Valero Alamo Bowl Preview
Utah – Dylan Sanders
Texas – Alex Katson
Both #11 Utah and Texas enter San Antonio for the Alamo Bowl following disappointing turns to their season. Here, we take a deep look at both teams and determine which one will end the year on a high note.
The defense of Utah is what really gets the people looking at this team, but the offense turned into somewhat of a force itself throughout the season. An unfortunate showing in the Pac 12 Championship game could either demotivate them or cause them to come out fighting in this game. Tyler Huntley threw for almost 3,000 yards with a mere 4 interceptions at a 74% completion rate. He spread the ball around and there was no one player that really stole the show at receiver. Freshman TE Brant Kuithe was the number one target this year with 523 yards and a team leading 6 receiving TDs (not to mention his 3 rushing TDs.) His high completion rate could be due to the fact that his offensive line allowed him to only get sacked around 1 and a half times a game. That offensive line also led the way for senior running back Zack Moss to have an outstanding season on the ground. 1,359 yards and 15 touchdowns also led him to being the leading rusher in the history of the Utes program.
Junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger has improved in 2019, posting career highs in completion percentage, yards, touchdowns, and rushing yards. Ehlinger has frequently been compared to Tim Tebow, but he’s improved as a passer and taken less risks as a runner this season. Part of the reason for that has been the performance of senior receivers Devin Duvernay and Collin Johnson, the latter of whom should be back healthy after missing a chunk of the season with a hamstring injury. Sophomore Brennan Eagles and freshman Jake Smith performed well in Johnson’s absence, combining for 55 catches, 792 yards, 12 TDs, and giving the Longhorns 4 solid options for Ehlinger to sling the ball to. If Texas opts instead to try to avoid the Utah secondary, sophomore Keaontay Ingram and freshman Swiss Army knife Roschon Johnson will lead the charge on the ground against the number 1 rush defense in the FBS. The two have split carries all season, with Ingram shouldering a bit more of the load, finishing the regular season with more attempts and yards but one less touchdown. Along the front line, left tackle Sam Cosmi has been a breakout star as a redshirt sophomore, and will face a tough decision regarding the 2020 NFL Draft following this game. Center Zach Shackelford and guard Parker Braun are experienced performers on the interior, leaving Texas with little cause for concern on the left side of the field. The right side is a bit weaker, starting redshirt freshman Junior Angilau at guard and junior Derek Kerstetter at tackle.
The Utah defense (really outside of the Oregon game) can be described with one word, immovable. The very experienced squad lead the country in rushing defense, was 3rd in total defense, and number 6 in scoring defense. This is by far the best defense that Texas has played all season. Pretty much the entire defense is playing, besides Jaylon Johnson and Julian Blackmon. Johnson decided to not further his injuries and get ready for the draft. Blackmon is out with a leg injury. These are two HUGE losses for the defense. In the times that Johnson has not been on the field, their secondary seemed noticeably worse, now take away their 2nd best DB and we don’t really know what we’re going to get from them. Luckily for them, their defensive front seven is still AMAZING. Bradlee Anae finished the year with 12.5 sacks. Mika Tafua, John Penisini, and Leki Fotu round out the defensive line and all had 6 or more TFLs on the year too. Their linebacker group doesn’t get the shine that they deserve, Francis Bernard and redshirt sophomore Devin Lloyd put out a bunch of great performances this year. Lloyd will likely be one of only 4 starters returning for next year, so expect this star-studded defense to want to go out on top.
The Longhorns enter this game 108th in the FBS in total defense, giving up an average of 446.3 yards per game. A whopping 306.4 of those yards are through the air, good for 127th out of 130, and dead last of bowl-eligible teams. Texas runs a base 3-3-5 with a lot of rotation of players in and out. Up front, Malcolm Roach, Keondre Coburn, and Ta’Quon Graham are the listed starters and anchor the rushing defense. None of them have been particularly effective as pass rushers, with Graham leading the charge with 2.5 on the year. Linebackers Joseph Ossai, Juwan Mitchell, and Ayodele Adeoye are all young players that have improved as the season has gone on, and probably make up the best position group on this defense. Mitchell leads the team with 3 sacks on the year (no, that’s not a typo: Texas is tied for 85th in the FBS in sacks) and Ossai is second on the team in total tackles, while Adeoye has turned into a crucial role player. On the back end, the Longhorns are led by their Senior Bowl-bound captain Brandon Jones, who leads the team in tackles and will be used as both a safety and a nickel corner in this game. On the outside, Texas will rotate sophomores D’Shawn Jamison, Anthony Cook, and Jalen Green, with fellow sophomore Caden Sterns serving as the other safety. At this point, you may notice the defense as a whole seems a bit young, and it shows on the field. The Longhorns miss a ton of tackles in the open field, something of extreme concern with a powerful running back in Zack Moss, a dynamic tight end in Brant Kuithe, and a dual-threat quarterback in Tyler Huntley on the other side.
