Regardless of where Chip Kelly is coaching next season he will be able to say he left University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale with a much better taste in his mouth than he did two years ago as the head coach of the Oregon Ducks.
Oregon started fast and finished strong running away from the Kansas State Wildcats 35-17 in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. The loss tempers the ‘Quack Attack’s’ last trip to the west Valley which ended with a last-second 22-19 loss to Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers in the BCS Championship Game on January 10, 2011.
“Great football game,” Kelly said after the game. “A real hard-fought battle. They made us earn that we did, especially on the offensive side of the ball. I think our guys found a way to overcome that. These guys were just outstanding. I can’t say enough about [them].”
Oregon (12-1, 8-1) struck first and it didn’t take long as De’Anthony Thomas took the opening kickoff and raced nearly untouched down the Ducks sideline for a 94-yard touchdown. Chip Kelly went to the bag of tricks early as former Chandler High star Dion Jordan took the pitch and punched in the two-point conversion making it 8-0.
“I just feel like my role is this game was to be a momentum builder and a game changer,” Thomas said explaining the kick return. “Once I seen that opening field I just wanted to get to the end zone fast.”
The Ducks defense then responded with a big play stuffing Collin Klein on 4th and one inside Oregon territory on the Wildcats opening offensive possession.
Following a K-State (11-2, 8-1) punt, UO pieced together an impressive seven-play, 54-yard drive taking only 2:01 off the clock capped by talented redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota’s 23-yard scoring pass to Thomas who slipped into the secondary and stretched across the goal line. After the successful point after, it was 15-0 Ducks with just under four minutes left in the first quarter.
The ‘Cats got on the board early in the second quarter when talented senior quarterback Collin Klein scrambled in from six yards out. The ten-play drive covered 58 yards and closed the gap to 15-7 following the PAT.
After a K-State missed field goal Mariota led the quick-strike Ducks on another scoring drive. Taking over at the Oregon 23 he completed three of four quick passes, the last a 24-yard swing pass to senior running back Kenyon Barner who was wide open in the flat and ran untouched into the end zone to pad the Ducks lead to 22-10 going into halftime.
The Ducks picked up in the second half right where they left off in the first. After a field goal by Alejandro Maldonado, Mariota sliced the K-State secondary with a combination of runs and passes before eventually scampering in from two yards out making it 31-10. After Maldonado’s PAT was blocked, the Wildcats recovered in the end zone and attempted to run out. The Ducks were awarded a rare one-point safety making it 32-10 and the route was on.
Mariota finished an efficient 12-24 through the air for 166 yards and two touchdowns, while adding 62 yards and a score on the ground. He out dueled the senior Klein who threw a touchdown, but was intercepted twice and trouble moving the ball against the Ducks defense most of the night.
“Obviously we lost to an extremely fine football team,” K-State head coach Bill Snyder said. “We made some mistakes early in the ballgame that were very costly. We didn’t play as well as we’re capable of playing.”