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Variety of Ducks shine against Texas
SAN ANTONIO, Texas Known for its flashy offense and star quarterback Marcus Mariota, Oregon had two fitting things happen in its 30-7 Alamo Bowl win against Texas on Monday.
The Oregon defense starred and scored more points than Texas, with interception returns for touchdowns by Avery Patterson and Derrick Malone, helping to send out retiring defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti on an almost unbelievable note.
And, even though Mariota shed his knee brace and ran wild to earn offensive MVP honors and receiver Josh Huff tied UO receiving records and scored the Ducks' only offensive touchdown, true freshman kicker Matt Wogan also provided more points than the Longhorns with his three field goals. Oregon finally has a kicker to depend on, it appears.
So, the Ducks, who once had BCS title aspirations, finished 11-2 in Mark Helfrich's maiden season, beating the 8-5 Texas Longhorns of outgoing coach Mack Brown, who was without nine players who started at the beginning of the season.
The night clearly belonged to the UO defense, which allowed Texas only 236 total yards and forced the Longhorns' QBs to go 9 of 23 passing for 56 yards, with two interceptions.
The Longhorns rushed for 180 yards, led by Malcolm Brown's 130 on 26 carries, but the Ducks were able to focus on stopping the run because Texas QB Case McCoy and his backup, Tyrone Swoopes, had trouble slinging the ball.
After the game, family greeted and embraced Aliotti, who's ending a 38-year coaching career, including 24 seasons at Oregon. Then players ceremonially dumped some water on him, and the 59-year-old Aliotti couldn't have been more elated.
"This is better than the dream I could have had," he said. "If you want a way to end a deal I guess a shutout would be better. But we scored two touchdowns on defense, we stopped the run for the most part, and we played great pass defense. We gave up two big runs, one on a stretch play (by Brown) that we didn't get in the gap correctly, one on the quarterback scramble at the end there."
Trailing 10-0 after Patterson's 37-yard pick-six and the first Wogan field goal, the Longhorns marched on a whopping 16-play, 79-yard drive that took 7:12 off the clock. They scored their only points on McCoy's 1-yard TD plunge and Anthony Fera's extra-point kick with 1:24 left in the first quarter.
For Texas, that was it, offensively. The Ducks forced seven punts, most coming on three-and-out defensive stops.
Running games and playmaking quarterbacks from Stanford, Arizona and Oregon State had torn up the UO defense during the month of November. The UO defenders wanted to redeem themselves and the senior-led group including defensive linemen Wade Keliikipi and Taylor Hart, linebacker Boseko Lokombo and defensive backs Patterson and Brian Jackson did just that.
Aliotti's unit was physical and fast and, let's face it, the Ducks had the benefit of Texas simply not being very good offensively, especially at quarterback.
"We came out to prove everybody wrong," said Malone, of those who doubted the Oregon defense.
Malone, playing hurt, capped the night with a 38-yard pick-six in the fourth quarter.
"We had a great game," he said. "We heard that we're too small, we're too this, we're just fast. But we are physical. We hold our ground. The defensive line, the linebackers, we got it done."
The Oregon secondary prevented any big plays downfield. Patterson's interception and score 1:08 into the game was clearly the key play and earned him defensive MVP honors. McCoy's pass bounced off a Texas receiver and right into the arms of Patterson.
"I was just following (McCoy's) eyes," Patterson said. "I told Ifo (Ekpre-Olomu), 'I got it.' We kind of sandwiched (the receiver), and I was able to get lucky and get a pick."
From there, Mariota took over.
For the first time since the UCLA game Oct. 26, he played without a brace on his left knee. And, he was visibly faster, more aggressive and even physical as he took on tacklers with vigor. The star redshirt sophomore QB, who plans to return to Oregon for his junior year, ran for 133 yards on 15 carries and went 18 of 26 for 253 yards passing and the game's lone touchdown pass (to Huff).
Offensive coordinator Scott Frost told Mariota that he would rush for 200 yards against Texas. He was serious. But Mariota suffered some leg cramps in the second half of the game, or else he could have churned out more yards.
The Longhorns geared up to stop running backs Byron Marshall, Thomas Tyner and De'Anthony Thomas, who combined for 22 carries for 78 yards, allowing Mariota some running room on designed plays and option reads.
"Credit to the guys up front and the guys outside. They made key blocks for me to get some yards," Mariota said.
As for the cramps, Mariota cited being out of shape, stemming from his injury, adding, "I should have been running after practice. It's been a while since I've been running like that (because of the knee injury). It's been a couple months. That's totally on me. I have six months to get back into shape."
Of his running, he added: "Yeah, I feel that just having that dimension where I'm able to kind of run really just helps our offense. ... Texas was just taking away the running back. They were just giving me the opportunity to pull it."
Health-wise, Mariota said, "I wouldn't say I was 100 percent, but I'm as close as I could (be)."
Still, the Ducks scored only one offensive touchdown but it was clutch, near the end of the first half, as Oregon went ahead 20-7. Mariota threw to Huff, who completed the 16-yard TD play by breaking tackles and leaping over defenders into the end zone. It was Huff's 12th TD reception of the year and 24th of his career both tying UO records.
On his final catch, he set the UO single-season receiving record with 1,140 yards.
He had five catches for 104 yards, playing in his home state of Texas against the Longhorns' program that chose not to heavily recruit him.
"I tried to do everything I can for my team to get a 'W,' " Huff said. "We was able to do that. I mean, I wouldn't call it revenge. But I just came out and played my game against a great Texas defense. We was able to come out with the victory."
Curiously, Thomas, the speedy junior, hardly played on offense. He had three carries for 13 yards and two receptions for 24 yards and one kickoff return for 25 yards. He also played on kickoff coverage.
Interestingly, he would often be seen hanging around defensive backs. Thomas, who's considering entering the NFL draft, did not show up for media interviews.
The UO offense moved the ball, racking up 469 yards offense, but scored only one touchdown on four red-zone opportunities and another opportunity deep in Texas territory.
"I think we just hurt ourselves," Mariota said. "Penalties were the big thing in the red zone. We had a holding call, a couple false starts. That's always tough. But three points is always good, especially in these types of games, where Texas' defense is playing really hard and really well."
Wogan nailed field goals of 25, 32 and 39 yards, before missing from 32 yards. That and defense made the day for the Ducks.
"Defense played great, especially for coach Aliotti in his last game," receiver Bralon Addison said. "We scored one offensive touchdown. Defense and Matt Wogan handled the rest."
And the Texas offense couldn't do anything in Mack Brown's final game as head coach.
"In the second half, they crowded the box a little bit, and we needed to pass more," Malcolm Brown said. "We had to throw the ball. ... We needed to try to score points. You can't keep running and try to get yards. You got to put points on the board.
"Oregon's offense was great. Their defense was great. They were stopping us. We just couldn't get going."
"The offensive guys tried," Mack Brown said. "It just didn't work."