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. In the final article of this series, we’ll look at each team’s special teams, with thoughts on Texas from Wescott Eberts of Burnt Orange Nation.
Other than Stanford, Oregon probably didn’t face a team better on offense or defense the entire year. For any other opponent to beat the Ducks, they had to make fewer mistakes (see: Stanford and Arizona), have career days from several players (Arizona again) or take advantage on special teams. The Ducks almost never made any costly errors on special teams, so even if they weren’t quite right in the other two areas, opponents could almost never gain an edge when the defenses and offenses were on the sidelines.
One clear advantage for the Ducks this season has been in both return games. De’Anthony Thomas is the only Duck to return a kickoff for a touchdown and it was a momentous one. On Nov. 16 against Utah, the score was 17-14 Oregon with 10:09 to go in the third quarter when Thomas returned the kickoff 86 yards for a score. That kick-started a run of 27 unanswered points for the Ducks, turning a potential upset into a blowout.
Oregon’s opponents never found the end zone on kick returns despite having 21 more attempts than the Ducks. The longest return Oregon gave up was 57 yards to Stanford’s Ty Montgomery, one of the best returners in the nation.
Punt returns were even more drastic. Bralon Addison returned two punts for touchdowns against California on Sept. 28 and nearly returned another one against Utah.
Oregon’s punt return coverage never came close to giving up a big return, although it helps that opponents only attempted eight returns. In those limited tries, opposing returners averaged just over three yards per attempt and their longest return was 12 yards.
The Oregon kicking game wasn’t nearly as consistent. Alejandro Maldonado did a solid job punting but, like he had the previous two years, struggled on field goal attempts (he made three of five).
Maldonado was replaced by Matt Wogan after the 26-20 loss to Stanford. The freshman did somewhat better in limited time, making four of five field goals. He also showed off his strong leg on kickoffs, netting 19 touchbacks.
Unlike the 2011 and 2012 seasons, Oregon couldn’t blame missed field goals for its losses. In fact, Wogan made the only field goal attempt in the 42-16 loss to Arizona and Maldonado kicked three brilliant onside kicks (one recovered) that helped the Ducks come back against Stanford.
Kicking hasn’t been a worry for Texas. Senior Anthony Fera made the all-Big 12 first team for his brilliance as a place kicker. He’s connected on 20 of 22 field goals, including five from at least 40 yards out (one from 50). He also served as the punter, and Eberts said he was good at pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line, often the 10.
“I think there was a definite case for Fera as the (team) MVP,” Eberts said.
The Longhorns have also excelled on punt returns, as both Daje Johnson and Jaxon Shipley have averaged more than 10 yards per return. Against Oklahoma, Johnson returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown. However, Texas will miss Johnson’s explosiveness against Oregon. The sophomore wide receiver/running back was ruled academically ineligible for the Alamo Bowl.
Texas’ special teams take a steep fall after that, according to Eberts.
“They’re just not disciplined on kickoff coverage and they just don’t make blocks on kickoff returns,” Eberts said.
Eberts lumped punt coverage in with those other areas, too. He even said the punt return groups have struggled to produce explosive plays, save Johnson’s touchdown on Oct. 12.
“It’s kind of ridiculous that a team as talented as Texas can’t find better production from those areas,” Eberts said.
Texas’ opponents have averaged nearly five more yards per kickoff return than the Longhorns in just five more attempts. Texas also has less than a two-yard advantage in yards per punt return this season, and they’ve given up one touchdown (in their loss to Ole Miss on Sept. 14).
Advantage – Oregon. Texas’ major kicking advantage can’t make up for its deficiencies in every other area. Losing Johnson only solidifies Oregon’s edge on special teams.
Monday 12/16: Offensive line (Advantage: Texas)
Tuesday 12/17: Tight ends (Oregon)
Wednesday 12/18: Linebackers (Oregon)
Thursday 12/19: Defensive line (Texas)
Friday 12/20: Secondary (Oregon)
Saturday 12/21: Wide receivers (Oregon)
Sunday 12/22: Running backs (Oregon)
Monday 12/23: Quarterbacks (Oregon)
Overall Advantage: Oregon (7-2)
Follow Victor Flores on Twitter @vflores415