The Oregon Ducks entered the season as Pac-12 Conference favorites, scored an historical upset win at Ohio State, beat Washington again and extended its home dominance over Oregon State.
But the win over the Buckeyes in Columbus, Ohio, raised expectations on a season that fell short of promise, even after the Ducks rose to No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings with only two weeks left in the regular season.
The dream of playing in the CFP for the first time since 2014 came crashing down with a head-scratching 38-7 loss to Utah. Oregon rebounded to dominate Oregon State at home, but then turned in another stumbling performance with a 38-10 loss to Utah in the Pac-12 championship game.
The losses to Utah denied Oregon its third straight Pac-12 Conference title and ended the North Division’s dominance of the conference championship game.
More: Game balls from the Alamo Bowl loss
When the No. 14 Ducks (10-4) arrived in San Antonio to face the No. 16 Oklahoma (11-2) in the Alamo Bowl, Oregon was without coach Mario Cristobal, who accepted the Miami coaching position three days after the second thumping from Utah. Also missing in San Antonio were Kayvon Thibodeaux, Mykael Wright and Devon Williams, who all declared for the NFL draft, and a score of others who were either injured or entered the transfer portal.
So Oregon’s 47-32 Alamo Bowl was hardly surprising.
Here are some takeaway from the Alamo Bowl and the season:
Oregon’s offense was too late to the party
The Ducks knew they had to do their part offensively with the defense depleted without Thibodeaux, their All-American pass rushing specialist, Wright and DJ James, the starting cornerbacks and a number of other injured starters and backups.
But Oregon never got going in the first half and after trailing 6-3 after the first quarter, was outscored 24-0 in the second quarter as Oklahoma entered halftime with a 30-3 lead.
The Ducks, as expected, tried to establish Travis Dye early and the junior running back had 65 rushing yards on six carries in the first quarter. But Oregon only ran seven times for 17 yards in the second quarter and was forced to have quarterback Anthony Brown throw 16 times in the second quarter to try and convert long-yardage situations and keep pace with the Oklahoma offense. It didn’t happen.
The lack of experienced receivers hurt, too. On the Ducks’ first possession, Brown was intercepted on a pass behind true freshman Dont’e Thornton, who had his hands on the ball and tipped it to an Oklahoma defender. In the second quarter, true freshman Troy Franklin was wide open in the end zone for a touchdown but was unable to locate a perfectly thrown pass from Brown as the ball fell harmlessly to the ground by Franklin’s feet.
The Ducks came out strong offensively in the second half and scored on four straight possessions to trim a 30-3 deficit to 47-32. Brown was 8-of-12 passing for 155 yards and two touchdowns in the third quarter on perfectly thrown scoring passes of 66 yards to Thornton and 34 yards to Kris Hutson, another freshman.
Brown finished 27-of-40 passing for 306 yards and three touchdowns. His career high of 307 passing yards came earlier this season in a win over Colorado.
But the offensive fireworks in the second half came too late.
More: Boxscore from Wednesday’s Alamo Bowl
What is the state of the Oregon defense?
The Ducks will return most of its defense next season as end Brandon Dorlus and nose tackle Popo Aumavae confirmed this week they’ll be back for new coach Dan Lanning. Dorlus was a first team all-Pac-12 Conference player and Aumavae, who missed the Alamo Bowl with an injury, was also on the Associated Press all-conference first team.
Linebackers Bradyn Swinson, Noah Sewell, Mase Funa, Adrian Jackson, Justin Flowe, Jackson LaDuke, Jeffrey Bassa and Keith Brown are all among the players who could return next season.
Oregon’s biggest concern will be at cornerback where freshmen Dontae Manning, Trikweze Bridges and Avante Dickerson had trouble covering and containing Oklahoma’s receivers Wednesday. Junior safety Verone McKinley III was a consensus All-American this season but could be headed to the NFL. The Ducks missed Bennett Williams, who was off to a strong start, and was injured before the Oct. 2 loss at Stanford, but did return to play in the Alamo Bowl.
Oregon also lost starting safety Steve Stephens IV to a season-ending injury in the Colorado win. He could return, as could starting nickleback Jamal Hill.
The Ducks were among the nation’s leaders in interceptions and turnover margin, but struggled to generate a pass rush in games Thibodeaux missed and did not have a sack in the Alamo Bowl.
It will be interesting to see what Lanning, who had a historic defense as Georgia’s coordinator this season, does with the players who return.
What will happen next season?
Oregon’s two biggest questions next season are who will be the starting quarterback as Brown has exhausted his collegiate eligibility, and how will the new coaching staff blend the returning players with those who come in through the transfer portal and high school?
Former Auburn quarterback Bo Nix, who led the Tigers over Oregon in the 2019 season opener, has transferred to Oregon. Will he be the starter or will it be one of three freshmen — Ty Thompson, Jay Butterfield or Robby Ashford — who have almost no college experience? Can the Ducks be more explosive in the passing game than they were this year?
Will Dye and CJ Verdell, both juniors, return to the backfield or move on? They’re fifth and sixth in school history in career rushing, respectively, with Verdell having been lost for the season with a leg injury in the loss at Stanford on Oct. 2.
Expect Oregon to be favored in the Pac-12 North Division at the start of next season and Utah picked to win the South Division and the conference championship again.
Contact Ashley Conklin at [email protected] or 541-338-2337, and follow him on Twitter @Ashleyrgsports
This article originally appeared on Register-Guard: Takeaways from the Oregon Ducks’ Alamo Bowl loss to Oklahoma Sooners