SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Oregon wants to play fast and Kansas State wants to score fast, but perhaps not like you might think.
The Wildcats intend to play their game, using clock management and ball control to set the tempo, but don’t want to waste possessions with turnovers and short drives trying to do it.
K-State coach Bill Snyder often preaches the importance of getting off to a quick start and maximizing every scoring opportunity. Doing that may have been more important than it will be tonight at 7:30 (CST) when the fifth-ranked Wildcats meet the fourth-ranked Ducks in the Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
The Ducks are 32-1 under coach Chip Kelly when leading after the first quarter and 37-0 when leading at the half.
To avoid becoming a part of those lopsided numbers it means the Wildcats (11-1) will have to stop, or at least slow down, an Oregon offense that ranks among the best in the country, while finding ways to get on the scoreboard themselves.
It’s a tall order, but one Snyder again has been trying to hammer home in the final days leading up to the Wildcats’ first BCS bowl appearance since 2004.
“It’s not our intent to go to the field and say, ‘OK, we’re going to take 15 minutes and see what’s out there,’” Snyder said Wednesday. “That’s not really our approach.
“The approach is that we’re going to do the best we can. We want to move the ball. If we can move it and score in the initial phases of the ballgame, we want to do that. Does it happen that way? Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.”
It didn’t happen in K-State’s only loss this season at Baylor when the Bears outscored the Wildcats 14-7 in the first quarter and owned a 28-17 halftime lead. That was all Baylor needed to run away with a 52-24 rout over K-State.
Oregon (11-1) could present many of the same problems Baylor did with an offense that averages 51 points and 550 yards a game. The Ducks — playing in their fourth straight BCS game — do it a little differently, though, by using a precision spread rushing attack to create big plays on the ground.
Ducks’ leading rusher Kenjon Barner has 1,697 yards and 21 touchdowns this season, but there is still much more to Oregon than just the speedy senior tailback. Redshirt-freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota has 690 rushing yards to go along with 2,511 yards in the air. There’s also DeAnthony Thomas, a versatile running back who has 686 rushing yards and leads Oregon with 41 receptions for 385 yards.
“They make you have to make plays and tackles in the open field,” K-State linebackers coach Mike Cox said. “They don’t run a whole lot of plays, but they’re very good at what they do and they put you in very stressful position in the open field with what they do, and do it with very fast players.”
Oregon, which has 44 scoring drives in less than two minutes and 22 in just 60 seconds or less, likes to stretch the defense out horizontally, not just vertically like Baylor. Doing that puts a lot of pressure on the defense to make plays in the open field.
“Oregon makes all your players play,” Cox said. “They’ll make the nose tackle make the open-field tackle — they’ll make everyone on your team have to make that difficult tackle. You have to play good team defense against them. Everyone has to do their job — get lined up right and make every tackle.”
Stanford had success doing just that, forcing the Ducks to run inside and keeping them from breaking the big play around the corner. The Cardinal, built very similarly to K-State, held Oregon to 198 yards on the ground — more than 120 yards below its average and came away with a 17-14 victory on the same night K-State lost at Baylor.
“They like to fake inside and the burn them on the outside,” K-State defensive end Adam Davis said. “Stanford kept their defensive ends on the outside for contain and the linebackers stayed inside to destroy everything. They forced Oregon to go inside where all the heat was.”
Replicating that tonight is key, but what’s even more important is for K-State to get lined up correctly and on time. Oregon uses a fast-paced tempo, snapping the ball at a pace of about 15 seconds — much like Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State do in the Big 12.
“It’s something we’ve seen before, so it shouldn’t be a shocker,” said Cox, who coached against Oregon the last three seasons when he was at Washington. “We need to do a good job of matching the tempo and getting lined up. One of the things with Oregon is that they put so much pressure on you that they have a tendency to make teams beat themselves.”
K-State defensive end Meshak Williams said it all comes down to playing disciplined and not taking chances like the Wildcats did against Baylor, especially when the deficit got away from K-State in the second half.
“They do a lot of things to get you to bite too quick,” he said. “That’s why you have to be disciplined and know who has the ball. You have to read and react.
“If you try to do something out of order or out of place, you’re not going to beat them. You have to play a patient game because eventually they’re going to come to you.”
Considering that, keeping the Ducks off the field might be another way to play good defense. K-State will undoubtedly want to be at its best in the most important game of keep-away the Wildcats will play all season. If Oregon is the fastest-scoring team in America, then K-State might be the slowest or most methodical in its approach — both by design.
“I think what everybody would say, is that we need hold onto the ball, keep the ball out of Oregon’s hands as much as we can,” Snyder said. “That’s all fine and dandy as long as you can get the ball in the end zone and score, too, I think.”
Oregon’s coach doesn’t believe, however, that the two teams are as different as some might think. The goals, Kelly says, are the same and how the two teams do it is similar as well.
“Offensively, we rely on running the football and the play-action pass,” he said. “They do, as well. We preach special teams. They preach special teams…
“We’re a little bit different in our spacing on the defensive side of the ball than they are, but it’s still the same fundamentals. They run to the ball extremely well on defense. We do, as well. I think we’re more similar than people really think when you look at it.”
But at the end of the day, tonight’s game will come down to just one thing.
“However it’s done, however we do it, we just want to have one more point than they do,” K-State quarterback Collin Klein said.