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Alamo Bowl Preview and Prediction: Oregon vs. TCU

Vernon Adams

Vernon Adams

Oregon and TCU bring their high-powered offenses to San Antonio, Texas on Saturday night for a showdown in the 2016 Alamo Bowl. This bowl was one of the most anticipated matchups of the postseason but lost some of its appeal on Thursday morning. TCU starting quarterback Trevone Boykin was arrested after an incident in San Antonio and is suspended for Saturday's contest. The Ducks and Horned Frogs average over 40 points a game, but Boykin's absence is a huge setback for TCU.

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Oregon was expected to take a small step back in the post-Marcus Mariota era, and the Ducks’ 2015 campaign and Pac-12 North title hopes suffered an early blow when Eastern Washington transfer quarterback Vernon Adams was injured in the opener. Adams eventually returned to full strength and guided the Ducks to six consecutive wins to close out 2015. With Adams back at 100 percent, Oregon’s up-tempo attack was firing on all cylinders, as the Ducks scored at least 38 points in five out of their last six games. Coach Mark Helfrich’s team will have a full and healthy arsenal of weapons available for this game, but the play-calling duties will be altered with coordinator Scott Frost accepting the head coach job at UCF. Helfrich and receivers coach Matt Lubick will handle the play-calling duties on Saturday night.

With quarterback Trevone Boykin and an explosive offense in place, TCU was picked by some as a national title contender this preseason. The Horned Frogs started 8-0 but injuries and the roster turnover on defense was eventually too much for coach Gary Patterson’s team to overcome. TCU went 2-2 over its last two games, which included a one-point defeat to Oklahoma without Boykin under center, as well as a 28-21 victory over Baylor in a monsoon on Nov. 27. While TCU failed to make a push for a playoff spot, there’s still plenty for Patterson’s team to play for, including an 11-win season and a chance to finish in the top 10 of the final Associated Press poll. With Boykin suspended, it's up to backups Foster Sawyer and Bram Kohlhausen to finish the season out on a high note for the Horned Frogs.

This is only the third meeting on the gridiron between TCU and Oregon. The overall series is tied at one victory apiece, and the last meeting between the Ducks and Horned Frogs took place in 1978.

Alamo Bowl: TCU vs. Oregon

San Antonio, Texas

Kickoff: Saturday, Jan. 2 at 6:45 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: TCU - 1

Three Things to Watch

1. Vernon Adams vs. TCU's Quarterbacks

Outside of the Orange Bowl duel between Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, there wasn't a better or more anticipated quarterback showdown in a postseason game than the one in San Antonio between Oregon’s Vernon Adams and TCU’s Trevone Boykin. However, the outlook on this matchup changed significantly with Boykin's suspension. Despite missing three games due to injury and playing sparingly against Utah, Adams finished with 2,446 passing yards and 25 scores and completed at least 73 percent of his throws in each of Oregon’s last three games. The Eastern Washington transfer was only on campus for one season, but Adams has made a huge impression. The senior is adept at using his mobility to slide around the pocket and keep plays alive and generated 10 passing plays of 40 yards or more this season. Boykin was more of a true dual-threat quarterback, as he passed for 3,575 yards and 31 touchdowns and added 612 yards and nine scores on the ground in 2015. Senior Bram Kohlhausen and freshman Foster Sawyer both played in critical moments for TCU this season, and Kohlhausen is expected to start. The senior completed 27 of 43 passes for 369 yards and three touchdowns but doesn't have the mobility Boykin brought to the offense. How much of the offense will co-coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham alter with Kohlhausen and Sawyer taking snaps? Both quarterbacks are surrounded by a strong supporting cast, including 1,000-yard rushers at running back (Royce Freeman, Oregon and Aaron Green, TCU), solid offensive lines and big-play threats at receiver. Both defensive backfields had their share of breakdowns in the secondary this season and there will be opportunities for big plays from both offenses. All eyes in San Antonio, Texas will be on the quarterbacks, as Adams looks to finish the year on a high note, while Kohlhausen/Sawyer steps in for Boykin.

2. Getting Defensive

Even though Boykin is suspended, TCU should be able to move the ball on Oregon's defense. And with Adams under center for the Ducks, it's no secret the Horned Frogs will have their hands full on Saturday night. With both teams possessing a bevy of talented skill players, this matchup could be decided on which defense can make enough timely stops. It’s unlikely either defense will control the pace of the game, so getting stops in the red zone, on third downs and forcing turnovers is critical. TCU’s defense holds the edge in third down and red zone stops, while Oregon’s unit holds a slight advantage in forcing turnovers (21 to 18) and in sacks (36 to 28). The Ducks’ defensive efforts are led by standout lineman DeForest Buckner (16 TFL and 9.5 sacks), while the linebacking corps features the steady play of Joe Walker (82 tackles), Rodney Hardrick (72 stops) and Tyson Coleman (10 TFL). However, the secondary has been a problem spot for this team, ranking 95th nationally in pass efficiency defense. It’s up to Buckner and the linebacking corps to slow TCU running back Aaron Green and get to Kohlhausen/Sawyer in the pocket. When Oregon has the ball, TCU’s defensive front has to win the battle in the trenches, force the Ducks behind the chains and keep this offense from getting into its fast tempo.

3. TCU’s Receiving Corps and RB Aaron Green

There’s no doubt TCU is going to miss standout receiver Josh Doctson against Oregon. The senior caught 79 passes for 1,327 yards and 14 scores before suffering a season-ending wrist injury against Kansas. Boykin’s ankle injury and the weather against Baylor skewed the passing totals late in the season. However, it’s noteworthy TCU’s lowest passing performances all took place with Doctson out of the lineup. With a month to prepare, co-coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham should be able to shuffle the receivers and make the necessary adjustments to fortify Boykin’s supporting cast. But who will step up as TCU’s go-to receiver against Oregon’s struggling secondary? Of course, that question even tougher to answer with Boykin sidelined. Is freshman KaVontae Turpin (14.6 ypc) the top option? Or will the Horned Frogs feature Shaun Nixon or the speedy Kolby Listenbee more against the Ducks? Doctson’s production and presence will be tough to replace, but TCU has proven options. Will those receivers step up with the game on the line Saturday night? Without Boykin, Oregon's defense should expect to see a lot of running back Aaron Green. The senior rushed for 1,171 yards this season and faces a defense that ranked sixth in the Pac-12 against the run. The supporting cast for TCU is even more critical without Boykin at the controls.

Final Analysis

Before Boykin's suspension, all signs pointed to an offensive shootout and one of the highest-scoring games of the postseason. However, with Boykin sidelined, those expectations should be tempered. With only two days to prepare Kohlhausen or Sawyer, TCU has a tough assignment ahead on Saturday night. The Horned Frogs need a huge effort from their defense and running back Aaron Green to knock off the Ducks. Oregon closed out the regular season as one of the hottest teams in college football. However, did the month off from game action cool Helfrich’s offense? Maybe a little. Even if TCU finds a way to slow Oregon's offense, it's asking a lot of Kohlhausen and Sawyer to replicate Boykin's production and overall impact on a defense. The Ducks' sluggish defense keeps the Horned Frogs in it, but Adams and Freeman eventually put this one away for Oregon in the second half.

Prediction: Oregon 45, TCU 30