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Stage Set For Oregon, Oklahoma In Alamo Bowl

Dec 28, 2021

SAN ANTONIO — Two seasons full of promise and capped by upheaval in December will converge Wednesday.

No. 14 Oregon will play the final game before new head coach Dan Lanning assumes the helm of the program, an Alamo Bowl matchup with No. 16 Oklahoma on Wednesday (6:15 p.m. PT, ESPN). Both teams were in the thick of the College Football Playoff race just a few short weeks ago, and both are playing under interim head coaches this week.

The résumés of the two interim coaches may be different — Bob Stoops is in the College Football Hall of Fame as OU's winningest coach ever, while Oregon's Bryan McClendon celebrated his 38th birthday Tuesday — but their messages as the Alamo Bowl approached were similar.

"One of the biggest messages that has been echoed throughout this time is, this part of the year is about finishing," said McClendon, Oregon's receivers coach the past two seasons. "You have a clear opportunity to be able to finish something that you started."

The Ducks' season began with an emphatic week-two victory at Ohio State, a game Stoops was in attendance for, he said Tuesday. A loss to Stanford in early October didn't derail Oregon's playoff hopes, but two late-season losses to Utah denied the Ducks not only a playoff berth but also their third straight Pac-12 title.

Oklahoma, meanwhile, won its first nine games of the year, though the playoff selection committee was slow to warm to the Sooners. Like the Ducks, OU enters the Alamo Bowl having lost two of its last three games, to Baylor and Oklahoma State.

Stoops hasn't coached a game since the season finale in 2016 but is serving as interim coach before Brent Venables takes over the program. Like McClendon, Stoops said motivation shouldn't be an issue Wednesday.

"When you take the field," Stoops said, "you want to win. And that doesn't change."

Already short-handed due to opt-outs and players who have entered the transfer portal, Oregon's defense will be down a few more bodies in the Alamo Bowl, McClendon confirmed Tuesday.

Defensive tackle Popo Aumavae, pass rushers Adrian Jackson and Jake Shipley, and linebacker Jackson LaDuke will not play Wednesday. McClendon did not clarify the exact circumstances for each.

The Ducks already were preparing to play without Kayvon Thibodeaux and Mykael Wright, who are preparing for the NFL draft, and DJ James and Jayson Jones, who intend to transfer.

"We're having to dig into some depth at different spots," McClendon said. "What we have to do is make sure the guys are able to step up, and it's given guys the opportunity to do that."

Along with getting Bennett Williams back from an injury that sidelined him the past three months, the Ducks hope to have safety Bryan Addison and defensive tackle Keanu Williams available as well, despite the fact both have missed some practice time this week.

Oklahoma's defense also is thin, with four players having opted out of the Alamo Bowl to prepare for the draft.

At a joint press conference with Stoops on Tuesday, McClendon joked that he didn't mind seeing those players would be out, adding that he wished OU quarterback Caleb Williams had done the same.

Williams, whom McClendon called "probably the best playmaker in the country," took over at QB for the Sooners at midseason. Despite that late start, he was such a revelation that Williams was a semifinalist for several major awards, including Walter Camp Player of the Year.