(CBSDFW.COM) — The 2019 season didn’t exactly play out according to Texas Longhorns fans’ expectations entering the year. After a win over Georgia in last year’s Sugar Bowl capped a 10-win season in the second year under Tom Herman, the fan base was hoping for a run at the conference title, and potentially, the College Football Playoff in year three.
That didn’t quite work out. Instead, the secondary and running back corps were beset by injuries, and the defense took a step back, giving up nearly three more points per game and almost half a yard more per play this season. That defensive performance led to the ouster of coordinator Todd Orlando following the completion of the regular season.
At 7-5, the Longhorns did still earn a bid to the Valero Alamo Bowl, and they won’t have to travel far to play in it, something that CBS 11 Dallas sports anchor Keith Russell believes could be to their benefit.
“I think they’re going to rely on the fact that they’re only around 80 miles from Austin. They’re going to rely on the burnt orange to carry them, the UT faithful,” said Russell.
Whether the burnt orange nation makes the trip to San Antonio or not, the matchup on the field is not favorable. The #11 Utah Utes were in the running for the College Football Playoff right up until the final weekend of the regular season when they were stomped by Oregon in the Pac-12 title game.
“That is how good the Utes’ season has been. They could have been in a bigger bowl game. But they came up way short against Oregon, one of their worst performances of the entire season,” said Russell. “But they’re one of the best teams in the entire country. U.T., can they compete? I don’t know.”
The question of whether the Longhorns can compete will depend on just how many of their currently banged up offensive skill players can actually play in this game. As of right now, four of their top five wide receivers and their top running back are battling various injuries. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger can only do so much, and against a Utah defense that allows just 4.4 yards per play, he’ll need as much help as he can get.
The Utes have consistently been a stingy team defensively under head coach Kyle Whittingham, but this year’s group gives new meaning to that word. The Utes allow opponents just 13 points per game while holding them to under 200 yards passing and 70 yards rushing per game. The battle to watch will come on third downs, where Utah allows opponents to convert just 29.7% of the time while Texas’ offense converts at a 49.1% clip.
The bigger problem for the Longhorns will likely be on the defensive side of the ball. The Utes offense has never been a juggernaut, but this season it has been a strength. Utah enters the game averaging over 32 points per game and 6.8 yards per play on the season. Running back Zack Moss is one of the toughest tackles in college football. A 5’10” 222-pound bowling ball with legs, Moss averaged 6.2 yards per carry for over 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. The Longhorns defense has given up over four yards per carry on the season to opposing offenses.
Taking all of those stats into account, Russell says that he can’t go against Utah despite his normal inclination to ride with Texas.
“Normally, I would take U.T., I would ‘Hook ‘Em Horns’ all day. But, I can’t go against Utah. Utah had a fabulous season. U.T. had some close calls as you said Katie, but compared to what they expected to accomplish, they under-performed,” said Russell. “Tom Herman’s boys, they fell apart. He fired his defensive coordinator. I think they go out with a whimper.”
Oddsmakers agree with Utah entering the Ala mo Bowl as 7.5-point favorites. Unsurprisingly, they are also predicting a lower-scoring affair with the over/under line set at 54.5. The Utes were 9-4 against the spread this season, and Texas was just 6-6, 2-3 as an underdog.