College Bowl Preview — Will Texas Have Any Surprises For Utah in Alamo Bowl?

By Charles Jay

The Texas Longhorns and Utah Utes both come into the Alamo Bowl with a bit of a stigma – the Longhorns are tagged with being a somewhat underachieving group, and they back it up with a 7-5 record (6-6 ATS), while Utah has been criticized for beating up on so-so opposition and fading a little (or a lot) when the competition stiffens.

So both will have something to prove out there, but will “atmospheric circumstances” cause either of them to be off their game? We’ll see, as the action gets underway at around 7:30 PM ET at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

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Texas was 10-4 last season and got to the Big 12 title game, losing to Oklahoma. This year, they slipped to 7-5, as mentioned. The best victories came over Oklahoma State and Kansas State. But it was that close losses that their supporters will point to as a way of validating them. They got into a genuine shootout with LSU before falling 45-38, then dropped a 34-27 decision to Oklahoma. So they played half the college football playoff field. And they also lost 23-21 to a capable Iowa State squad.

Injuries hit this team, should we allow them to use it as an excuse? Statistically this defense was lacking, to say the least. They allowed 446 yards per game and finished 108th in the NCAA rankings. They were not tough in the red zone (104th) and surrendered 40% success on third down. This was part of the rationale for head coach Tom Herman firing defensive coordinator Todd Orlando at the end of the regular season. He had also been the linebackers coach. In fact, there has been a shakeup on the defensive staff and Craig Naivar takes over on an interim basis while Chris Ash, the former coordinator at Ohio State who was let go this season as head coach at Rutgers, waits in the wings.

Utah (11-2 straight-up, 9-4 ATS) has a lot of superlatives on its ledger. They are #1 in the nation in Total Defense, #1 in Rushing Defense (allowing just 70.3 yards per game), second in time of possession, fourth in Scoring Defense (allowing 13.2 PPG). They are third in passing efficiency defense and seventh in passing efficiency offense. So you get the idea.

Tyler Huntley was named first-team all Pac 12 at the quarterback position, completing 73.7% of his passes. Utah converted on almost 40% of their third down situations, and they have a brilliant running back in Zack Moss, the conference offensive player of the year, who accounted for 1359 rushing and 374 receiving yards, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. On the defensive side of the ball, Bradley Anae earned All-America honors with 12.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. Utah turned the ball over only thirteen times all season long.

In the odds posted on this Alamo Bowl, Utah’s favored by a touchdown:

Utah Utes -7 (-120)
Texas Longhorns +7 (+100)

Over 55 points -110
Under 55 points -110

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Utah held eight of its 13 opponents to thirteen points or less. But they did not have a particularly grueling conference schedule, nor did they really challenge themselves outside the Pac 12. Indeed, they passed a test against Washington, winning 33-20, and beat fair-to-middling bowl teams like California, Arizona State and BYU, but they lost to the USC team that was about as underachieving as Texas, and they were drilled by Oregon in the Pac 12 championship contest (37-15). So are they as good as they look on paper? And there has to be another consideration – this is a team that went into that conference title game thinking they had a chance for the four-team college football playoff. How much of a letdown is it participating in the Alamo Bowl?

Utah will run the ball; there is no question of their motivation there. In fact, they have run it 63.7% of the time. And Texas is not going to be playing a different scheme than Orlando employed; Naviar made that pretty clear. The problem here is that there’s been so much shuffling on this coaching staff that you’re talking about a team without their linebacking coach, the lame-duck defensive coordinator, thin in the secondary staff, and in general, addressing their “preparation” for this ballgame as if it is really looking ahead to 2020.

To be fair, the same can be said for the Longhorns on the offense of side as well. Coordinator Tim Beck has also been fired, although the is excepting that the motion for this game, coaching quarterbacks before he goes a look for another job. There is no receivers coach either, as Drew Mehringer are has joined Willie Taggart’s staff at Florida Atlantic. This whole thing is a mess. And so Texas is hoping that talent can carry it through.

That’s one thing Sam Ehlinger has plenty of. The dual threat quarterback threw for 3462 yards and 29 touchdowns, and if 599 yards on the ground. The high school All-American chased Shane Buechele to SMU. And he’s got one of the more productive wide receivers in the country in Devin Duberney, who had more than 100 catches. The Longhorns were 14th in Total Offense, 49% on third down and tenth most proficient in red zone situations. I think that regardless of who’s coaching them here, they’ll move the football.

And another thing deserves to be mentioned here is that Utah wil be missing half of its defensive backfield – cornerbacks Julian Blackmon (injury) and Jaylon Johnson (skipping game) won’t be available, and that’s got to be a big blow.

That helps Texas’ offense. But the confusion and lack of anything “different” in the Longhorns’ defensive scheme should serve to help Utah on offense. The Utes have held their opponents without a touchdown pass in six games this season. But that won’t happen here. This may surprise some of you, but we’re going to move with the OVER in this intriguing Alamo Bowl battle on Tuesday night.

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