Will rumors of Chip Kelly's interest in NFL job openings be a distraction on Thursday?
Throughout the college football season, DuckTerritory has examined the "3 keys" to Oregon victory leading up to each Duck game this year. In this season’s thirteenth and final installment, we'll take a look at what it will take for the Ducks to knock off the No. 5 Kansas State Wildcats in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl this Thursday at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
1. Limit Klein's Impact
All season long, Kansas State senior quarterback Collin Klein has been the catalyst for an upstart Wildcat team that at one time held all the cards in their unlikely quest to the BCS National Championship. As good as Klein's surrounding talent is, the difference between this Kansas State team being good and great, is Klein's leadership and ability to make the right play at the most critical time. Come Thursday, Oregon will have to make Klein and Kansas State offense play one-handed. Junior running back John Hubert may lead the Wildcats in rushing (by a narrow two yards over Klein), but Klein is the guy who Kansas State wants toting the rock. To be successful, the Duck defense must be consistent in wrapping up and taking a physical runner such as Klein to the ground. Holding Klein and Kansas State's running game in check would allow Oregon sit back and force Klein to throw the ball, something Klein isn't nearly as proficient at compared to his running ability. In Kansas State's 52-24 loss at Baylor on November 17, Klein completed just under 53 percent of his passes on 51 attempts, tossing two touchdowns to go along with three interceptions. If there was a ever a blueprint for Oregon to follow to negate Klein's effect on a game, it's that game. If the Ducks can come close to replicating that type of effort on Thursday, it could be a long day for the Kansas State faithful.
2. Tempo, Tempo, Tempo
It's no secret that Oregon likes to play as fast as possible. It's also no secret that under head coach Chip Kelly, the Ducks, in the past, have had noted difficulty establishing offensive rhythm in games where there has been an extended layoff leading up to the contest. Kansas State features a quick, athletic, and uncompromising defense that is more than capable of tripping the Ducks up early and making it troublesome to play at the tempo they're accustomed to. Though the Ducks have taken strides in recent seasons to shake that reputation, the challenge posed by Kansas State is a considerable one. The offense must be sharp from the onset and redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota must maintain his unflappable demeanor despite the stage and the potential rust of having 41 days off between games.
3. Put Away The Distractions
Focus has rarely been an issue for Oregon football teams under Chip Kelly, but the media maelstrom surrounding Kelly and his linking to various job openings in the NFL has been unavoidable. By the time January 3 rolls around, Oregon players and coaches will have no doubt been asked about Kelly and his prospective future in Eugene innumerous times. Though no one expects the Ducks to be pondering these questions during the game itself, the uncertainty -- and more so, the speculation -- can be both physically and mentally draining. If Oregon comes out flat and listless, it may be one side effect of the chaotic environment that surrounds them. Staying in the moment and playing for now is a good first step towards the Ducks' goal of winning back-to-back BCS games, which would be a program first.