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Five Things To Watch For In Utah’s Alamo Bowl Matchup With Texas

Running back Zack Moss #2 of the Utah Utes carries the ball against the Oregon Ducks during the first half of the Pac-12 Championship Game at Levi's Stadium on December 06, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

SAN ANTONIO, Tex. – There are a lot of storylines and angles surrounding the Utes in their Alamo Bowl showdown with the Texas Longhorns.

Both teams enter the contest on two different seasons with Utah being the College Football Playoff conversation, while Texas has a 7-5 record and have made major changes on their coaching staff.

Here are five things to watch for when the Utes and Longhorns take the field in San Antonio, Texas.

#1 Motivation

This won’t likely be an issue but you never know. The Utes have had almost a month since their disappointing loss to the Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12 Championship game. It was a game that Utah would’ve likely been in the College Football Playoff or worst case scenario an appearance in the Rose Bowl for the first time had they beat the Ducks for their first conference title.

The Longhorns experienced a bowl game last year against a team who clearly wasn’t motivated when they played Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. The Bulldogs were in the Playoff but was knocked out when they lost to Alabama in the SEC Championship game.

It shouldn’t be a problem with the Utes because Kyle Whittingham and his coaching staff does a great job of getting the players motivated and ready to play.

#2 How The Free Safety Position Performs

The Utes lost star safety Julian Blackmon for the bowl game after he suffered an injury in the Pac-12 Championship game against Oregon. Also, backup safety R.J Hubert suffered an injury in the same game and will not be available. That leaves Morgan Scalley and the free safety position very thin.

Once the coaching staff found out that Hubert and Blackmon were not available in the Pac-12 title game, they turned to Nevada transfer Nephi Sewell. During the bowl preparations, Sewell has been getting the practice reps with the starters and will get the start against Texas in the Alamo Bowl. Sewell was recently declared eligible and played in the Colorado game and the Pac-12 title game. He transferred from Utah from Nevada but went to high school at Desert Hills in St. George, Utah. Nephi is the brother of Oregon standout offensive lineman Penei and Orem high school star linebacker and running back, and the No. 1 recruit in the state of Utah and Oregon commitment Noah.

Utah still needed to find another safety that could step in and play right away against the Longhorns to provide some depth. That’s when Kyle Whittingham did what he has done so many times over the course of his 15 seasons as the head coach and that’s moving a player on offense to defense. Backup quarterback Jason Shelley has agreed to move to safety and has been practicing in the secondary during the bowl preparations. Shelley’s move to safety should be a smooth transition because of his athletic ability and quickness.

It will be interesting to see how Sewell and Shelley work with strong safety Terrell Burgess against the Longhorns.

#3 Bradlee Anae Sack Record

The star defensive end was two sacks away from breaking Utah’s all-time sack record when the Utes played Colorado in the regular season finale. Anae was able to get 1.5 sacks in the win over the Buffaloes and tied the record of 29.5 career sacks by Hunter Dimick. The senior was not able to get a sack in the Pac-12 title game against Oregon but has one last chance to break the record.

Anae has a very good chance to get a sack against Texas because the Longhorns’ offensive line is not as talented as Oregon’s. It would be a surprise if Anae doesn’t get that last sack before he heads to the NFL.

#4 Secondary Without Jaylon Johnson

Junior cornerback Jaylon Johnson decided to forgo his senior season and declare for the NFL Draft, while also choosing to miss the bowl game to prepare for the next level. Johnson is the only player that will miss the bowl game by choice. His presence will be missed against Texas because of his ability to lockdown the top opposing receivers.

During Pac-12 play, Johnson would shadow the top receivers in the conference, including Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk and Isaiah Hodgins from Oregon State.

Texas has one of the best wide receivers in the country in Devin Duvernay. He has made at least six catches in every game this season. The senior wideout is sixth in the country with 1,294 receiving yards and second with 103 receptions to go with his 8 touchdown catches.

Look for both Josh Nurse and Tareke Lewis to defend Duvernay with some safety help.

#5 Can Utah’s Offense Exploit Texas’ Defense

One of the struggles for Texas this season that led to a 7-5 record is their defense underachieving. The woes led to the firing of defensive coordinator Todd Orlando. Utah’s offense has been a bright spot this season.

This season, Texas is allowing 28.9 points, 139.8 rushing yards, 306.4 passing yards and 446.3 total yards allowed per game.

For the Utes offense, they are averaging 34 points, 207 rushing yards, 235.5 passing yards and 442.5 yards of total offense per game this season.

No. 11 Utah and Texas will face off in the Alamo Bowl on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. The game will be televised on ESPN.

The Crimson Corner podcast is the one-stop for all things University of Utah Athletics hosted by Utah insider Trevor Allen. Ute fans will find interviews with current players, coaches, and staff alongside expert analysis of every game, story and angle coming out of the University of Utah.

You can download and listen to the podcast, here.

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