Wednesday morning marked the final time that media members would get a chance to catch up with Fiesta Bowl Oregon head coach Chip Kelly and K-State head coach Bill Snyder.
Kelly was quick to repel at least a handful of questions regarding speculation of his taking an NFL job this off-season. With seven NFL head coaches fired in the last couple weeks, he has become a top commodity in the coaching searches of several NFL general managers.
Kelly denied any possible distractions that rumors of his possible departure might be inflicting on his team.
“I’ve never been asked a question by one of my players,” Kelly said. “It’s just kind of noise to us. Our team is extremely focused. If you get a chance to get inside our team, what we talk about, what we focus on has nothing to do with what’s going on outside. That’s the great thing about coaching kids of that age. They don’t get caught up in all of that.”
Kelly, two weeks ago denounced any speculation that he has contacted or had been contacted by NFL franchises up until that point. He has not publicly denied contact while in Arizona.
In customary nature both men seemed content to remain complementary of their opponent, and both men portrayed a contrary opinion to the perceived number or severity of differences between the two programs.
“I think we’re a lot more similar than people think,” Kelly said. “Offensively we rely on running the football and the play-action pass. They do as well.”
Snyder echoed Kelly’s analysis.
“I think both programs warrant discipline on and off the field,” he said, illuminating the idea that it is those larger, more general qualities that permeate all aspects of fine football programs.
“I think Chip believes the way I do, you have to be sound and fundamental defensively," Snyder said. "They certainly are at Oregon. I think he has a strong belief in special teams. We do as well.”
That similarity of discipline is evident in both teams ability to consistently win the turnover battle. The Wildcats are first in the nation in turnover margin, totaling 32 takeaways while giving up the ball on just 10 occasions for a 1.83 per game positive advantage. The Ducks aren’t far behind. Oregon has 38 total takeaways while giving up 19 and a 1.58 turnover margin, which is third best nationally.
Snyder’s comments echoed the focus Kelly put on special teams earlier in the morning.
“That’s going to be a huge match-up tomorrow night,” Kelly said of a looming special teams battle.
Later, Kelly went into more detail about the importance of special teams and the impact in can have on a game this big.
“Numbers-wise it is actually 20% of the game by how many snaps you have. The difference is in how much yardage can be gained. There is such a huge turnover,” Kelly said.
"If you get a punt (return) that is zero yards, you’re changing field position 40 or 50 in one snap. When you get two great teams matched up, the two big stats we always talk about are the turnover battle, what happens in response to the turnover and then what happens in special teams.”
One key matchup in special teams play will likely fall during situations where the Ducks are forced to punt the ball away. K-State leads the nation in punt return average racking up 22 yards each time they bring back the ball.
Oregon’s specialty is punt coverage. The Ducks are 10th nationally in opponents’ punt-return average, allowing only 3.36 yards per chance, but though more noted for their ability in the return game, K-State actually ranks higher than Oregon in this category as well, coming in at sixth in the country while giving up just 2.17 yards a return.
Kelly did offer a light-hearted moment when, during the middle portion of his time on the podium, he was informed of Snyder’s perceived, somewhat strenuous relationship with the media, which ended in a question on what his opinions were on media relations.
“I think that’s probably where myself and Coach Snyder differ the most,” Kelly said with a wry smile. “It’s certainly the highlight of my day. I love when it’s the first thing in the morning because then I know that my day can’t get any worse after this.”