SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — In the simplest of ways, Thursday’s Fiesta Bowl could come down to who manages the tempo the best.
Oregon wants to go fast, do everything fast and leave the Wildcats in a cloud of dust.
Kansas State wants to take its time, control the clock and churn out yards at such a slow pace you might wind up snoring by halftime.
Whichever team gets to control the tempo might just win this game.
The Wildcats were in the same situation against Baylor — a team that also prefers to operate at lightning speed — and they failed.
“The score got away from us a little bit and unlike the season before when we were used to being behind and coming back, we weren’t behind very much,” K-State co-offensive coordinator Dana Dimel said Sunday. “When that turned into a bigger lead, we kind of lost our identity probably just threw the ball way too much.
“Baylor was the one game where we didn’t control the tempo and stay within ourselves and control the ballgame the way we need to control it. We just need to play Kansas State football and do what we do.”
What K-State does and does well is run its offense through quarterback Collin Klein, an attack that doesn’t require the senior to throw the ball 50 times like he did in the loss at Baylor, but rather use an even balance between the ground and air. On the season, K-State has passed for 2,545 yards and rushed for 2,390. Klein has accounted for 3,380 total yards.
It’s that Wildcat offense the fourth-ranked Oregon Ducks (11-1) are preparing to see on Thursday night at 7:30 (CST) when they meet No. 5 K-State (11-1) at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
“The offense goes around and through Collin Klein,” Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said. “He’s the catalyst. And whichever way that is, we need to slow him down some and make somebody else have to beat us.”
But more often than not it was what Klein did in K-State’s offense that allowed others to breakout. When the running game is working — either through Klein or running back John Hubert — it opens up the passing game and allows for easier throws downfield to receivers like Chris Harper, Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson or even dump out passes to tight end Travis Tannahill.
“There’s not an element of their offense that is bad,” Aliotti said. “I wish there were, but there’s not. You don’t get to be 11-1 and almost go to the national championship game with a bad team, and they don’t have a bad team.”
Though Ducks players acknowledge K-State is more than just a one-man band offensively, at the end of the day, everything is derived from what the Wildcats’ quarterback does.
So, stopping Klein is the priority No. 1 for the Oregon defense that ranked sixth in the Pac-12 and 47th nationally.
“You have to either tackle him high real hard or tackle him low and take out his legs,” Ducks linebacker Michael Clay said. “He’s going to fall forward a lot, so we have to gang-tackle him and make sure he feels our presence there. We want him to know he’s getting hit. I think we did that a lot when we played in the national championship against Cam Newton.”
It’s Newton who most Ducks players and coaches seem to compare Klein to the most, largely because both, are well, large and can run it and throw it. Oregon has seen its share of versatile QBs the four straight BCS bowls its played in — Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson in the Rose Bowl year, Newton in the title game in 2011 and Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor in the 2010 Rose Bowl.
“It’s very unique, being that big,” Clay said. “He’s deceptively fast. You can’t just be out there waltzing around because he’ll outrun you. We’ve seen running quarterbacks the last three years… We just have to be able to tackle in open space.”
And while Klein can clearly run, he doesn’t do it exactly like Newton, who was perhaps more agile and on the quicker side. Klein is at his best when he can pick his hole and go, relying more on his patience and ability to see the field to let the play unfold.
“He’s patient and doesn’t seem like a guy that has a lot of wiggle-wiggle on him,” Aliotti said. “He’s a guy who bides his time and finds the hole and has an uncanny way to get downhill and get positive yards. When you’re a big guy and fall forward, there’s a 3-yard gain right there.”