The Oregon Ducks, the Texas Longhorns, and the Gator Bowl. Let that sink in. Texas had the first round bye, watching Oregon topple Clemson. This is a series with history, where Texas’ first meeting with the Ducks saw the Longhorns put up 45, and kept the Ducks to 17. The second meeting saw Oregon exact revenge, winning by three despite the Oregon turnovers. The winner of this game advances to the National Championship. This is all a part of the backdrop for this game tonight, as we now take a closer look at each team.
The Ducks may have caught some folks by surprise a week ago. Toppling the mighty Clemson in what proved to be a defensive battle. Despite the score being 31-19, this game was heavily defensive, where halfback Jimmy Tickle had two touchdowns alone, and put the game on ice late despite only rushing for 50 yards on 19 carries. Then there’s quarterback Devonta Cribbs, who put up 249 yards through the air, a touchdown, and an interception. Cribbs then ran for 70 yards himself, scoring once on the ground. Cribbs played well, helped out of course by receivers Dijon Swann and Coty Betts, who each had 80+ receiving yards, where Betts had the touchdown. Receiver Williams Cope and tight end Davonte Lawson also supported Cribbs through the air, as they each finished with 25+ receiving yards. In all, the offense played well despite the defense they faced.
I said this was a defensive battle, and believe it or not it was. The two teams combined for 20 points in the first half, and Oregon was trailing by six. Then the defense stood even stronger. Held Clemson to just six points in the entire fourth quarter as opposed to the 13 they scored in the first half. Linebacker Joe Clark Jr. himself stood up with eight tackles, two of which went for a loss. Then, several other players stood out in the Clemson backfield. Defensive tackle Ben Marquez, linebacker Joakim Grant, corners Arik Austin, Kai Markston, and Bobby White, and safety Demetrius Culver all had at least one tackle for a loss. The really important stat here, though, is Markston’s two interceptions which served to help seal the victory up for the Ducks.
The Longhorns just had to sit back and watch the quarterfinals, waiting for their opponent. Makes you wonder how they felt when they learned it would be Oregon they face in the semifinals. Quarterback Ray Tatum is the league’s leading passer and the only quarterback with over 3,000 passing yards this season. Halfback Tarraj Walker has done a great job in helping Tatum to do that, even though Walker’s numbers won’t make your jaw drop. Still, he plays well. But, receivers Vincent McCoy, Scooby Lewis, and Ray Conley all have been major factors, with Conley poised to break the single season receiving record for touchdowns, or at the very least match it. McCoy leads in receiving yards, Lewis operates third downs efficiently, as does tight end Jackson James. The sum of these parts is a well-oiled machine that’s difficult to stop.
Defensively, what can I say that has not already been said? Safety Jimbo Smithers is pushing to be the all-time tackle leader should he return for his senior season. Linebacker Howard Cook has been a force to be reckoned with in the middle of the Texas defense, joined by his complementing partners of linebackers Pluto Ross and Dallas Greene. Corner Terrence Top has been able to lock down some of the premier receivers in the CFSL, and safety Zachary White has been known to step up in crucial moments. It’s a top four defense, in part because of the playmakers, but also because the collective of this talent is insane.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Oregon’s defense played well last week, but this Texas offense is a different animal entirely. One that guys like safety Shaka Black, and corner Arik Austin have to be cognizant of. It’s an offense that will beat you through the air, and they know they can. Oregon has got to find a way to force Tatum to make mistakes, meaning that task will fall on guys like Marquez, Clark Jr., Grant, and linebacker Hollywood Sims. And some creative playcalls as a defense would help too.
Texas is juggernaut on offense, and are optimal as a defense. Oregon had a tough task in the previous round, but do they have it in them to come up with another upset. Jimmy Tickle was smothered at the line of scrimmage for the most part, granted he had two touchdowns and Cribbs was able to do some nice things to help carry the load. But realistically, two interceptions by Markston helped. Tonight, Cribbs has got to be a major factor. He needs to put up some impressive numbers to hang with Tatum, and Oregon cannot afford a mistake by their signal-caller. I think it’s possible, but in a game like this, an early mistake can be enough to seal your fate. Texas advances to the National Championship game.
OREGON 24, TEXAS 35