By Rob Moseley
Venue: Moshofsky Center
Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, a 6-foot-4, 245-pound dual threat, was pulled out of a redshirt season in late October. He proceeded to complete 4-of-7 passes for 18 yards in five limited appearances, and rushed 12 times for 59 yards and a touchdown.
The brief work provided much-needed experience for Swoopes, the new UT backup after starter David Ash suffered a season-ending head injury and was replaced by Case McCoy. But, what to make of reports out of Austin this week that Swoopes got work with the first-team offense in practices leading up to the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 30?
That’s a question Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti must contend with over the next 10 days. And it illustrates a major theme of every bowl season – just how much tinkering a team can and should do with extra time to prepare.
Just enough, and you’ve provided yourself a potentially decisive edge. Too much, and you’ve overwhelmed players with too much information.
“You try to strike that balance,” UO head coach Mark Helfrich said.
For Aliotti, it makes the worrisome business of coaching defense that much more worrisome.
Texas has run 938 plays so far this season, out of myriad formations and personnel groups. And the notion of Swoopes working with the first team opens up that many more possibilities for what the Longhorns might try against the Ducks.
“What are they going to feature?” Aliotti asked rhetorically. “We can’t call timeout if they come out in empty (with only the quarterback in the backfield), so we have to practice empty. We can’t call timeout if they come out with big guys like Stanford. That’s a difficult part of it.”
In interviews this week, Oregon’s players and coaches have mentioned new things they’re installing too. That’s typical of a game week, but the extended preparation for a bowl game provides even more chances to tinker.
“There’s a fine line between tweaking something and doing too much,” Aliotti said. “You tweak it a little bit, to hopefully counter some of your misfortunes or errors. But you can’t do too much.”
The issue isn’t limited to defensive coaches. Helfrich said the offensive staff can catch itself considering too many different wrinkles in December.
“Especially next week, you’ve got the bulk of (the game plan) in, and you start going, ‘Well, what if they put 15 guys in the A gap, or what if they put 12 guys on the edge?’ Everybody looks at each other and goes, ‘OK, we’ll be all right,’” said Helfrich, who expressed confidence that a staff with vast postseason experience will ultimately handle this month effectively.
Highlights: The play of the day was by Keanon Lowe, who, already winded after an 11-on-11 period with the offense, sprinted down the field on kickoff coverage, blew up a scout-team blocker and made the play. It was an example of relentless effort, and nobody brings that on a more consistent basis than Lowe. … B.J. Kelley hauled in touchdown passes from Marcus Mariota and Jake Rodrigues during team drills, and both Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner showed off their burst with long runs between the tackles. …
The day ended with an overtime scenario in which the twos bested the ones. Mariota got the No. 1 offense a chunk of yards with a pass to Josh Huff, but two plays later he was intercepted in the end zone by Erick Dargan. A Jeff Lockie completion to Blake Stanton and some Tyner rushing yards then put the No. 2 offense into field-goal range, and Eric Solis made the short kick.
Other observations: Safety Avery Patterson has broken up a few passes this week. With Oregon’s cornerback depth hurt by Troy Hill’s suspension, Patterson’s play is a reminder that he has played corner in the past, and probably could fill in there if necessary. … Brian Jackson blocked an extra-point attempt during a rep for those units, but the play was whistled offsides, and kicker Hayden Crook converted his second chance. … Former UO tight end Tim Day attended practice with a contingent of fellow Nike employees. … The Ducks will hold a walk-through early Saturday, and then the team will scatter for the holiday before reuniting in Texas on Wednesday.