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How We Stop: Contain Optimus Klein and Force Him to Throw

Lost in all of the Heisman hype for the KSU QB is that he doesn't pass much. Let's make him try it.

Stop him, and you stop the Wildcats.
Stop him, and you stop the Wildcats.
Darren Carroll

Much has been made of the similarities between the schemes of Oregon and Kansas State's offenses, and that should play into the hands of the defense to an extent. The question is, will it be enough for either team to put any sort of wall in front of the two high-powered attacks?

When looking at Football Outsider's FEI rankings, it's easy to compare the Wildcats and Ducks - mostly because they're the first and second-ranked teams, respectively. Kansas State checks in at third in Game Efficiency (Oregon is far and away the top team in that metric) and is first in Special Teams Efficiency and Field Position Advantage.

This means that not only do the Wildcats have a fair amount of firepower behind star quarterback Calvin Colin Klein; they're also apt to take advantage of a breakdown in opposing special teams. Oregon has had more issues with their kicking units this season - especially on kickoff coverage - than the mean, so it will be important to make Klein start from the 25 instead of the 40.

When it comes to neutralizing Kansas State's scheme and personnel, a lot of the keys are the same mentioned when dissecting Oregon's spread attack. Klein and Running back John Hubert are the main rushing threats for the Wildcats and both have the skills to go off Thursday, averaging 4.6 and 5.2 yards per carry respectively.

As with the Ducks, we'll see a lot of option runs and some zone read looks, though Klein is more apt to keep the ball - either on the option or as a designed quarterback run - than Oregon signal caller Marcus Mariota. Oregon is likely to have starting defensive tackle Wade Keliikipi back for tomorrow's contest, something that could prove the difference as the Ducks need all hands on deck against the run.

The Wildcats will work both inside-out and outside-in with run progressions, therefore the Ducks' linebacker core will need to be on their game when it comes to containing Klein and co. and forcing Kansas State to take chances on third down against a Ducks' defense that led the county in interceptions for the regular season.

It also wouldn't be a surprise to see Klein spied on most obvious passing situations as he's done an excellent job spreading the ball around this season, which may mean less heavy blitzing called by defensive coordinator Nick Allioti on third down.

Kansas State brings three receivers with more than 500 yards receiving with them to Glendale, led of course by former Oregon quarterback/wide out Chris Harper, now a redshirt senior and Klein's favorite target.

Much like Oregon's passing game, the biggest threat through the air is over the middle and down the seam, though Harper is a big, strong athlete who could feasibly use his frame to "box out" Oregon's smaller cornerbacks on a deep ball.

Perhaps related to Harper's emergence is the fact that Klein's yards-per-attempt rose considerably this season: 9.15 this year compared to 6.83 in 2011. Expect him to test the depleted Oregon secondary early and often and don't be surprised if the Wildcats hit it big on a deep shot or two.

Personally, I think this game will come down to how the two offenses perform on third down - not just because possessions should be at an inflated premium on Thursday, but because I expect that to be where both defenses take chances and hope to flip both the field and momentum with turnovers.

Oregon will need to be sound on their gaps and containment assignments, making sure not to lose track of the backside of a play and keeping everything in front of them. If they can force Kansas State to the air - taking out the outlier of the Baylor game where Klein threw 50 times, he averaged 18.5 passing attempts in his other 11 games - I like the Ducks chances even more than I already do, because maybe things like this will happen.