Motivation will be key when the Utes and Longhorns meet in San Antonio
Neither the Utah Utes nor Texas Longhorns wanted to see their seasons end at the Valero Alamo Bowl. Texas had dreams of contending for the Big 12 championship again, but those were dashed in a 7-5 campaign. Utah lost its chance at a bid to the College Football Playoff when it fell to the Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12 title game.
Consider it the Disappointment Bowl.
Personnel issues on both sides have put a different spin on the matchup as well. Texas head coach Tom Herman shook up his staff in response to the down year, raising concerns about focus and organization coming into the game. Meanwhile, the NFL draft left some Utah stars opting against showing up for the bowl to preserve their health.
Motivation could play a big part in determining the winner of this year’s Alamo Bowl. Here’s what to watch out on the field.
Valero Alamo Bowl: Utah vs. Texas
Kickoff: Tuesday, Dec. 31 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: Alamodome (San Antonio)
Spread: Utah -7
When Utah Has the Ball
The Texas defense had a horrendous 2019 campaign that led to defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s ouster. Herman has hired his replacement, Chris Ash, but it’s fair to wonder if the Longhorns are ready for what’s coming from the Utes.
Utah doesn’t have the kind of offense that will strike fear into the hearts of opposing defenses, but you don’t need one to put up big numbers versus UT. The Longhorns have struggled mightily versus the pass this year. Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley should find plenty of opportunities to generate big plays with his arm as a result.
Keep a close watch on sophomore tight end Brant Kuithe of Utah. He’s the Utes’ best threat in the throwing game and a terrible matchup for UT’s linebackers and safeties.
When Texas Has the Ball
Utah is a defensive-minded team, so the NFL-inspired absence of players like star cornerback Jaylon Johnson strikes a big blow to the heart of the squad. It sounds as though oft-injured Texas wide receiver Collin Johnson will give it a go, which is not the kind of news a short-handed defense wants to hear. Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham and defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley need to scheme up ways to slow down Johnson and running mate Devin Duvernay.
Of course, the Longhorns are suffering from the same malady on offense as defense: lack of a coordinator. Tim Beck got his walking papers at the end of the regular season, just like Orlando. What will that mean for UT’s offensive game plan?
Look for Herman to try to lull the Utes to sleep with Texas’ running game and horizontal passing before firing off the occasional vertical shot from QB Sam Ehlinger to Johnson.
There are any number of schematic and tactical angles to assess here. However, psychology often dictates the outcome of bowl games, and that seems likely here.
The Texas program appears focused on 2020 now after slogging through such a disappointing ‘19 season. Herman has been forced to juggle his responsibilities of recruiting, overhauling his staff and putting together a game plan for the Utes. Which one do you think got short shrift in the last month?
Maybe Utah packed it in after losing to Oregon, but the Utes have heard for weeks that they were frauds all along. Teams in that position seem more likely to play their bowl games looking for blood.
The motivation edge goes to Utah, and that makes all the difference here.
Prediction: Utah 31, Texas 17
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.