Ducks, Wildcats focus on foe's weaknesses

January, 3, 2013
1/03/13
5:07
PM ET
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- On Nov. 17, both Oregon and Kansas State lost their only game of the season. Otherwise, these two teams likely would have met each other for the national title in South Florida instead of at the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl tonight.

It's also interesting that both lost to an opponent that generally resembles their opponent in University of Phoenix Stadium.

Oregon went down to Stanford, a team that prides itself on its disciplined, physical play on both sides of the ball. That's Kansas State.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsCoach Chip Kelly and Oregon will face a Kansas State team that shares similarities with Pac-12 rival Stanford.
Kansas State went down to Baylor, a team that runs a high-octane, up-tempo, spread offense. That's Oregon.

The parallels are far from exact -- for example, Baylor is pass-first; Oregon is run-first -- but they are notable. Both teams surely paid extra-special attention to those game tapes.

Said Ducks coach Chip Kelly, "I think Baylor has a lot of speed, speed in space. They made kids miss tackles. When they missed tackles, they hit some long runs."

That hits the first issue to watch: Tackling. Said Ducks offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, "Tackling is going to be the biggest thing in this game."

That seems simple, right? And it is. But it's a measure you can measure on your own at home: How often does the first guy miss or fail to bring his guy down? How often does the Duck or Wildcat with the ball get a second chance to gain yards?

Oregon thrives when it gets fast guys into space, and that fast guy leaves the first tackler grasping air. Quarterback Marcus Mariota, running back Kenjon Barner, receiver Josh Huff and RB/WR De'Anthony Thomas can use a first-guy miss to go yard.

Kansas State isn't quite so fancy, but it's effective. It ranked seventh in the nation in third-down conversion percentage at just over 50 percent. How often can quarterback Collin Klein or another Wildcat twist away from a Ducks tackler and significantly boost the attractiveness of down and distance? Unlike Oregon, Kansas State loves to hold the ball for a long time. Against Oregon, in particular, it wants to methodically move the chains and play keep-away.

Oregon, by the way, ranks 14th in the nation in third-down defense, with foes converting less than 31 percent of the time.

And what about an X factor? We know who the stars are, and it's perfectly reasonable to believe the quarterback who plays better will lead the winning team. But so often in bowl games, a player who has been under the radar all week plays a major role in deciding things.

Maybe that's Huff for Oregon. Or Chris Harper, a former Duck who is now Kansas State's best receiver.

As for Oregon making like Baylor or Kansas State donning a Stanford disguise, it probably won't be that straightforward. Know that both teams labored over that what-might-have-been game film well before the Fiesta Bowl. The weaknesses that were exposed were taken note of and addressed.

At least that's what both teams' coaches and players are saying about the one that got away.

Said Helfrich, "I don't know if they are finding any magic in that game. I don't think it's in there. It's not going to come down to revelations from one game on either side."

Ted Miller | email

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