No. 4 Oregon has one of the top defenses in the country—leading the nation in interceptions (via ESPN)—but the Ducks will get headaches trying to contain Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein in the Fiesta Bowl.
Klein—a finalist for the 2012 Heisman trophy—has had a remarkable senior season as the leader of the No. 5 Wildcats. Klein has thrown for nearly 2,500 yards along with 15 touchdown passes. But that’s not all as he’s also a major threat on the ground, finishing the regular season with 890 rushing yards and 22 runs for scores.
The Kansas State quarterback has had a wild career, but there’s no doubt that he’s improved each year under center. Last season, Klein focused more on his run game, rushing for over 1,100 yards while scoring 27 times—only passing for less than 2,000 yards and just 13 touchdowns.
This season has been more geared toward being balanced—a good passing game with a good running game. And Oregon knows that it’s going to be tough to keep him under control, according to Adam Jude of The Oregonian:
“He doesn’t (run) like Cam Newton. He doesn’t look like he throws the ball like Marcus Mariota or Cam Newton,” Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said. “But when he plays the game, he runs for very positive yards, he makes big plays with his feet and he makes plays throwing the ball down the field. He’s one of those guys that…is a good football player and a great field general and he makes good decisions.”
Kansas State’s chances of winning the Fiesta Bowl solely rely on whether Klein makes good decisions.
One stray pass out of the right arm of Klein and any of the Ducks defenders could return it for a touchdown. His accuracy has improved drastically since last season and so has his quarterback rating. He has to keep Oregon’s defense on its toes the entire game.
Now what does that mean?
That means that there has to be a solid mix of standard passing plays, play-action passes, options, straight quarterback runs and runs by running back John Hubert. Throwing a wide variety of formations and types of plays at Oregon is a way that Klein can be successful.
But Oregon will go into the game knowing that Klein struggled in his final three games of the season—throwing three touchdowns and five interceptions—so the defense may look for Klein to run the ball early. He needs to be able to read the defense and decide whether run the ball or pass it at the line of scrimmage, calling an audible if he has to.
Klein can defeat Oregon just like Stanford did late in the year. The defense did keep the Ducks in the game, but they did allow over 400 yards of offense to the Cardinal that ended up killing their BCS Title Game hopes.
Stanford beat Oregon with a balance of passing and running, and that’s what Klein needs to do in order to outplay the Ducks and win the Fiesta Bowl.