In arguably the biggest game in K-State football history, the Wildcats are faced with an intimidating challenge: slowing down one of the most dynamic offenses in the NCAA. The Oregon Ducks averaged 50.8 points per game on over 550 yards of total offense per game, en route to an 11-1 season and their fourth straight BCS bowl appearance.
While K-State’s Big-12 leading defense will have their work cut out for them, the offense will also have to shoulder a load, sustaining clock-eating drives to keep the Ducks offense on the sidelines.
“Like Coach Snyder always told us, you know, the most important down is always first down,” said junior running back John Hubert, who ran for 892 yards and 15 touchdowns for the Cats in the regular season. “You want to get at least four or five yards, so second down and third down you have decent enough yards [to go]. We just want to keep the ball moving, keep Oregon playing our game, taking it slow, and keep our defense off the field getting rested.”
Hubert, who finished last season just 30 yards away from a 1000-yard season, says he hasn’t given up on breaking the four-figure threshold this year. The 5’7″, 191 pounder from Waco, Tex., rushed for a hundred or more yards in four games this year, including a season-high 152 yard performance in the season opener against Missouri State and a 101 yard, four touchdown outing against Kansas.
“I got the opportunity this year, and like I said before the beginning of the season, I’m going to get that thousand yards,” he said. “There’s still opportunities for me, it’s not far away, and I still think I’m capable of doing that this game.”
Hubert says K-State is preparing for the Ducks’ defense by watching film, including Oregon’s 45-38 victory over Wisconsin in last year’s Rose Bowl.
“They have speed, so we are just going to try to run at them, the offensive line will get some great hits, the wide receivers get some big blocks on the corners and safeties, and we’ll try to find some open holes,” he said.
One of the biggest threats to K-State’s running game on Thursday is found in the 6’7″, 243 pound frame of Ducks linebacker/defensive end hybrid Dion Jordan, a projected top-15 pick in this year’s NFL Draft. Jordan, a speedy, athletic run stopper, will be playing just a short drive down I-10 from his hometown of Chandler, Ariz.
“We know he’s good, tall, strong, and man, he has speed,” Hubert said. “Like our coach said, he’s a great guy, we just got to do the best and block him, stay on him, be physical, and use our hands and hips, and may the best man win.”
For Hubert, the Fiesta Bowl represents a chance at making history for the K-State program, which has never recorded a 12-win season. In the redshirt junior’s four seasons in Manhattan, the Wildcats are winless in two bowl appearances, falling to Syracuse in the 2010 Pinstripe Bowl and Arkansas in last years’ Cotton Bowl.
“Just winning a bowl game and getting that momentum and that confidence for next year is going to be very important,” he said.
Hubert also said the crowd in Glendale’s University of Phoenix Stadium on Thursday could play into the outcome of the game. K-State’s ticket sales outpaced Oregon’s significantly since they became available to the public.
“I say that we have the greatest fans ever,” he said. “I mean, everywhere we go, whether it’s in town or out of state, everywhere, our fans support us to the fullest. They’re always there, win, lose, or draw, and they always have faith in us.”
Should the Wildcats overcome Oregon on Thursday, chances are the K-State throng will have plenty to “Huuuueeeee” about as the game unfolds.