When: Tuesday, Dec. 31 at 6:30 p.m. CT at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas
Betting Line: Utah -7.5
If Moss’ 1,359 rushing yards and 17 total touchdowns somehow aren’t enough to scare Texas fans, his 6.2 yards per carry should.
Utah’s starting back, who broke the school record with 19 100-yard games, has reached the century mark eight times this season and even put up a 203-yard game against Arizona.
One of the keys to the game lies on the shoulders of Utah’s offensive line and the Texas defense. Will the Utes run over Texas, or will the Longhorns find a way to slow down a potent rushing attack like they did earlier in the season?
Texas held LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire to 87 yards on 15 carries en route to holding the Tigers to a mere 102 rushing yards. Two weeks later, Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard grinded out 121 yards, but it took a whopping 37 carries.
The Longhorns’ sophomore linebacker has proven to be the leader of the future. Ossai’s 81 tackles are second to only senior safety Brandon Jones’ 86. The breakout linebacker also recorded two interceptions, two sacks and a fumble recovery.
Ossai introduced himself to the Longhorn faithful last bowl season when he led the team with eight tackles in Texas’ Sugar Bowl win against Georgia. How will he do this go-round? He’s going to need a Sugar Bowl-esque performance against Utah’s electric offensive attack.
It will also be interesting to see what packages interim defensive coordinator Craig Naivar throws at Utah now that Todd Orlando won’t be on the Longhorn sideline.
1. Let DL Bradlee Anae loose: This is one of the last defensive linemen Texas wants to see. Utah senior, and Pac-12 All-Conference first-team defensive end Bradlee Anae, ranks second in the conference in sacks (12.5) and tackles for loss (13.5).
For an offensive line that has been inconsistent –– and that’s putting it lightly –– Anae is more than capable of spoiling Texas’ New Year’s Eve plans.
2. Go with what got you here: Texas has proven its ability to slow down explosive rushing attacks, and Utah isn’t a team that can afford to abandon the run game. Zack Moss is the type of player that can put up enough points by himself to take Texas down, especially with the type of defense the Utes field.
It might take more touches than usual, but the Utes just might need to force-feed Moss in order to get him going in the Alamodome. Utah likely won’t need to put up a tremendous amount of points to emerge with an Alamo Bowl victory.
3. Get off to a fast start: The Longhorns’ inability to get off to a quick start offensively was proven in each of the final five games. On the other hand, as Oregon proved in the Pac-12 Championship, the Utes aren’t exactly a team built to overcome massive deficits.
Utah needs to put up some early points, which could very well kickstart an easy win for the Utes. In the very worst case, early points will at least keep them in the game and give them a chance to grind out a win down the stretch.
1. Find Devin Duvernay early and often: What does Texas’ senior have in store for his grand finale in the burnt orange and white? It took the final chapter of his Longhorn career, but Duvernay’s breakout campaign put him on the All-Big 12 First Team.
His seven 100-yard performances, including a 154-yard show against LSU, give us plenty of reason to believe he will ball out one last time. Collin Johnson’s status for the Alamo Bowl is still up in the air, meaning Texas might need plenty of Duvernay magic if the Longhorns want to put up enough points to keep up with Utah.
2. Establish the ground attack: Similar to the rest of the season, the Longhorns will go as the running game goes. The combination of Keaontay Ingram and Roschon Johnson need to find a way to get in rhythm. Utah’s defense, a unit holding opponents to just over 70 rushing yards per game, is going to make it hard, but the Longhorns can’t afford to be one-dimensional. We’ve seen what happens when Texas tries to rely solely on the arm of Sam Ehlinger.
On the other side, Texas can’t afford to let Zack Moss run free in the Alamodome. If Utah reaches its season average of 207 rushing yards per game, it’s not going to matter what Texas does offensively, the Utes are probably going to cruise to a win.
3. Don’t play conservatively: The Longhorns don’t have too much to lose this bowl season. Both coordinators have already been fired, the Longhorns have secured a winning season and they’re underdogs against the No. 11 team in the country.
If Texas wants a shot on Dec. 31, the play calling needs to reflect a team with little to nothing on the line.
Aside from the reason that the Alamo Bowl paired an 11-2 team with a 7-5 squad, the Utes have three reasons they should take care of Texas: Utah’s quarterback Tyler Huntley, running back Zack Moss and the entire defense.
That’s not even taking into consideration the fact that Texas will be playing under a pair of interim coordinators after former offensive coordinator Tim Beck was demoted to quarterbacks coach and former defensive coordinator Todd Orlando was let go altogether.
Clearly the Longhorns weren’t seeing much success even with their coordinators, but this Utah team –– aside from the Pac-12 Championship –– appeared to be a well-oiled machine all season. As long as Moss, Huntley and the Utah offense nears its average of 34 points per game and the Utes’ defense looks like the same defense that holds opponents to 13.2 points per game, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham should ring in the new year by improving to 12-2 in bowl games at Utah.
Stop me if you’ve heard this story before: Texas is matched up with a team it has absolutely no business playing in a bowl game. Similar to last year’s absurdity that not only landed a four-loss team in the Sugar Bowl, but saw said team take down a national powerhouse, 7-5 Texas probably shouldn’t get a shot at a team like 11-2 Utah. That’s exactly why the Longhorns just might pull off an upset.
The Longhorns didn’t look outmatched for the majority of the season, minus their blowout loss to Baylor. Texas showed up against LSU and Oklahoma, both of which resulted in 7-point losses, and the Longhorns certainly showed up in last year’s bowl game.
Playing in front of a home crowd paired with the Longhorns’ experience against elite teams this season and Herman’s track record as an underdog gives Texas fans plenty of hope for an upset victory on New Year’s Eve.