When you combine the formulation ingredients of the Alamo Bowl: Oregon; TCU; AstroTurf -- it sounds like an equation for 80 combined points. After all, Oregon's Vernon Adams Jr., and his stable of playmakers, have been lights out, and TCU will have quarterback Trevone Boykin and wide receiver Josh Doctson (potentially) to full health. The two defenses are known to open the floodgates at any point, as well. It’s no wonder that Las Vegas has the over/under line hovering around 75 points.
With that being said, I believe that this game will be far from the track meet that people are expecting.
For starters, the preparation from the defensive side is extremely different for a bowl game than it is the rest of the season. Having been on the coaching staff during the last time Oregon made the Alamo Bowl, I can speak from experience on this one. During the season we usually broke down film for about three teams for our opponent, maybe four to five games for a better opponent. There’s simply just not the time to break down every single statistic and category for every game that a team plays. From the defensive standpoint, you really just don’t understand what the offense plays to do if you don’t watch all the film. But that changes for a bowl game, as we broke down every single snap that Texas had played all year. We knew exactly what they were doing with every personnel, and had a plan in place to stop anything thrown our way.
Don Pellum will have all the time he needs to come up with a plan to slow down Boykin and company, and the Horned Frogs will do the same to slow down Adams.
Reason number two why we’ll see less scoring than expected is the advantage that a defense has to get healthy through the month of December. As the season goes on, often time it’s members of the defense who get banged up and injured more than offensive players. Defensive players have to hit all the time, they never have an advantage, and therefore end up taking the brunt of the punishment. Defensive players soak up the month of December to get their massages, take their ice baths, and treat a foam roller like a girlfriend in order to recover. The Ducks and Horned Frogs defenses will be flying around much more successfully than they would if they were to have played each other at the end of November.
The loss of offensive coordinators will play a factor in the game as well. As we already know, Scott Frost is off in Orlando with his UCF Knights, and will not be calling plays in the Alamo Bowl. The faith will be there in either Mark Helfrich or Matt Lubick to call the plays, but there’s the chance of a disconnect from the rhythm that Frost had developed with his squad once they returned to health. Rumors flying around last pointed out that TCU might be without their co-offensive coordinator as well. It sounded like coordinator Doug Meacham was on his way to Tulane to become head coach but apparently turned down the position. Regardless, Meacham is being looked at as a head coach and there's no guarantee he'll be in San Antonio on January 2nd.
The final reason why this won’t be a shootout is due to the style that these two defenses play. TCU runs a 4-2-5, something that Oregon doesn’t face in the conference; very few teams in the country even deploy that system. The closest thing that Oregon faces to that is the 3-3-5 defense of Arizona. The Ducks finally broke through against that defense in the Pac-12 Championship game last year, but it certainly took a few games to do so. The learning curve could be the same as they face an unknown defense. The same goes for TCU, as they’ll face an Oregon defense that isn’t similar to one that they play. The Ducks put in multiple new schemes a week relying on the players to pick it up quickly. With the long break, Oregon will have plenty of chances to come up with a scheme that TCU hasn’t caught on film, while giving the defensive players long enough to get it down.
Over the past five years, Oregon and TCU have been a part of many bowl games with high over/under spreads that reach over 50 points. Yet, in a lot of these games, the total combined score came nowhere close to the spread, something that I expect to happen January 2nd.
All things considered, I still look for the Ducks to win this one without a ton of trouble -- I just don’t see the shootout that many do. Royce Freeman will be the workhorse, and the Ducks win the game on the ground, 31-17, well below the over/under line.
Feel free to call me crazy, but Don Pellum’s defense will make a stand to keep him around another year.