GLENDALE, Ariz. — Oregon needed just 12 seconds.
The Ducks, who feature one of the nation’s best offenses, didn’t need that offense to get them on the board first Thursday night at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Instead, Oregon returned the opening kickoff of the Fiesta Bowl 94 yards for a touchdown when the versatile running back DeAnthony Thomas raced down the Ducks’ sideline for the score.
Fourth-ranked Oregon never looked back, easily winning 35-17 against a fifth-ranked Kansas State team that was trying to win 12 games for the first time in school history.
With the loss, the Wildcats have now lost five straight bowl games dating back to the last time K-State played in the Fiesta Bowl at the end of the 2003 season. It was thought that 40,000 K-State fans made up the more than 70,000 in attendance Thursday night.
This wasn’t the ending K-State quarterback Collin Klein envisioned for a season in which he was named the Big 12’s Offensive Player of the Year and a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. For the Wildcats, losing just two games all season never hurt more, considering they were once ranked No. 1 not all that long ago.
“I mean — it’s hard… It’s not the way any of us wanted to go out,” said Klein, who accounted for two touchdowns in the loss. “I’m just so blessed that God’s given me the opportunity to be here at K State, be part of this family, play with all of our guys, play for Coach.”
The Ducks built a 15-0 lead in the first quarter and for a while in the second, it seemed the Wildcats (11-2) had survived the initial onslaught. K-State scored its first touchdown of the game on a 6-yard rush by Klein with 13:26 to play in the first half. The Wildcats, who had just 283 yards of total offense, then added a 25-yard field goal from Anthony Cantele to make it 15-10.
That’s as close as the Wildcats would get the rest of the way, though, because of a sequence of unfortunate events to end the second quarter. K-State forced the Ducks to turn the ball over on downs after a botched fake punt attempt at midfield, but Cantele misfired on a 40-yard field goal on the ensuing possession with one minute to go. The Wildcats had to settle for the field goal try after Cornelius Lucas was called for a false start on fourth-and-1.
Oregon, which got 143 yards from running back Kenjon Barner and three touchdowns from quarterback Marcus Mariota, needed only 46 seconds to erase any momentum the Wildcats had established. The Ducks, who had 385 yards of total offense, drove 77 yards on just five plays and capped the quick score with a 24-yard pass from Mariota to Barner to give Oregon a 22-10 halftime lead.
“I would concur that it had a significant impact on the outcome of the ballgame,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said of the 10-point swing in the final minute of the first half. “But, you know, by the same token, going in down (12), even though that took the momentum away, we still felt that we had the appropriate opportunity to finish the ballgame the right way.
“But it was a big swing… It was mistakes like that during the course of the first half that were instrumental in probably where we were in the first half. We had our opportunities.”
It didn’t get any better for the Wildcats in the third quarter either. K-State, which won 11 games for the seventh time in school history, had to punt on its first three possessions of the second half — totaling just 11 yards on 10 plays during that stretch.
Meanwhile, the Ducks (12-1) began to pull away even more after a 33-yard field goal from Alejandro Maldonado and a 2-yard TD run by Mariota to push the Oregon lead to 32-10 with eight minutes left in the third quarter.
“(K-State) made us earn everything that we did, especially on the offensive side of the ball,” Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. “They did some great things early. I think our guys found a way to kind of overcome that. Its kind of what we stand for. We talked about it when we got an opportunity to get invited to this game, that it would be about finishing.”
That’s exactly what the Ducks did, as K-State only found the end zone one more time in the second half when running back John Hubert scored from 10 yards out on a pass from Klein with 11:35 to play in the game.
Klein was 17-of-32 passing for 151 yards and that TD — Chris Harper was his main target with eight receptions and 71 yards. Klein also tossed a pair of interceptions, one at the end of the first half and the other with two minutes to play in the game, marking his final play as a Wildcat.
The senior quarterback struggled to run the ball as well, finishing with just 30 yards on 13 carries.
“I think the hardest thing is we had difficulty throwing the football, which they put you in a position where you had to do that for the most part with the number of people they bring down in the box,” Snyder said. “We had some difficulty throwing it because they got the big rangy guys who got their hands up. All sorts of tipped passes in the ballgame…
“The second half, when we fell behind, you get to a point after a while where you become one-sided, which we were.”