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Heisman finalist doesn't faze Ducks

Fiesta Bowl: Kansas State (11-1) vs. Oregon (11-1), 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 3 (ESPN), University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

The Fiesta Bowl will be the first-ever meeting between Oregon and Kansas State. The Ducks have played three Big 12 teams in bowl games — each in the Holiday, beating Oklahoma State in 2008 and Texas in 2000 and losing to Oklahoma in 2005.

The Ducks have their eyes firmly set on Collin Klein, K-State’s elusive quarterback.

But, even Klein will need help to beat the Ducks.

How do the Wildcats pass the ball?

“They have a good passing game,” says UO coach Chip Kelly, singling out Chris Harper (50 receptions) and Tyler Lockett (40) and tight end Travis Tannahill. “They’ve got weapons. They’re obviously a run-first team, but it’s not like they don’t throw the ball. Klein is a little bit underrated as a passer. They’ve got a good scheme from a passing standpoint, do a lot of playaction. They have some weapons you need to be conscious of.”

Adds linebacker Michael Clay: “Everyone’s so hardnosed on the run, they can just pop something really quick (with the pass). They’ll do play-action, and get someone down deep. (Klein is) going to make you pay if your keys aren’t right.”

What challenge does the K-State defense present?

“They’re very disciplined,” Oregon QB Marcus Mariota says. “Very stout. They make a lot of plays.

“They like to funnel stuff to their middle linebacker (Arthur Brown). He makes a ton of plays. They also have two very fast defensive ends (Adam Davis, Meshak Williams). Their secondary is not bad. Overall they’re a really good defense. With those guys on the outside, the defensive ends, they can get up field and penetrate, and force (the ball) between, and that’s where Arthur makes all those tackles.”

The 6-1, 230-pound Brown has a team-leading 91 tackles. The 6-0, 245 Davis and 6-3, 245 Williams have combined for 17 sacks and 25 1/2 tackles-for-loss.

n Klein remains the priority for the UO defense.

“It’s a very good offense, and Collin Klein has great control over it,” Clay says.

On Klein, he adds: “He gets the job done. A senior out there, he doesn’t turn the ball over. He’s always falling forward to get the extra yards. He just does things within the system and what the system asks him to do.”

Defensive end Dion Jordan says Klein “makes big plays. He does a great job of involving other players. It’s important for us as a defense to be disciplined. Each individual has to do their job. They don’t make many mistakes.”

The Ducks have faced similar quarterbacks — including Terrelle Pryor, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson in the past three BCS games.

“We’ve played against other quarterbacks who have tremendous talents and capabilities,” Jordan says. “We’ll get after No. 7.”

Senior linebacker Kiko Alonso, the once-troubled player who went all season without doing interviews, has opened up in pre-bowl media availability sessions. He spoke with the Oregon Daily Emerald, the Portland Tribune, the Salem Statesman-Journal and other outlets.

And, it turns out, he did an interview before the season started, with ESPN Deportes — in Spanish. His father being from Cuba, Alonso can speak fluent Spanish.

Punter Jackson Rice’s senior year hasn’t been an astounding one. He has a 39.6-yard average on 48 punts, the worst of his career. In his first three seasons, it was 40.5, 42.3 and 45.9.

“I’ve had some issues with my hips, tightness, small stuff here and there,” he says. “I had a really productive fall camp, kicking the best ever. Then it started declining.

“A lot of it came down to mental. I put a lot of pressure on myself this year. I wanted to be that much better. When I was having down days, it was hard to get out of it. I just want to take every opportunity, even having bad days, and just keep getting better. My goal was to put up even bigger numbers than last year. Now I really want to focus on fundamentals and improving myself.”

— Jason Vondersmith