Photo: Josie Norris, Staff Photographer / The San Antonio Express-News
Texas Longhorns’ Head Coach Tom Herman and Utah Utes’ Head Coach Kyle Whittingham pose together after their final press conferences before the Valero Alamo Bowl at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, Dec. 30, 2019.
Texas Longhorns’ Head Coach Tom Herman and Utah Utes’ Head Coach…
The Texas Longhorns and Utah Utes are set to clash in the Valero Alamo Bowl at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Alamodome. The keys to victory for each team, and what to expect in each phase of the game:
LONGHORNS’ THREE KEYS TO VICTORY
1 Lean on senior wideouts Devin Duvernay and Collin Johnson. The former recorded 103 catches during the regular-season and the latter is a towering target who has finally recovered from a nagging hamstring injury.
2 Focus on the present. Texas will be playing under interim offensive and defensive coordinators, with two new hires set to lead the program in a different direction in 2020. But for now, Utah should be all that matters.
3 Put some pressure on quarterback Tyler Huntley. Oregon did just that in the Pac-12 championship game, leading to six sacks and two interceptions.
UTES’ THREE KEYS TO VICTORY
1 Establish the run early with Pac-12 offensive player of the year Zach Moss. Texas allowed an average of 226.5 rushing yards in its past two games and its suspect tackling could prove pivotal.
2 Replacements in the secondary need to step up. All-Pac-12 free safety Julian Blackmon and his backup R.J. Hubert will miss the game due to injury, and junior corner Jaylon Johnson has opted to sit out to prepare for the 2020 NFL draft.
3 Put All-American defensive end Bradlee Anae in a position to disrupt and wreak havoc. He recorded 12.5 sacks this year and could be the best pass-rusher the Texas offensive line will face all season.
WHEN THE UTES RUN
Senior tailback Zach Moss is as elusive as they come. He forced 96 missed tackles on runs and receptions during the regular-season, tops in the nation. Moss is also a pass-catching threat out of the backfield, having recorded 26 receptions for 374 yards and two scores. Texas has been a far better versus the run this year, though it has been gashed on the ground in several games. The Longhorns are healthier than they’ve been almost all year, but Utah should still have an advantage in the trenches, opening up lanes for Moss to dart through.
WHEN THE UTES PASS
Senior Tyler Huntley doesn’t make many bad decisions, especially when his sturdy line creates ample time and space. He completed 73.7 percent of his throws for 2,966 yards with 18 touchdowns and four interceptions, good for the nation’s fourth-best quarterback rating (181.8). He was under more duress than usual against Oregon in the Utes’ Pac-12 title game loss, leading to six sacks taken, two interceptions and a season-worst 58.6 completion percentage. But Texas doesn’t own a potent pass rush and its defensive backs have struggled in coverage. If Huntley has time he’ll make the Longhorns pay to spreading it out.
WHEN THE LONGHORNS RUN
Utah defensive linemen Bradlee Anae and Leki Fotu, and linebacker Francis Bernard were All-Pac-12 first-team selections. For good reason – they helped led a run defense that allowed just 70.3 rushing yards per game, tops in the nation. Utah runs a lot of nickel, with four disruptive linemen upfront and two athletic linebackers roaming the middle. Texas sophomore Keaontay Ingram has run hot and cold all season – he had just two carries for 17 years in the regular-season finale – though the threat of quarterback Sam Ehlinger taking off on a designed run or run-pass option means Utah has to deal with more potential variety. Still, Utah should be ready after allowing a season-worst 239 rushing yards to Oregon in its last outing.
WHEN THE LONGHORNS PASS
Utah will be at a disadvantage with All-Pac-12 safety Julian Blackmon (knee) and cornerback Jaylon Johnson (NFL draft) both ruled out. Blackmon’s backup, R.J. Hubert (undisclosed), will also miss the game. On the other hand, Texas will be as healthy as its been with senior wideout Collin Johnson (hamstring) and junior tight end Cade Brewer (ankle) both expected to play. Their return takes some of the pressure off senior slot man Devin Duvernay, who led Texas with 103 receptions for 1,294 yards and eight touchdowns. Tailbacks Roschon Johnson and Keaontay Ingram are also a threat after catching a combined 50 passes this season. If Texas can handle Utes linemen Bardlee Anae and Leki Fotu (a big “if”), quarterback Sam Ehlinger should have time to hit his playmakers and keep Texas in the game.
Utes 35, Longhorns 28
The Longhorns fall in a bowl for the first time in three appearances under coach Tom Herman and finish the year 7-6.