Oregon faces off with Kansas State in what promises to be a classic case of the irresistible force against the immovable object. Statistically, the Wildcats are one of the best, most opportune defenses the Ducks will face this season. They are #1 in the country in regards to turnover margin and are anchored in the middle by talented linebacker Arthur Brown. Unlike in the last couple seasons, the Ducks have shown the ability to throw the ball effectively to compliment one of the country's most prolific rushing attacks. Having both facets of the offense working well will be highly important for the Ducks as they look to keep the Wildcats on their heels and trying to react to misdirection. KSU has forced a total of 32 turnovers on the season which was good enough to place them in the top 10 in total turnovers.
Going through KSU's season the only offense they faced that even remotely resembles Oregon's is Baylor. Baylor handed Kansas State it's only loss on the season, scoring 52 points and racking up 580 yards, 342 of them on the ground. The Bears were able to exploit K-State's defense as Lache Seastrunk tore them up running by and around the KSU defenders. This bodes well for the Ducks as it seemed as though the Wildcats were simply unable to handle a well run spread offense. I don't feel as though there is an offense that runs a spread offense as effectively as the U of O and if Baylor was able to exploit Kansas State's defense in that matchup, I'm excited to see what Oregon's offense is able to do against them.
The Wildcats allow on average 5.66 yards per play, which against a team like the Ducks may not be good enough to stay with them defensively. To this point in the season, Oregon has averaged over 84 plays per game and when KSU's average YPP with Oregon's plays per game it is reasonable to predict Oregon to tally roughly 475 yards against Kansas State. Oregon tallied 475 yards and below against only three opponents: Arizona State, Stanford and Washington State. What's interesting is that in all three of these games, the Ducks were below their season average for plays in the game as well. Basically, they didn't get the opportunity to get into the flow of their offense the way they wanted to and the statistics suffered for it. Focusing on the wins, it must be taken into account that Oregon was ahead 43-7 against Arizona State at the half before the reserves took the field and added only 62 yards in the second half, which causes the numbers to skew a bit.
So, now to the heart of the issue, how is Oregon going to move the ball against this defense? We know by now what we have in Kenjon Barner and Marcus Mariota. The tandem is one of the most talented in the conference and chew up yardage like it's going out of style. The Wildcats will allow yardage to the Ducks and what the game is going to come down to is if they can force Oregon to turn the ball over. Oregon is going to have to execute their mesh points and be sharp with the ball or else it may be a long day for the offense. The Ducks will likely look to get to the edges against KSU and stretch them from side to side. If the Ducks can make the Wildcats cover the entire width of the field, they can spread them out and attack the heart of the defense.
Also factoring into the success of the offense is whether or not the offensive line can hold up to a strong, talented defensive line. The line to this point in the season has done an admirable job all season of protecting Marcus Mariota but will have a different starting 5 as senior Nick Cody was declared academically ineligible for the Fiesta Bowl. Depth is a point of concern with the offensive line but they are talented. They will be challenged by a line which boasts 3 All-Big 12 players, lead by Meshak Williams. The ‘Cats have lived in opponents backfields, averaging nearly 6 TFL's each game and more than 2 and ½ sacks.
The Wildcats have seen some speed this season, facing teams like West Virginia who have individuals who can make great plays. The issue is that Oregon has several players who can score from anywhere on the field, whether it be Thomas, Barner, Lyerla, Huff, Lowe, Addison or even Mariota. Kansas State Head Coach Bill Snyder stated about those players that "It's the players that execute that is something else. So that has to be a major concern as well."
The Ducks will look to push the pace as they typically do and it will be interesting to see if the normally disciplined defense can stand up to the pressure and the pace of having to make snap decisions. It feels like at times, all the Ducks need is a seam and they are in the end zone. CB Nigel Malone commented that the most important thing they can do as a defense is to get lined up properly. "When they go fast like that, they get opponents...all kind of discombobulated."