As the Kansas State football team prepares for its BCS bowl matchup with Oregon, the resounding question to coaches and players was how the Ducks compare with Big 12 opponents who run spread offenses.
The name that came up most often?
That’s the same Baylor team that marks the only loss in K-State’s dream season thus far. The only team to abuse the Wildcat defense for an entire game. The only team able to create enough separation early to force K-State to try and play catch-up for most of the game.
“There are a number of teams that can move around like they do,” head coach Bill Snyder said of the Ducks. “Baylor can do that, Oklahoma State can as well. When I say like they do, I mean how they reduce it to the tempo of the game, how fast they line up and go.
“Oregon can go as fast as they want to go.”
Of course, K-State also faced good spread teams in matchups with West Virginia, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, all of them Wildcat victories. But Baylor worked the K-State defense, one that was without First-Team All-Big 12 safety Ty Zimmerman, all night without much resistance. If Oregon can replicate Baylor’s success offensively, it could be a long night.
“We’re not nervous about it,” safety Jarard Milo said. “A lot of the things they do are similar to things we’ve already seen. With their spread offense, we’ve seen that and we’re used to the pace that they run.”
But Oregon does things a bit differently. They have the capability to throw downfield, but just as Baylor did in its win over K-State, Oregon is proficient at running the ball out of the spread. They use their talented and speedy backs, Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas, in situations where they can make people miss and beat you one on one in the running game. Teams like West Virginia and Texas Tech use more of a passing offense.
“They can go as fast or faster than anybody when they choose to do so and a good portion of the time, they do that,” Snyder said. “As far as the style of offense is concerned, people would get the perception that they kind of ‘run-and-gun’, when they really ‘run-and-run’. They have balance in their system, which I have always felt is extremely important.
“Their numbers would indicate that. They run it for more yards than they throw it, but their throwing yardage is very substantial as well. They have a lot of things that you have to have great concern about.”
Barner and Thomas combine for 32 touchdowns and more than 2,300 yards this season, with quarterback Marcus Mariota also getting in the action, with 690 yards and four TDs. All three runners average more than 6.5 yards per carry. Through the air, the Ducks are certainly capable, with Mariota over the 2,500 yard mark to go with 30 touchdowns, but the need hasn’t been there. More often than not, Oregon takes an early lead and then eats up the clock with its powerful running game.
This year, K-State has been good against the run, but the Ducks are widely considered the best offensive team in the country. Stopping them will be an immense challenge. But Snyder insists that the Ducks’ defense and special teams are overlooked.
“Because Oregon is so prolific offensively, it’s easy to have oversight in regards to the quality of their defense, which has been very, very productive for them,” he said. “I think people that surround that program really understand that’s the case and we understand that too.”
For Milo and the defense, being a part of one of the most anticipated bowls of the season is motivation to make sure they play the best they can on the national stage.
“It means a lot to us,” Milo said. “Oregon’s a great team, what more can you ask for? It’s not the national championship, but we feel like it’s the national championship game for us. It’s a big challenge. Oregon’s one of the best teams in the nation. That’s the way we like it.
“For us to have this opportunity, we want to make the most of it.”