In the time-honored tradition of outrageous coach-speak, Mark Helfrich told the media Oregon didn't belong on the field with 8-4 Texas, a team that features a second-string quarterback who's thrown 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
"We can't match up with that in terms of just man for man talent," Helfrich said, "I think you know they are a very well coached team and like us have very high expectations. They want to finish right. There is the added motivation with Coach Brown retiring but our guys will be excited to play."
Cancel the game. Oregon can't possibly win. Texas is too deep, too talented and too fast. It's a wonder they're not in the national championship game, and after Mack Brown's stirring pre-game speech, they'll be so fired up to win the game for Bevo and the Ol' Ball Coach/Austin variety that the original Alamo will be forgotten forever by Longhorn fans moved to tears by the inspirational effort that follows (Mark Rebilas, USA Today Sports Images photo).
After suspending Pharaoh Brown for getting carried away with a box of white stuff, Helfrich is busy with a snow job of his own. Texas has talent, no doubt. One of the reasons Brown is getting fired is that so much talent streams in to UT Junior Days that the Horns ought to contend for a title every season. Yet they haven't won double-digit games since 2009.
The burnt orange squad has been decimated this year by injuries, losing their best quarterback, running back and middle linebacker for the year, an issue that became worse when three more players were declared academically ineligible this week.
Oregon matches up very well with Texas in the speed and talent department. They're not even giving up much size on the offensive and defensive lines. The Longhorn's best defensive player is defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, the Ted Hendricks Award winner at 6-5, 250. He's good, a future NFL player and the son of a former Dallas Cowboy, but the Ducks' Tony Washington actually has reasonably comparable stats, 56 tackles to 62, 7.5 sacks to 10, and no one would claim Washington is the Ducks' best defensive player. That honor goes to Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, and the Texas secondary doesn't have anyone of his caliber.
Visit the Texas websites, and they are all pretty clear on the hoped-for strategy Texas should use to lampoon Oregon's San Antonio vacation. Today Alex Dunlap of texasrivals.com printed his "Blueprint to beat Oregon:"
1. Make Ducks QB Marcus Mariota operate on the move
2. Use Longhorns DE Jackson Jeffcoat in the "spinner" hybrid role employed vs. Texas Tech
3. Manage Oregon DT Taylor Hart
4. Match Oregon's tempo offensively by pounding them with Malcolm Brown
Nearly all of the Texas sites place great faith in the strategy Stanford and Arizona used to stymie the Quack Attack. Dunlap writes:
"In defeating Oregon this season, Stanford showed that creating a scrambling, off-rhythm Marcus Mariota at the quarterback position is where you start. The star signal-caller can break off big gains with his feet when the pocket collapses, and he can make things happen, but he can't make everything happen – not on the run. Mariota was under constant duress in Palo Alto."
Full credit ought to be given to The Cardinal for the defensive effort they made against Super Mario, but the Mariota that hobbled off the field in the fourth quarter in Palo Alto is much different than the fast, mobile quarterback who's not wearing a knee brace this week in practice. Dunlap describes the Oregon offensive line as "very, very beatable," a harsh criticism to levy against a unit that's been beaten just three times in the last two seasons, while closing in on school records for yards and points after just 12 games this year.
At burntorangenation.com, Wescott Eberts points to Oregon's run defense as the weak link of Webfoots:
"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.
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."
Finally, at orangebloods.com Jeffrey Kahn writes that the running game, stopping Oregon's and countering the Ducks tempo with a pound-the-rock-with-Malcolm-Brown strategy, is the key to a Longhorn victory:
"In the loss to Stanford, Marshall rushed 11 times for 46 yards. Thomas rushed six times for 30 yards. A rush for nine yards was the long for Thomas. Mariota had an eight-yard scamper but recorded negative rushing yards thanks to three sacks.
In the Longhorns' four losses, they've allowed an average of 306.5 rushing yards. Quarterbacks have had field days, and Mariota must be licking his lips. It's going to be tough for the Longhorns to stop the Ducks' high-powered offense, but there's still a chance. It's been done before.
In both of Oregon's losses, the Ducks' longest plays were under 30 yards. Other than that, they've broken off plays of 40 yards or more against every team."
Team leaders like Brian Jackson and Hroniss Grasu insist that the UO players will be ready for the motivational onslaught, the challenge posed by UT's talent, and the necessity to execute and get off to a good start before a big crowd on the road.
Jackson sounded less overwhelmed by Mack Brown's last stand than his coach. He told A.J. Jacobson of rivals.com, "They are a talented team. They struggled early on but they got everything together. You can tell when this team starts to click. They are a physical team and they play hard. These guys have a passion for the sport of football. I think that's great because it matches well with us. We all love the sport of football. Oregon vs. Texas; it's going to be a great college football game."
A quick rundown of the edges and relative strengths of the two teams:
|Offensive Line||Grasu, Fisher…||B||Espinosa, Walters…||B||Even|
|Defensive Line||Hart, Washington||C-||Jeffcoat, Reed||B||Texas|
|Linebackers||Malone, Hardrick||D||Edmund, Santos||D||Even|
|Secondary||Ifo, Jackson||A||Phillips, Thompson||D||Oregon|
|Special Teams||DAT, Addison, Wogan||A/A/C||Sanders, Shipley, Fera||C/C/A||Oregon|
Additionally, Oregon owns a big edge at wide receiver. Neither team comes in to the game with an appreciable edge at tight end. The Ducks are young, and the Longhorns haven't used their TE much this year.
Helfrich is right to give the opponent credit in the press, but the advantage in talent in this game belongs to the visitors. That's why they are favored by two touchdowns, even with the emotional fire everyone expects from UT in Brown's last game.