In a way, watching the Longhorn's Alamo Bowl Duck Hunt was a lot like playing the original Duck Hunt on the 8-bit Nintendo.
Texas' Case McCoy-led offense offered all the firepower of the original NES Light Gun. It was inevitable that the Ducks would fly free and victorious in the end. And that damn dog just wouldn'...stop...laughing.
Even though he hasn't had schematic currency in at least 20 years, it's hard not to think of offense as Mack's side of the ball. It's where he came up in the game, it's where he's had the most involvement/meddling over the years, and by and large it's the side of the ball that has seemed most reflective of his personality during his run at Texas. And Texas' offense against the Ducks was a testament to late-era Mack - reflective of his foibles as a depth-chart manager on the one hand, and indicative of his withdrawal from day-to-day operations on the other.
Texas' fiasco of an air attack - 9/23, 56 yards and two touchdowns for the other team - was the culmination of Mack's hilariously addle-pated approach to managing the quarterback position. The "Case McCoy is not a BCS conference quarterback" discussion has been worn out to the point where the horse is flat-out skeletonized. But in a season where an eminently winnable Big XII was sacrificed for the Mack Brown Self-Aggrandizement Farewell Tour, it's tough not to spend one more moment considering what might have been had the Longhorns been able to field a QB who could keep them in the game against Top 25 competition.
OSU, Baylor and Oregon were all better top-to-bottom teams than the Longhorns. But none of them held the kind of talent edge that would have made those games un-winnable had Texas been able to use the deep middle of the field, exploit Mike Davis and Marcus Johnson's blow-by ability at a range longer than 40 yards, or throw out patterns without asking the offense to make a tackle. The receivers did what they could tonight - Mike D did have an awful drop of an on-the-money Tyrone Swoopes deep shot, but three other throws to guys who had burned their DBs were well off-target. It is tough to imagine a passing performance as inept as the one Texas' primary passer turned in, and even tougher to imageine any other BCS conference coach trotting out said passer in his valedictory season. So from that standpoint, Mack's send-off was well deserved.
By contrast, the Longhorns' ground game harkened back to the halcyon days before Mack pioneered the Offensive Estrogen Infusion. To be sure, the Longhorns boasted a top-tier rushing attack during Vince Young's heyday, thanks in large part to Vince imposing constraint on defenders and take-no-prisoners ethos on his offensive mates. But Texas' attack against Oregon felt a lot like 1998, as a Mike Deal-coached OL worked its will on opponents while Mack and GD were still getting their sea legs. The Longhorns worked the Ducks over with body blow after body blow, and the fact that Malcolm Brown is not Ricky Williams was what kept Texas from landing but a single haymaker on the night. The offensive line was thrown into higgledy-piggledy mode during bowl practices when Kennedy Estelle got Brian Davis'd, but Texas still imposed their will on the Ducks' front just about every time Major Applewhite deigned to call a run play. By all reports, Mack was a seldom-seen presence during the majority of the season, and it's hard to imagine better evidence of that assertion than the re-emergence of a hard-nosed Longhorn ground game.
The final score didn't do a ton of justice to Gerg and his charges, who went toe to toe with one of college football's elite offenses and acquitted themselves well. Texas' season-long struggles with running quarterbacks were in full effect, as Marcus Mariota racked up more than ten yards per attempt prior to re-tweaking his knee in the second half. But facing an offense like Oregon's always involves at least a degree of picking your poison, and Texas' options were limited from the jump after Manny Diaz' utter failure to instill linebacking fundamentals during the offseason. The Longhorns did a very credible job of clamping down on Oregon's three-headed rushing attack, allowing very little between the tackles while also preventing The Anthony Thomas from murdering them on edge rushes.
Malcom Brown and his linemates did a good job of gap control through most of the game, and Jackson Jeffcoat was tormenting Duck linemen as a moveable chess piece until got dinged up. Dalton Santos was facing backfield athletes with a different class of athleticism, but he held up well and made a few nice plays on attempted edge runs. Peter Jinkens has turned in two quality Alamo Bowls out of four total quality starts in a Texas uniform, and hopefully he can build on that foundation in some non-Alamo Bowl games next season. While the Ducks' Josh Huff got whatever revenge he was seeking against Major Applewhite, Carrington Byndom and the rest of the secondary did a good job in man coverage and were subject to their teacher's failings when they attempted to play zone.
Let's sum it up simply - the defense gave up 16 points to an elite offense. Well done, gents.
Tradition demanded a pooched kickoff, but other than that there weren't too many foibles on display. Texas avoided a roughing penalty and prevented Oregon's stable of quick-twitch athletes from breaking a big return, and Kendall Sanders even managed to log the long return of the night with a 35-yarder. The 2001 Big XII Championship Game remains Mack's only post-season defeat where special teams was a proximate cause.
THE BOTTOM LINE
At some point in the brodcast, the ESPN crawl said that Oregon was expected to beat Texas by 22 on a neutral field. The neutrality of the field can certainly be debated, the outcome was more or less what you would have expected. Maybe a few more offensive TDs and a couple less defensive TDs for the Ducks (or not), but the overall margin would have been a pretty fair representation of Texas' distance from college football's elite in Season Four of the Mack Brown Rebuild.
If a two-loss Ducks team qualified as college football's elite.