This year’s Fiesta Bowl pits the Oregon Ducks (11-1) of the Pac 12 against the Kansas State Wildcats (11-1) of the Big 12. Chip Kelly (Oregon) and Bill Snyder (Kansas State) are widely considered two of the best head coaches in the college game today. Both of these teams came very close to playing for the national championship and they both suffered their only, yet devastating losses on November 17. However, neither team can afford to play like they don’t want to be in this game, or else the other will surely make them pay.
How They Got Here
A lot of people were hoping for an Oregon-Alabama championship game so Oregon could showcase their explosive offense against a tough SEC defense. But after an overtime loss to Stanford that crushed any hopes of that, the Ducks instead have to settle for the Fiesta Bowl, their fourth straight BCS bowl game. Oregon boasts an offense that scores 50.8 points per game (second in the FBS) with a multitude of dangerous skill players. Aside from their lone loss to Stanford, Oregon beat every opponent by double digits. Their defense isn’t too shabby either, as the Oregon defense has the most interceptions in the FBS with 24.
The Wildcats surprised many and won the Big 12 this season. Their signature win was against Oklahoma in Norman, which would eventually be the tiebreaker that gave them the conference title. They are lead on offense by Heisman finalist Collin Klein and by linebacker Arthur Brown on defense. Klein accounted for 37 total touchdowns and finished third in the Heisman voting while Brown registered a team high 91 tackles. Like Oregon, Kansas State was one win away from playing for the national championship. That loss was an ugly 28-point loss at the hands of Baylor.
Oregon defense vs. Collin Klein
Containing Klein, especially in the run game, should be a top priority for Oregon’s defense. Klein has rushed for 890 yards and 22 touchdowns on the year. The Ducks have some very good players on defense such as Dion Jordan, Michael Clay, Kiko Alonso and Taylor Hart. Clay has a team high 92 tackles and Hart leads the team in sacks with eight. Even though Klein isn’t as effective passing the ball as he is running it, Oregon still needs to account for that too. Klein has thrown for 15 touchdowns and has several quality receivers such as Chris Harper, Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson.
Oregon run offense vs. Kansas State run defense
Oregon has a variety of skill players on offense with the best player probably being running back Kenjon Barner. Barner is an All-American who rushed for 1,624 yards and 21 touchdowns. And while Barner might be the Ducks’ best offensive player, the most dangerous player is probably De’Anthony Thomas. Thomas technically is a running back but he plays some wide receiver too. He has rushed for 686 yards and 11 touchdowns and has caught 41 passes (a team high) for 385 yards and four touchdowns. Plus you can’t leave out Oregon’s dual-threat quarterback Marcus Mariota, who has 690 yards on the ground as well. The bottom line is this: Kansas State’s defense needs to come ready to play or else Oregon’s offense will run them out of the stadium (like they’ve done to most teams). The fast pace that Oregon’s offense plays at usually overwhelms defenses and leads to a blowout. Guys like Arthur Brown, Adam Davis, Jarell Childs and Meshak Williams will need to continue to be playmakers for the Wildcats’ defensive front if they want to have a chance in this game.
Kansas State pass defense vs. Oregon pass offense
As effective as Mariota is running the ball, he’s even better throwing it. The redshirt freshman has thrown for 30 touchdowns and only six interceptions (in 312 attempts). Mariota has a plethora of options to throw to. Oregon has six players with at least 20 receptions and six players with at least three touchdown receptions. Among those pass catchers, wide receiver Josh Huff, tight end Colt Lyerla and the afore-mentioned De’Anthony Thomas are Mariota’s favorites. Kansas State is tied for seventh in the FBS with 18 interceptions. Defensive backs Allen Chapman, Nigel Malone and Ty Zimmerman each have five interceptions for the Wildcats. Their play will be key and if Kansas State’s secondary can stifle Mariota and the Oregon passing game, then that will make their lives a whole lot easier.
Aside from Stanford, every team that Oregon has played has struggled mightily to stop their high-powered offense. Kansas State’s defense is very good but only the elite defenses (like Stanford’s) can hang with the Ducks’ offense. Collin Klein and his offense will most likely need to put up a lot of points and Kansas State is unlikely to hang with Oregon in a shootout. Forcing turnovers and chewing clock to keep the Oregon offense on the sideline should be the blueprint for Kansas State to beat Oregon. Saying that is easy, but for Kansas State to execute that game plan is a daunting task.
Score: Oregon 38 Kansas State 23