Fiesta Bowl battle expected to test UO defense, coaching

by: COURTESY OF KANSAS STATE UNIVERSITY - Quarterback Collin Klein has been a dual threat for Kansas State, which makes him the key for the Wildcats's offense as they prepare for their Jan. 3 Fiesta Bowl match with Oregon at Glendale, Ariz.To hear coach Bill Snyder describe him, Kansas State pretty much has the ideal student-athlete/person playing quarterback in senior Collin Klein.

“It’s very hard — no, it’s impossible to find anything negative about Collin,” Snyder says.

“He’s a very talented person in so many ways. Very caring person. Tremendous teammate. He’s been an excellent leader for us. Collin’s a very humble young man. There’s been a lot thrust on his plate, and he’s handled it with a great deal of poise. He’s the first one to distribute the accolades that come his way. His teammates feel very strongly about him. He’s strong about his (religious) faith. He’s good in the community. Excellent student. He’s married.”

Then again, many of the same things can be said about UO’s standout redshirt freshman QB Marcus Mariota. He’s a prince of a guy, a laid-back, even-keeled leader with a terrific arm and set of wheels. Much of Oregon’s success can be credited to him.

But much of the focus in the Fiesta Bowl, 5:30 p.m. PT Thursday, Jan. 3, at Glendale, Ariz., will be on the 6-5, 225-pound Klein, a Heisman Trophy finalist — the awards ceremony is Saturday — and how the dual-threat quarterback will fare against the athletic and fast Ducks.

The Loveland, Colo., native, has faced his share of speed and talent in the Big 12 Conference and fared well. He’s thrown for 2,490 yards and 15 TDs on 66 percent passing, but creates havoc with his running ability (890 yards, 22 TDs). He accounted for 40 TDs last season (27 on the ground, with 1,141 yards rushing). One guy producing 77 touchdowns in two seasons ...

“Very tough to bring down,” Oregon coach Chip Kelly says. “He has great patience as a running quarterback; a lot of quarterbacks just take off and run. He has a great feel for the game. I’m impressed with him throwing the ball. He’s one of those guys you can see his team rallies around.”

Most important, adds Kelly: “He’s as tough as they come — 194 carries to date,” and 317 last season.

The Ducks have seen their share of stud quarterbacks in Kelly’s six years with the program, including the mobile kind in Washington’s Jake Locker, Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor, Auburn’s Cam Newton, Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson — the closest comparison to Klein probably being Pryor and Newton, who each excelled against the Ducks with their feet and arm in bowl wins. With Oregon’s defensive speed, however, it just remains to be seen whether Klein can match Pryor and Newton running with the ball.

The Wildcats sport the star quarterback, and a solid team around him.

Running back John Hubert complements Klein, with 892 yards rushing (5.2 per carry) and 15 TDs. Former UO player Chris Harper (50 receptions), Tyler Lockett (40) and Tramaine Thompson (36) are Klein’s top targets. They’ve combined for 11 TD receptions.

The defense allows 119.2 yards rushing per game — not Stanford-type numbers, but still 16th in the country.

The Wildcats lead the country in turnover margin — Oregon ranks third — forcing 31 turnovers and giving up only 10, including seven Klein interceptions.

K-State averages the third-fewest penalties (3.5) and are also third-best in penalty yardage (28.8) per game in the country.

And the Wildcats lead the country in punt returns and kickoff returns. Thompson averages 23.7 yards on 13 punt returns (with a TD) and Lockett averages 33.3 yards on 16 kickoff returns (with two TDs). It seems like Kansas State has always excelled in return games under Snyder, in the recent past with Brandon Banks and Darren Sproles, who both play in the NFL.

Translation: Oregon has to be on top of its game in all phases in the Fiesta Bowl.

Kelly displayed great reverence when talking about Snyder, 73, who built the Wildcats to contend with the likes of Oklahoma, Texas and Nebraska during his first K-State stint, 1989 to 2005, before returning to the sideline in 2009 after a three-year hiatus.

The Big 12 title was the school’s third. Snyder has a 170-84-1 record. His victory total ranks 11th among active Football Bowl Subdivision coaches.

“He’ll go down in history as one of the greatest coaches the game has ever seen,” Kelly says of Snyder, who he has met once.

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