas is the fact that Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron have combined for only one run of 30 or more yards, the 30-yard touchdown run by Brown against Kansas on 4th down that only broke free because the Jayhawks had stacked the line of scrimmage.

Otherwise, the players who have accounted for most of the explosive running plays -- Johnathan Gray, David Ash, and Jalen Overstreet -- will all miss the game. Not to mention the underutilized Daje Johnson, who is once again suspended and may be on his way out of the program.

So it will have to come down to methodical drives for Texas, the type of grinding efforts that defined games against Oklahoma and TCU on the ground. That may not be much more likely, as overall, Oregon ranks No. 21 nationally in methodical drives allowed by the FEI metric, which does not separate running and passing plays.

To break it down -- Texas has lost the players who have produced explosive rushing plays, the type of which Oregon doesn't really give up, and the Ducks don't give up methodical drives, either, so while there have been some low points and linebackers like Malone may be vulnerable when offensive linemen get in their faces, the Horns aren't going to enter this game with a significant advantage running the football.

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