Utah 2020 Prospects to Watch
QB Tyler Huntley
Tyler Huntley is insanely accurate QB who burst on the scene as a potential next level QB this season. His mobility didn’t really get shown off that much this season but it’s definitely there. He only threw the ball about 22 times a game, but efficiently completed 16 of those 22 per game. He actually finished the season as the 4th most efficient passer in the country. He’s going to be a late day 3 guy, but has the potential to find a role in a creative offense at the next level. Some coach is going to find a use for this guy.
RB Zack Moss
This guy doesn’t get talked about enough as a guy who could lead an NFL offense. The “big names” are taking all of the attention, but Moss has all the tools you could possibly want. He has the size and speed of an NFL back, but this season has shown off his receiving skills too. He is a full 3 down back who can even protect in the passing game. The more I watch of Moss, the more I would love to have him on my team. Zack Moss totaled 1,733 yards and 17 TDs from scrimmage. He’s going to be a Day 2 guy that is going to make some team SUPER happy.
DL Bradlee Anae, Leki Fotu, and John Penisini
Three guys who are great NFL size and have the knowledge of their positions to succeed. It’s always been a matter of polishing their tools to get to the next level. Anae will probably be the first off the board, as an EXPLOSIVE pass rusher. His motor and athleticism will be hard to pass up at the next level. Fotu’s ability comes from a place of pure power. He can overpower offensive lineman but needs to further polish his moves to really be great at the next level. A great project guy. Penisni isn’t as athletic as his counterparts here, but grades just as high or higher than them. His ceiling isn’t the highest, but his floor is also not the lowest. He will be an interesting prospect to watch.
Texas 2020 Prospects to Watch
WRs Devin Duvernay and Collin Johnson
Both Duvernay and Johnson will be at the Senior Bowl, which is likely to be the last time their paths will look this convergent. Duvernay is more of a big slot receiver at 5’11” and 210 lbs, but has experience on the outside as well. He wins mostly with speed, and is often touted as having RB-like abilities once the ball is in his hands. Johnson is a prototypical X-receiver at 6’6”and 220 lbs who a few people have suggested could be moved to tight end in the NFL. If he remains on the outside as I think he should, he’d immediately be one of the better red-zone threats in the pros sheerly due to how big he is. He doesn’t create as much separation as his teammate, but his ball skills are good enough that it rarely matters.
S Brandon Jones
It’s been difficult to evaluate Jones because of all the chaos surrounding him on this defense without access to All-22 film. Frequently lined up as a deep safety, he’s often tasked with either making a tackle or giving up a touchdown because his teammates have struggled to bring down ball carriers at earlier levels of the defense. He’s probably best suited as a two-high free safety where he can attack freely the way he has at Texas, but his ball skills aren’t quite up to par for a starting-caliber NFL deep safety. In a pretty wide-open free safety class, Jones is an intriguing option.
OLs Sam Cosmi and Zach Shackelford
Shackelford came into the season as a highly-touted interior line prospect, but has been a bit inconsistent this year against a strong interior defensive line group in the Big 12. He probably projects best as a center in the NFL. Cosmi has been the star, though, with a strong first year on the left side after starting at right tackle for all of 2018. Just a redshirt sophomore, Cosmi’s NFL declaration seems like a coin flip at this juncture: if he declares, he’s already proven himself at either tackle spot and would be a great developmental choice, if he returns, he’ll likely only get better with more experience on the left side and rise even further up boards.
Keys to Victory for Utah
1. Terrell Burgess Needs to Show Up
With both Johnson and Blackmon down, Burgess will have a lot on his plate. He needs to be the new leader of the secondary. They’re also down the back-up to Blackmon in R.J. Hubert due to injury. Burgess has found success this year, 6 TFLs has been big in stopping the rushing attack and he even has an interception.
2. Win the Time of Possession
Zack Moss will need to keep things moving in order to drain the clock and he should not find too many issues there. Texas gives up 140 rushing yards a game, and expect Moss to greatly pass that mark. Huntley should also not find any issue moving the ball at his usual effective rate.
3. Get Ehlinger on the Ground
Sam Ehlinger is the biggest threat to the Utes in this game. His passing and rushing have both improved this year so Utah will need to get Anae in the backfield and neutralize the passing attack to force Texas’ weakness into the strength of the Utah defense.
Keys to Victory for Texas
1. Pressure Tyler Huntley
Oregon showed how to slow down Utah’s offense in the PAC12 championship game, registering six sacks and causing two interceptions thanks to unrelenting pressure from the Ducks. Huntley has shown that he’ll tuck and run at the first sign of danger, but keeping a spy on him should be enough to contain the offense should the Longhorns be able to generate pressure.
2. Win the Turnover Battle
Utah has forced 21 turnovers this season, including 13 interceptions. While Sam Ehlinger has improved as a passer, I worry about him going up against such a strong secondary, even though Utah is missing Jaylon Johnson and Julian Blackmon. If the Longhorns can get a couple turnovers of their own as well, this could be a completely different game than most are expecting.
3. Get the Run Game Going
Utah’s run defense is the best in the country, but so is their total defense. That means Texas won’t be able to turn solely to the passing game, and they shouldn’t anyway with the secondary Utah has. Getting Keaontay Ingram and Roschon Johnson in rhythm will therefore be key to force the Utes to play balanced defense.