Speed kills, at least that is how the saying goes, and there are few arenas where speed is put on display such as it is in high-level college football.
The K-State defense has seen its share of the stuff throughout the season. They put the brakes on West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin in a blowout victory. They contained high-powered offenses in Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State and befuddled water bug-quick Miami running back Duke Johnson. They fell victim to a scoreboard shattering Baylor offense that many see as a worthy comparison to the Wildcats Fiesta Bowl opponent No. 4 Oregon.
No, K-State has dealt speed thus far, but there is speed and then there is De’Anthony Thomas, blink and he’s gone, rapid-fire Chip Kelly offense, Kenjon Barner, blow-by-you-and-all-you-see-is-the-metallic-flash-of-one-of-the-Ducks’-plethora-of-helmet-variations speed; that is just what head coach Bill Snyder’s Wildcats are going to have to try and trip up on Thursday night.
“In our conference, we play against teams that have the same type of tempo as the University of Oregon does, a few that are reasonably fast in regards to how quickly they snap the ball,” Snyder said, in a press conference on Monday. “I don’t know if any of them are quite as fast as Oregon, but very close to that. We have a way that we practice against that, so, you know, we have some familiarity with it.”
No team in the country gets to the line and snaps off plays in as quick succession as do the Ducks, and few if any possess the level of sprinter’s speed put on display by Oregon’s skill players.
Snyder noted the importance of his players staying assignment-sound, focusing on doing what they do defensively and not getting caught up in the tempo of the Oregon offense.
Oregon, who comes into the Fiesta Bowl averaging 50.8 points per game, does so without routinely going over the top for the deep throw and catch, much of their big-play potential lies in their having a number of players capable of turning a quick pitch or a swing pass into a long gainer after the catch.
Perhaps more than against any other opponent, sure tackling, often in space, will be the key to the Wildcats’ success. It is something that has been a catalyst for the K-State defense all season.
Facing Big 12 offenses all year, the Wildcats thwarted big plays with form tackling and keeping receivers and ball carriers in front of them. It is a sideline-to-sideline mentality personified by 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, senior K-State linebacker Arthur Brown.
“He’s so fast. He’s so quick to read,” said senior defensive back Nigel Malone of Brown. “It definitely helps getting to faster guys before they get started. Hopefully we can to that come [Jan. 3].”
With a dual-threat quarterback in freshman Marcus Mariota, who ran for 690 yards on just 98 carries, tailback Kenjon Barner, who ran for 1,624 yards and 21 touchdowns, and De’Anthony “Black Mamba” Thomas, who totaled 686 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns while averaging 7.5 yards per carry, Oregon is a spread-offense predicated on running the ball and getting it to their playmakers in space.
The Fiesta bowl will be strength against strength as the Oregon offense will run straight into the primary focus of the Wildcat defense.
“All season we’ve been high on stopping the run,” said junior safety Ty Zimmerman. “We want to make teams one dimensional.”
Zimmerman said that the Wildcats will need to take Mariota’s running dimension out to gain an advantage by setting up obvious passing situations.
Not that it is going to be easy given the speed of the Ducks.
“They have tremendous athletes on the edge, tremendous speed. It is going to come down to how well we put together our game plan and execute,” he said.
Zimmerman also noted Thomas in particular as a homerun threat.
“He’s very, very quick. A lot of times he’ll cut back or outrun (a defender),” he said. “They throw him the ball, get him the ball in the backfield, he returns kicks. We’re going to have to do a great job to contain him.”
With Zimmerman out due to injury, the Wildcats had a tough time containing Baylor’s speed in K-State’s lone loss on the season on Nov. 17. Though Baylor, while a strong running team, was more focused on deep passes than Oregon looks to be, K-State will look for the return of the All-Big 12 safety to help bolster the defense against the Ducks’ multi-pronged attack.
Like Malone, Zimmerman also spoke of the importance of having a playmaker like Brown in containing the Ducks, not just with his play, but with his ability to inspire teammates with through action.
“He’s a great guy. He’s more than a football player. He has a great character and really, really, humble,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman noted that Brown’s quiet demeanor belies the on-field ferocity of “the Predator.”
“When he gets on the field, something turns on in his head. He has a tremendous motor. He makes a ton on plays. Before they even start he’s in the backfield. It’s like he has their playbook. Love him,” he said.
Multiple Oregon players, including Thomas have singled out Brown as the player that concerns them on the Wildcat defense. His own teammates voiced his being such a catalyst, but the quiet-demeanored Brown seems content to let his play do the talking, deflecting the praise and heaping it back on those around him.
“Like I say, we’re a defense. We’re a team. We complement one another. That’s how we’ve been so successful throughout this year,” Brown said.
We’ll see if those compliments lead to success on Thursday night.