Ducks running game
The Ducks have one of the nation’s best running backs in 5-foot-11, 192-pound senior Kenjon Barner, a consensus All-American who has rushed for 1,624 yards and 21 touchdowns. Barner does everything you want a running back to do — he has breakaway speed that can burn teams on the outside and enough size to run between the tackles when he has to. Barner had his signature game in a 62-51 win over USC on Nov. 11, running for 321 yards and five touchdowns. He is considered one of the top running backs available in April’s NFL Draft.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota is a dual-threat player, and has rushed for 690 yards and four touchdowns. All-purpose player De’Anthony Thomas has 686 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns and set the Rose Bowl record last January with a 91-yard touchdown run.
K-State has been strong against the run, but it did struggle through an off night against Baylor. The Bears, using a similar hurry-up style to the Ducks, gained more than 300 rushing yards in an easy victory. Oregon will try to emulate that success on the ground, but K-State has been working to fix those problems for weeks.
Ducks passing game
Because the Ducks have won so many games in blowouts this season, their passing numbers don’t jump off the page, but they’re more than capable of burning teams through the air. Mariota has shown a tendency to spread the ball out between Oregon receivers — nine Ducks have at least 10 catches and seven average more than 10 yards per catch.
Tight end Colt Lyerla is a big-time NFL prospect in the mold of New England’s Rob Gronkowski and Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez, and has the size (6-5, 246) and speed (4.59-second 40-yard dash) to burn teams all over the field.
With Ty Zimmerman returning, K-State will have a stronger secondary than it did against Baylor and Texas. The Wildcats’ top safety made five interceptions this season, and is one of the team’s top defenders. Nigel Malone and Allen Chapman are capable defending mid-range passes but struggle to cover the deep ball and short, quick passes that stretch the field.
What to watch
Oregon’s biggest weakness is probably up front, where its offensive line is a bit undersized and young compared to K-State’s experienced front seven.
Running the spread offense is one thing, but getting a bunch of 300-pound linemen to run a play every 10-15 seconds out of the no-huddle offense like Oregon wants to can wear on the big guys. The Ducks rely on what they call “explosion plays” — gains of 25 yards or more from the line of scrimmage — to win games. Stop those and they run into problems.
K-State’s front six is as experienced a group as they come. All four of the Wildcats’ defensive linemen and linebackers are seniors. Meshak Williams, Adam Davis, Arthur Brown and Jarell Childs will want to go out with good performances in their final games. They should provide a good matchup for Oregon’s offensive line.