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Texas-Oregon: Keys to the game

How the Horns could give themselves a chance against the high-flying Ducks.

Jonathan Ferrey

The Oregon Ducks are heavy favorites against the Texas Longhorns in the Alamo Bowl and it's hardly a surprise -- the Ducks were national title contenders at one point, while the Horns have barely managed to survive numerous injuries and will be without several more key contributors as a result of poor grades.

There are, however, a few things that Texas can do in order to hang with Oregon, even if just for a while.

Horns_bullet_mediumGet Marcus Mariota on the move with the Spinner package. There haven't been many teams that have confused or flustered the one-time Heisman contender, but Stanford did have some success by applying pressure early and often, forcing Mariota to make throws on the move outside of the pocket, where he's not quite as effective as he is when

The star for the Cardinal, as has been the case often in recent years, linebacker Shayne Skov was responsible for much of the pressure on Mariota in an aggressive, downhill role. For the Horns, defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat could reprise the Spinner role that he played against Texas Tech to put similar pressure on Mariota and the Ducks offensive line.

Granted, the package was effective against the Red Raiders in part because the Horns didn't have the worry about the threat of a running game, but the interior offensive line for the Ducks isn't a strength, so Jeffcoat should be able to hold his own if he stunts into the line against the run.

Without pressure on Mariota, the accurate Oregon quarterback may pick apart a solid Texas secondary -- defensive coordinator Greg Robinson may not have a choice but to take some risks in order to try to force some game-changing plays like interceptions, sacks, or tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

Horns_bullet_mediumLimit Mariota's running ability. An MCL sprain in early November limited the running ability of the Hawai'i native, but by the last two games, he was once again effective, gaining 52 and 53 yards to close the season. Given the struggles Texas has had this season defending the quarterback run game, Mariota will likely have some opportunities with the zone read and the quarterback draw.

And after what happened against Iowa State and Sam Richardson, the entire defensive line has to be aware of maintaining their rush lanes to avoid getting gashed scrambles and off-schedule plays -- the Oregon offense is difficult enough to stop without allowing the Ducks the convert some third-and-long situations in that manner.

Horns_bullet_mediumUtilize the running ability of Tyrone Swoopes. The power running of Stanford dominated the Oregon defensive front, but Arizona was able to achieve success in part because of the running ability of quarterback BJ Denker, who had a 35-yard run in the game and accumulated 102 yards on the ground overall.

Texas has missed having a quarterback capable of running the football this season and the poor performance of Case McCoy against Baylor and the need to find out what Swoopes may be capable of next season make it a perfect time to bring the quarterback run game back into play.

The move not only evens numbers for the offense, but results in an +2 advantage because the option eliminates another defender.

The Horns should be able to find some success against the Ducks on the ground based on recent performances, but the running game with Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron isn't likely to produce big plays without some help.

Horns_bullet_mediumAvoid turnovers. A key in every football game at every level, the explosive nature of the Oregon offense and opportunistic nature of the Ducks defense combine to make taking care of the football extremely important for the Longhorns, especially early in the game.

Fall behind early because of an interception or fumble and the offensive game plan goes out the window.

With 27 takeaways this season, the Oregon defense has created some chances for the offense to score and the offense has in turn avoided their own costly mistakes -- the Ducks are +9 on the season, though the one area that has needed improvement is ball security. The 12 fumbles by Oregon puts them tied for 99th in the country in that regard.