The Ducks have one touchdown in their return game this season — a 73-yard punt return against Colorado by De’Anthony Thomas — but they have the capability to break one open thanks to Thomas, who might be the fastest player in the country and has 491 yards in the return game this year.
Oregon has had three players handle their kicking duties this season. Senior Rob Beard does kickoffs, senior Jackson Rice punts and junior Alejandro Maldonado kicks extra points and field goals — although who will do what in the Fiesta Bowl is a mystery. Maldonado missed two field-goal attempts, including one in overtime, in the Ducks’ loss, to Stanford on Nov. 17. Beard and Maldonado have been competing for the job since.
Since Oregon scores touchdowns almost every time it gets into the opponents’ 20 — a nation’s-best 58 out of 70 trips — it may be a moot point.
This is one area where the Wildcats hold a distinct advantage. Tyler Lockett has returned two kicks for touchdowns this season and is always a threat to take a kick back for big yardage. But it’s hard to kick away from him, because Tramaine Thompson is also an explosive returner. And Bill Snyder routinely praises their blockers for clearing the way. Some teams have kicked the ball out of bounds to avoid them.
In the punting game, Ryan Doerr is one of the best in the country when it comes to pinning opponents near their own goal lines. But he also has a powerful leg, averaging 41.7 yards.
Anthony Cantele connected on 18 of 21 field goals this season while making all of his extra-point attempts. He has proven himself in pressure situations, and is close to automatic from within 40 yards. With no wind at the Fiesta Bowl, he could kick from longer distances.
Few teams put more emphasis on special teams than K-State, and it shows.