SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Considering that Oregon finished the 2012 regular season ranked second nationally in scoring with 50.83 points per game, it would be a reasonable assumption that the Ducks had the ball a lot. But that would be only partially true.
The No. 4 Ducks did have the ball a lot, but not for very long, as the team finished 100th out of 120 FBS teams in time of possession — just another reason the Oregon offense is regarded by many as the nation’s fastest.
Kansas State coach Bill Snyder knows his defense is up against perhaps the fastest unit it’s faced all season in Thursday’s Fiesta Bowl and must be wary of falling victim to that speed.
“We try to stick to (our) particular system and not change it,” Snyder said. “In our conference, we play against teams that have the same type of tempo as the University of Oregon does, a few that are reasonably fast in regards to how quickly they snap the ball. I don’t know if any of them are quite as fast as Oregon, but very close to that. We have a way we practice against that, so, you know, we have some familiarity with it.”
Certainly, No. 5 Kansas State has faced plenty of fast teams, including West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Baylor. But what might differentiate Oregon from any similarly fast teams is the players within the offensive system.
“The tempo of a team’s offense is one thing,” Snyder said. “It’s the players that execute (Oregon’s) that is something else. So that has to be a major concern as well.
“But again, we have to be us and hope that’s sufficient.”
With the speed of players such as running backs Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas and quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Kansas State defense is in for a big test. The unit allowed season averages of 21.1 points and 374.5 yards per game. Oregon averages 550.8 yards per game, fourth most in the nation.
Kansas State’s defense has garnered a reputation for its discipline. The group helped the Wildcats rank second nationally in penalty yards per game with just 28.83. That discipline also extended to staying within individual roles, which Snyder and his players believe will be key against Oregon.
“Obviously they’re known for their speed,” Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown said. “But I think our team, our guys, we possess speed ourselves. It’s just about playing within our role, not getting ourselves out of our function within the team.”
Added defensive back Nigel Malone: “If you can get lined up, that’s the biggest thing. When they go fast like that, they get (opponents), a lot of times, all kind of discombobulated.”
On the other side, Oregon’s offensive line faces a tall task in containing Kansas State’s stellar defensive line, which features three All-Big 12 players in Meshak Williams, Adam Davis and Vai Lutui.
That challenge is welcomed, though, by Oregon’s offensive line, which features two All-Pac-12 linemen, guard Hroniss Grasu and tackle Jake Fisher.
“It’s awesome,” Grasu said. “This is the perfect type of game offensive linemen want. They (Kansas State) don’t do anything exotic or complicated. What they do is old-school, smash-mouth football. It’s going to expose who wants it more, who’s more physical.”
Kansas State averages 5.92 tackles for loss per game this season and 2.58 sacks, which ranks 24th in the nation. Williams, a defensive end, anchored the group with 9.5 sacks, including 0.79 per game to rank 25th in the nation. The unit will have its hands full pursuing Mariota but must first get past a line that only allows 1.5 sack per game.
“We obviously haven’t faced them yet, but from what I’ve seen on film, they’ve wreaked havoc on some good offensive lines,” Oregon right guard Ryan Clanton said. “It’s going to be tough, but that’s we play for. You’ve got to have that competitor’s mindset.”
Preparing for such a physical, talented defensive line can’t be easy, but both Clanton and Grasu said Oregon’s talented scout team has been an asset in the preparation process.
“Our scout team is giving us a great look,” Grasu said. “Our scout team D-line and linebackers are playing as physical as they ever have. They have all year, and a lot of credit goes to them.”
Grasu said Oregon has also looked to its only loss this season, against Stanford, to better prepare for Kansas State’s physical style.
“It’s kind of hard to, but we have to go back and look at what we did wrong against such a physical defense,” Grasu said. “We’ve got to learn from that game and use it to our advantage.”
MORE QUESTIONS FOR KELLY
By the time Oregon coach Chip Kelly took the stage at Fiesta Bowl media day Monday, five NFL head coaches had been fired on what’s become known as “Black Monday.” Inevitably, this meant Kelly would be fighting off more questions about the NFL, just as he did when Oregon arrived last week.
But Kelly, believed to be a top target of at least one NFL team, still wasn’t biting. Any talk of his possible departure has been no distraction, he insisted.
“I’ve got a game to play,” Kelly said. “We’re playing in the Fiesta Bowl. That’s the biggest thing in my life. If I allowed other things to get into my life, then they would be distractions, but there aren’t. Our focus 100 percent is on the Fiesta Bowl.”