Countdown to the Alamo Bowl: How Oregon’s and Texas’ secondaries stack up

Oregon junior cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (14) intercepts the football from Oregon State junior quarterback Sean Mannion (4). The No. 13 Oregon Ducks play the Oregon State Beavers at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., on Nov. 29, 2013. (Ryan Kang/Emerald)

Oregon junior cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (14) intercepts the football from Oregon State junior quarterback Sean Mannion (4). The No. 13 Oregon Ducks play the Oregon State Beavers at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., on Nov. 29, 2013. (Ryan Kang/Emerald)

Posted by Victor Flores on Friday, Dec. 20 at 11:00 am.

In the days leading up to the 2013 Alamo Bowl, the Emerald will take a unit-by-unit look at Oregon and Texas, determining which team has the edge going into the showdown on Dec. 30 in San Antonio. Today, we’ll look at each team’s secondaries, with thoughts on Texas from Wescott Eberts of Burnt Orange Nation.

Oregon

Several writers called Oregon’s secondary the best in the nation going into the season. It hasn’t quite lived up to that billing in 2013. But the four starters and their backups stayed healthy and effective the entire year and have easily been Oregon’s best defensive unit.

The best player in Oregon’s secondary is third-team AP All-American Ifo-Ekpre Olomu, who blanketed opposing receivers this entire season. He also had one of his best games against Biletnikoff Award winner Brandin Cooks of Oregon State. Ekpre-Olomu has almost been as good against the run, leading Oregon with 51 solo tackles (78 total) and adding four tackles for loss.  

Opposing teams, in an effort to avoid throwing toward Ekpre-Olomu, have often directed passes toward Oregon’s other starting cornerback, Terrance Mitchell. Mitchell has occasionally gotten burned. But overall, he’s been fantastic, leading the team in interceptions (five), passes defended (11) and is tied for first in pass breakups (six).

Safeties Avery Patterson and Brian Jackson haven’t performed as well as their teammates on the outside and haven’t completely lived up to expectations. They certainly haven’t hurt the Ducks, though. The duo, while somewhat inconsistent, have played well against the run and the pass.  

Backup cornerbacks Dior Mathis, Troy Hill and safety Erick Dargan have also played well when called upon and are incredibly valuable in nickel packages (formations with five defensive backs).

Oregon has given up the fifth-lowest yards per pass attempt in the country this year, illustrating just how good the defense – especially the secondary – has performed this season. For instance, the Ducks gave up 557 passing yards to Washington State’s Connor Halliday on Oct. 19 but that total came on a record-setting 89 pass attempts. That translates to 6.3 yards per attempt, which would be ahead of Alabama’s 2013 average if maintained for a whole season. And 6.3 is well above Oregon’s season average (5.7). The defense was also constantly on the field due to Oregon’s fast-paced offense, making their stingy yards per attempt number all the more impressive.  

Texas

The Longhorns’ pass defense has been slightly above average this season. And while the secondary only contributes to a third of a team’s defense, Texas’ defensive backs have put up solid seasons.

Senior cornerback Carrington Byndom has probably had the best season in the group, making the all-Big 12 second team. Eberts said Byndom struggled in the first couple of games this year, especially with beating blocks on the perimeter. But he rebounded well and became Ekpre-Olomu-esque in his cover abilities.  

“He’s a guy that not many teams pick on,” Eberts said.

That might explain Byndom’s zero interceptions, as it’s hard to catch a ball not thrown your way. Duke Thomas led the team with three interceptions. Eberts said teams often picked on him in the passing game. Overall, Eberts said Thomas has been inconsistent but sees a bright future for the sophomore.  

Junior Quandre Diggs is the other main cornerback in Texas’ rotation but Eberts said he’s had a tough season.  

“They tried to put him in the nickel and he’s just had a lot of problems getting overwhelmed by blockers; so Texas has tried to relieve him of some of those responsibilities,” Eberts said.

Eberts said similar things about safety Mykkele Thompson. While Eberts said the persistent questions about Thompson’s physicality are overblown, he said the junior has struggled in other areas.  

“He’s rangy but takes a lot of bad angles and gives up big plays,” Eberts said.

The other starting safety, Adrian Phillips, turned in a much better season. He has 75 tackles (11 more than Thompson), two interceptions and 1.5 tackles for loss and has been used all over the field.  

“(Phillips) has probably been their most versatile defender, a guy that they trust to get everybody lined up,” Eberts said.

Advantage – Oregon. Not many secondaries would have the advantage over the Ducks’, which is one of the nation’s best. Texas’ secondary is solid but well below Oregon’s level. Plus, they’ll face Marcus Mariota in the Alamo Bowl. Oregon’s defensive backs will deal with Case McCoy.

Monday: Offensive line

Tuesday: Tight ends

Wednesday: Linebackers

Thursday: Defensive line

Saturday: Wide receivers

Follow Victor Flores on Twitter @vflores415