For the first 29 minutes of Thursday night’s Fiesta Bowl against No. 5 Oregon, the Kansas State defense seemed to be doing exactly what it needed to against the Ducks’ high-flying, highly-touted “blur” offense.
The No. 7 Wildcats made open-field tackles. They controlled the line of scrimmage. They even were able to fluster Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota, something teams haven’t been able to do all year.
For the first 29 minutes, they did all of those things.
It was the last minute of the first that got them.
A missed field-goal attempt by K-State’s Anthony Cantele gave Oregon the ball back at its own 23-yard line. The Ducks kicked into high gear with a drive that showcased three offensive players who constantly create NFL buzz — redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota, senior running back Kenjon Barner and sophomore tight end Colt Lyerla — and the play-calling skills that have made Chip Kelly such a hot commodity for NFL teams.
“They sped it up, that’s something we’ve seen but they caught us off guard,” K-State defensive end Meshak Williams said. “We knew how their speed was going to be ... and they were slower than I thought they’d be until the end of the (first) half. Then they did their thing.”
Oregon scored in less than a minute — the Ducks’ 24th scoring drive of under 60 seconds this season — for a 22-10 halftime lead. The Ducks eventually won 35-17.
First, Mariota hit Lyerla on an underneath route and he quickly got away from K-State linebackers for a 23-yard gain.
Then a 13-yard run by Barner, an All-American, for another first down into K-State territory.
Mariota threw an incomplete pass then went back to Lyerla, again underneath, and again getting yards after the catch.
At the K-State 24, Mariota threw a schoolyard-style floater to Barner for a touchdown down the sideline, the two Oregon stars finding the empty spaces in the K-State defense for a score.
“That was a changing point of the game I felt like,” K-State linebacker Justin Tuggle said. “It happens fast. It’s like they’re in two-minute drill the entire game.”
Five plays, 77 yards, 46 seconds and a 22-10 lead headed into halftime.
And all before the Wildcats even had a chance to catch their breath.
“We knew once we got the back we needed to do something, to make something happen,” Barner said. “We got in that familiar groove and just took off.”
It was the 23rd time the Oregon offense scored in less than one minute this season -- the end results of an offense created from one of football’s most talented offensive minds out of necessity, when Kelly was an offensive coordinator at New Hampshire from 1999 to 2006.
“We were running out of fullbacks, either because they got hurt or we couldn’t recruit them,” Kelly said earlier in the week. “So I had to figure out a way to have an offense with no fullbacks.
“Who wants to play fullback anyway? When you recruit the kid, do you tell them ‘You’re 6-2 now, but you’ll be 5-10 by the time you’re done. Good luck with that.”