SAN ANTONIO, Texas — One of the biggest reasons Stanford has beaten Oregon each of the past two seasons is its physical defense. The Cardinal rarely miss tackles in space, so it’s no surprise Oregon struggled against them since the Ducks thrive on spreading the field and hoping defenders whiff.
The Texas Longhorns realize how important tackling in space will be come Monday when they face the Ducks in the Alamo Bowl. All-American defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said several times during Saturday’s press conference that the Texas defense needs to have all 11 defenders swarm towards the football on Monday.
“Physical and flying around, that’s the most important thing,” Jeffcoat said.
Defensive end Cedric Reed noticed how good Stanford was at rushing the quarterback and said the biggest focus against the Oregon offense should be on making Marcus Mariota uncomfortable throughout the game.
“The Stanford d-line, they got to the quarterback,” Cedric Reed said. “They put Mariota in situations where he was very uncomfortable.”
Jeffcoat said it was important to make the entire offense uncomfortable, not just Mariota.
“You have to make them do things they don’t want to do,” Jeffcoat said. “As far as Marcus Mariota being in the pocket, you have to move him around. He’s comfortable in the pocket. If you leave him in the pocket, he’ll slide around and he’ll make plays, so we have to get him out of the pocket.”
Reed said it would be just as important for the Longhorns to shut down Oregon’s running game. If they can make the Ducks one-dimensional on offense, he said, Texas will have an excellent chance of winning.
Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson said Stanford’s defense didn’t deserve complete credit for their overall performance against Oregon this season. Stanford ran 21 more plays than the Ducks and possessed the ball for 25 minutes and eight seconds longer. When a defense is able to rest on the sidelines for that much during a game, they’ll be that much more likely to play well.
“Controlling the ball on the other side by Stanford’s offense I think is a plus for Stanford’s defense,” Robinson said.
But Robinson and Texas’ defenders can’t control what their offense does. They have to focus on sticking to their assignments, making the Ducks uncomfortable and attacking the ball-carrier every play. Against the run, Jeffcoat said, the Longhorns need to plug up the middle, forcing Byron Marshall, De’Anthony Thomas and Thomas Tyner to run outside.
“We have to make sure that we’re physical like we like to play, make sure we’re in our gaps making plays, causing them to go east-and-west instead of north-and-south,” Jeffcoat said.
Forcing the running backs to go east-and-west will also make the Longhorns more likely to get tackles for loss. A ripple effect occurs if that happens because the Ducks will become one-dimensional, just like Reed and his teammates hope to do.
Robinson said getting tackles for loss will make Oregon a passing team. While Mariota is one of the nation’s best passers, Robinson is confident in his defense when offenses throw the ball. After all, their biggest strength on defense is probably their pass rush, led by Jeffcoat and Reed.
“If you can get them (the Ducks) in long yardage, you can be more aggressive in rushing the passer,” Robinson said.
If Texas can force Oregon to become a pass-first team, the Ducks might be in for another Stanford-esque grind during the Alamo Bowl.
Follow Victor Flores on Twitter @vflores415