SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. Oregon's glitzy offense will be facing Kansas State's ho-hum defense in the Fiesta Bowl if characterizations hold true for the Thursday, Jan. 3 game at Glendale, Ariz.
"We believe in being fundamental, lining up well, not beating yourself," says Tom Hayes, K-State's first-year defensive coordinator. "Align properly, read the right key.
"Defense, as you all know, is about beating blocks, getting to the ball, tackling. ... So, we're not into a bunch of different schemes. I don't believe in that, never have. We're going to line up well, and we're going to do what we do. Our players need to have a good fundamental base underneath them. Our guys have worked hard at that."
The Wildcats will have to defend UO's spread-option offense that features the likes of QB Marcus Mariota, running back Kenjon Barner, versatile De'Anthony Thomas, receiver Josh Huff, tight end Colt Lyerla ... the list goes on. The Ducks averagedÂ 50.8 points and 550.1 yards offense during the regular season, even with the big blip in the 11th game 14 points and 405 yards against Stanford.
Coach Chip Kelly and UO players say K-State plays fundamentally well on defense, and tackles well in space. Kansas State coach Bill Snyder says the defenders rarely get beat over the top on passes, or find themselves chasing down ball carriers.
The Wildcats have made 18 interceptions and forced 13 fumbles. Linebacker Arthur Brown leads K-State in tackles with 91; fellow defenders funnel plays to him. Defensive ends Adam Davis and Meshak Williams have combined for 25.5 tackles for loss and 16 sacks. The Wildcats give up a modest 21.1 points, 374.5 yards offense and 119.2 yards rushing.
The Wildcats' lone defensive clunker came at Baylor, giving up 52 points and 580 yards in their only loss. Baylor rushed for 342 yards, Oregon averages 323.3 ... hmmm, repeat result for the K-State defense? The Wildcats admit to having a lot of bad fits in the run defense against Baylor.
"This mode of offense is throughout the Big 12," says Hayes, of Oregon's spread. "There's not revolutionary here. Everybody does the same things. You can't miss tackles in space."
He adds: "If you don't give up explosive plays, you play the run well ... how do you call defenses if they're running the ball? The answer is, you don't. I can't go to anything if they're running the ball. We can't let that happen. That happened one time this year."
Two opponents successfully limited the UO running game Cal and Stanford, each team holding the Ducks under 200 rushing yards and Barner under 70 yards. The Ducks responded to the Stanford loss, however, by putting up 430 yards against Oregon State, with Barner netting 198 on 28 carries.
"For the most part, our players did such an outstanding job of run defense," Hayes says. "That includes all 11 players. If the safety gets cracked, the corner has to go tackle. It's not just those guys up front. It's everybody."
Hayes says Mariota stands out, with his size and running ability and intelligence with the zone read. "He's a special player," he says.
Adds defensive back Ty Zimmerman: "He's a huge guy, but he can run really well. We have to do a great job of covering routes, (and) containing him. ... If you can take that (running) dimension out, make him pass in certain situations, you can take that aspect out of the game."
But, Oregon has a lot of athletes for the Wildcats to worry about.
"It's a great challenge. They have huge numbers," Hayes says. "Basically, one team stopped them the entire year. ... (Stanford) is similar to us, in that they're not a big pressure team. They line up well, defeat blocks, tackle well in space, keep the big plays in front of them. I hope we can play as well as they did."
Brown says Stanford kept the Ducks in check by keeping them from the edges of the field. "That's something we take note of," he says.
Defensive back Nigel Malone says the Wildcats prepared for UO's uptempo offense in the past month. "If you can get lined up, that's the biggest thing," he says. "When they go fast like that, (opponents) get all kind of discombobulated, can't get lined up."
The 6-1, 230-pound Brown, nicknamed "The Predator" and from Wichita, Kan., originally played at the University of Miami before transferring. Hayes definitely sees the senior as an NFL player in the near future; Kelly says Brown ranks as maybe the best linebacker the Ducks will face this season.
"I have a lot of great support, as well," Brown says.
Malone says Brown is a fast player who is a quick reader of defenses.
Says Zimmerman: "If you saw him off the field, you wouldn't think he's the type of player he is, with just how quiet he is. When he gets on the field, something turns on in his head. He has a tremendous motor. He's a great asset to our team."
Big and fast defensive lines have slowed down the UO offense in the past.
"This is the perfect type of game that offensive linemen want to play in," UO center Hroniss Grasu says. "They don't do anything exotic or complicated.
"Their front seven is very fast, very talented. What they do isn't anything too complicated. It's pretty simple. But what they do, they do very well. They just get off the ball, especially No. 4, Arthur Brown, the best player I've seen this year. He actually reminds me of (Oregon's) Michael Clay, how smart they are as football players, how well-prepared they are for the offense they're going to face."