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December 31, 2013

Oregon caps 11-2 season with 30-7 win

The 11-2 Oregon Ducks won the Valero Alamo Bowl over 8-5 Texas 30-7 in San Antonio on Monday in a way many college football fans would not expect; with stellar defense. Safety Avery Patterson scored the games' first points in the first quarter with his third career pick six. Linebacker Derrick Malone was the last player in the end zone with one of his own in the fourth.

And in veteran defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti's final game, the Ducks held the Longhorns to 13 first downs and 236 yards of total offense.

"We are very happy to send Nick out on the right note," said head coach Mark Helfrich after the game. "I think his guys were playing for themselves, certainly playing for him, of being a much maligned group these last weeks, coming up huge. Finishing it, bookending it with pick sixes."

For Oregon's senior DB, interceptions for touchdowns are nothing new, with Case McCoy being his third victim.

"I was just following his eyes," said Patterson. "I told Ifo, I got it. We kind of sandwiched him together and I was able to get lucky and get a pick."

The offense for the Ducks was sparked by quarterback Marcus Mariota who won game MVP honors after carrying much of the load. The sophomore was the games' leading rusher and passer, accounting for 133 yards on 15 carries with his feet and 253 yards and a touchdown through the air.

"He was incredible all night," said senior wide receiver Josh Huff. "Marcus stepped up big for us, especially when we had some drives, getting penalties. He was able to use his legs and stay in the pocket and find receivers downfield. Again, he came up big each and every time we needed him. That's why he was the MVP of the game."

The return by Mariota to his rarified form was welcome news for Oregon after an early November knee injury to the Heisman trophy candidate contributed to the Ducks' difficult month.

"He's still not 100%, which is scary," said Helfrich. "But the guy is special. You can see these guys hunt up blocks. When he was kind of closer to being capital M, Marcus, our guys felt that, things were better."

In the second half it appeared Mariota was hurting but the trainers were not looking at his knee.

"I'm okay, just out of shape," said Mariota. "Got some cramps in the second half. Credit the guys up front and the guys outside. They made key blocks for me to get some yards. Coach Frost was joking all week he thought I would get 200 yards. I was just like, 'Okay'. But, yeah, that's mostly on me. I should have been running after practice. It's been a while since I've been running like that. It's been a couple months. That's totally on me. I have six months to get back into shape."

In his last game as a Duck, Huff was Mariota's top target with five catches for 104 yards and a touchdown.

"I felt like he had a really good game in his final game," said Mariota. "He really stepped up as a leader today and was really just pushing us to finish drives, just to go out there and do it for each other. He's like a brother to me, I love him, and I wish him the best."

Texas running back Malcolm Brown had 102 first half yards but totaled only 28 in the second half. He attributed it to their 20-7 halftime deficit.

"We needed to pass the ball more to the receivers," said Brown of the second half. "You can't keep running and try to get yards. You got to put points on the board. Oregon offense was great. Their defense was great, as well. They were stopping us. We just couldn't get going."

For Helfrich, who just completed his first season as a head coach, the time to savor the victory will be short. When he returns to Eugene he will begin searching for a replacement for the Ducks' iconic defensive coordinator.

But the win is certainly something worth enjoying for Helfrich and the Ducks as it set the tone for a positive final month of recruiting and will serve as motivation for the players' off-season work. It also answered some questions fans had about the new head honcho.

As the Oregon program continues this new Helfrich chapter in its history, the storyline looks bright.

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