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WHAT'S THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAY TO GET INTO THE END ZONE, with speed or with power? That debate will be settled when Oregon and Kansas State meet in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Ducks' Quack Attack, often imitated but (to this point) never duplicated, relies on fast tempo and fast players. Running backs Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas and freshman QB Marcus Mariota take advantage of the confusion that is fed by misdirection at a frantic pace. Oregon coach Chip Kelly has his Ducks in a fourth straight BCS bowl thanks to speed, and Oregon had a huge year even by Kelly's standards, averaging more than 50 points per game (50.8) during the regular season for the first time in his four-year tenure.
By contrast Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, a 6' 5", 225-pound converted wide receiver, invites contact, often running through defenders instead of around them. The Heisman finalist's 49 rushing TDs over the past two seasons are more than anyone except for Wisconsin running back Montee Ball.
But while Klein is a big reason for the Wildcats' turnaround, it's the little things that have gotten them over the top. They have the nation's best turnover margin, and their special teams are outstanding. Tyler Lockett led the FBS in kick return average as a freshman (35.2) and was second this year (33.3), returning two touchdowns each season.
The fact that K-State is heading to Glendale is a minor miracle. This time four years ago, the Wildcats were finishing up a second straight losing season. Coach Bill Snyder was coaxed out of retirement to, as he puts it, "help smooth the waters." The progression has been steady and stunning: a .500 season in 2009, a bowl berth in '10, ten wins and the Cotton Bowl last year, and now a Big 12 title and a BCS bowl invitation for the second time in program history.
This matchup will likely come down to which defense is up to the challenge. Indeed, K-State hasn't seen an offense like Oregon's, but the Ducks haven't faced a quarterback as dangerous as Klein. Both teams' units are overlooked; Oregon, with its hybrid 3--4 scheme, allowed 30 points just twice this season, and defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti loves to blitz, blitz, blitz, a strategy Baylor used to great effect in the Wildcats' lone loss.
Kansas State has the athleticism to counter Oregon's offense, especially in middle linebacker Arthur Brown. The Ducks rolled up 45 points against a very good Wisconsin defense in last year's Rose Bowl, but they failed to score even 20 points in their first two postseason games under Kelly. And they scored just 14 points against Stanford two games ago, a stunning loss that knocked them out of the Pac-12 title game.
The M.O. for this year's Ducks was to overwhelm teams early; 32% of Oregon's points came in the first quarter (61% in the first half), and just 18% came in the fourth. If the Ducks are going to win a second straight bowl game, they'll have to start the only way they know how: fast.
The Final Score