Match-up: Oregon (Pac-12) vs. TCU (Big 12)
Location: Alamodome. San Antonio, TX
When: Saturday, January 2nd, 6:45 PM
Where to Watch: ESPN3
It was a shaky start to the season for Ducks, at least by their standards. But with the loss of Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, the best player in program history, this was to be expected. A tough loss in week 2 at East Lansing to Michigan State late in the 4th quarter was the start of a bump in the road. Quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. injured his finger and missed the next four games. Without Adams, the Ducks got romped by Utah at home 62-20, perhaps the most embarrassing loss in the Mark Helfrich era. Then, two weeks later the Ducks lost to Washington State in overtime, suffering their third loss of the season in just six games. After a 3-3 start, Adams got healthy and this Oregon offense started looking like the old Oregon offense, going up and down the field on teams at will. The Ducks won their last six games of the season, averaging just under 45 points per game over that span. Needless to say, this Oregon team is one of the hottest teams in the country and no one wants to play them right now. TCU coach Gary Patterson went as far as saying, “If they were healthy all year, they would be a top 4 team right now.” So yeah, this Oregon team is rolling.
Players to Watch
Vernon Adams Jr (QB): The transfer from Eastern Washington was outstanding this year for the Ducks when healthy. Despite missing 3 games and sitting out for the majority of another, Adams still threw for 2,446 yards and 25 touchdowns to just 6 interceptions. This guy is a game wrecker and is an obvious threat with his legs and arm. His athleticism in the open field is unmatched, and he is what makes this Ducks offense go.
DeForest Buckner (DE): At 6-foot-7 and 300 pounds, Buckner is a freak of nature coming off the edge and runs like a deer. He is capable of ruining an opposing offense’s rhythm by making plays in the backfield to stop the run and rush the passer. His 10 sacks and 16 tackles for loss were tops in the Pac 12, so he’s been a problem all season long. With this most likely being his last game before he declares for the NFL Draft, Buckner will want to put on a show in front of tons of NFL scouts and GM’s.
How Oregon Can Win
Do what they do on offense, and get timely stops on defense. TCU will not be able to slow down Vernon Adams Jr. and company once they get rolling. Oregon will have to beat themselves with penalties and/or turnovers for them to be stopped or slowed down and with Buckner, Oregon has a game-changer on their defense, something that TCU doesn’t have due to injuries.
The Horn Frogs suffered quite a bit of injuries this season on both sides of the ball. After losing as many as five key staters on defense, Gary Patterson’s club lost star wideout Josh Doctson when he injured his wrist at Oklahoma State, and star quarterback Trevone Boykin severely sprained his ankle which caused him to miss two games, most notably at Oklahoma. The Horn Frogs still finished with 10 wins despite those injuries to key players, which is a credit to Gary Patterson and his staff. While it may have fallen short of preseason expectations, TCU still had an excellent year and was very much in the Big 12 championship picture until their loss at Oklahoma late in the season. When healthy, this team is very dangerous, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Both Boykin and Doctson are expected to play in this game, so this could be one of the best games to watch.
Players to Watch
Trevone Boykin (QB): Boykin is the best duel-threat quarterback in the country when healthy, as he has been electric over the course of his career for the Horn Frogs. Despite missing two games with an ankle, Boykin still had over 3,500 passing yards and 31 touchdown passes, to go along with 612 yards on the ground and 9 scores. Boykin and Adams will both be fun to watch in this game, as both should pose tremendous challenges for their opponent. Expect Boykin to ball out in his final college game.
Josh Doctson (WR): Doctson was well on his way to winning the Biletnikoff award as the nations top receiver before his wrist injury. However, Doctson still hauled in 79 catches for over 1,300 yards and 14 touchdowns. Not too shabby I would say, huh? Doctson is a tremendous hands catcher and continuously moves the chains for this Horn Frogs offense, and takes this team to another level offensively when he’s in the lineup. Along with Boykin, Doctson will also be playing his final collegiate game. He has a very bright NFL future, as he’s projected in most mock drafts to be selected in the first round in April.
How TCU Can Win
They must be able to get stops on defense. This TCU defense has struggled against up-tempo offenses this year, but they did hold Baylor to just 21 points (their second fewest points total in a game all year). However, that was due to miserable weather in Fort Wayne, but this defense is still in the top 4 in all defensive categories in the Big 12. It’s still a solid defense, but it really needs to pick it up a few notches against this electrifying Oregon offense. TCU will score points, but will they get stops? That remains to be seen.
Final Score Prediction: Oregon wins 55-52.
Photo Credits: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1824680-despite-struggles-tcu-qb-trevone-boykin-could-be-a-difference-maker-vs-texas