The Kansas State Wildcats are seeking their first BCS bowl win in school history, but they'll have their hands full with the high-flying Oregon Ducks.
A month ago, these two teams were on pace to face each other in the national title game. But both stumbled on their paths to glory, setting up a salivating Fiesta Bowl (Thursday, Jan. 3).
With Heisman finalist Collin Klein leading the 11-1 Wildcats, K-State certainly has a chance to make school history. If they do the following three things, they will put themselves in position to pull off the upset.
Keep Marcus Mariota in the pocket
The freshman phenom was one of the top quarterbacks in the country this year, putting up 2,511 yards and 30 touchdowns, while throwing just six interceptions.
As good as he was through the air, Mariota was just as dangerous on the ground. In the second half of the season, Mariota ran for three touchdowns and racked up 78 rushing yards per game. He took Oregon's deadly ground attack to a new level, as the Ducks finished third in the nation with 323.3 rushing yards per game.
The Wildcats likely won't be able to stop Kenjon Barner, who ran for 1,624 yards and 21 touchdowns this season. But if their linebackers can prevent Mariota from getting to the edges, and their secondary watches for the QB scramble, they will have a chance to stifle the Oregon offense.
Convert on Third Down
If the Wildcats are going to win this game, it is imperative that they convert on third down.
In its lone loss of the season, K-State converted just 8-of-19 third downs against Baylor. That allowed the Bears defense to get off the field and let their offense go to work. The result was a 52-24 beatdown in favor of the underdog Baylor.
If the Wildcats have similar third-down struggles against Oregon, they will get blown out again. They must find a way to keep drives alive, whether it be John Hubert rushing for the first down or Klein scrambling and either keeping it himself or dumping it off to the likes of Chris Harper, Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson.
Do not kick it to De'Anthony Thomas
De'Anthony Thomas is the most explosive player in the country. He can change any game in an instant, and with his versatility it's nearly impossible to keep the ball out of his hands.
One way Kansas State can limit his impact is by not kicking the ball to him. Thomas scored two touchdowns on kickoff returns last season, and he added this filthy 75-yard punt return touchdown this season.
Thomas is undoubtedly faster than any Kansas State player, and Oregon will definitely put him in some return situations. The Wildcats can do themselves a huge favor by simply not giving him the opportunity to return anything.
If it's a kickoff, launch it in someone else's direction. If it's a punt, boot it out of bounds. But whatever you do, do not kick the ball to De'Anthony Thomas.
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