Ducks dominate from opening kickoff in Fiesta Bowl
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Oregon’s DeAnthony Thomas raced 94 yards for a touchdown on the opening kickoff.
The fifth-ranked Ducks barely looked back after that.
Triggered by Thomas’ attention-grabbing return, Oregon raced past No. 7 Kansas State 35-17 Thursday night at the Fiesta Bowl in what may have been coach Chip Kelly’s final game with the Ducks.
“Our focus was on this game tonight,” Kelly said. “If for some reason, someone wanted to talk to me, it’s because of those players over there. We have an unbelievable team, an unbelievable program and any success is because of those guys.”
Teams that had that national title aspirations end on the same day, Oregon and Kansas State ended up in the desert for a marquee matchup billed as a battle of styles: The fast-flying Ducks vs. the execution-is-everything Wildcats.
With Kelly reportedly talking to several NFL teams, Oregon (12-1) was too much for Kansas State and its Heisman Trophy finalist, Collin Klein. The Ducks tried to turn the game into a track meet, and it worked from the start.
Thomas followed his before-everyone-sat-down kickoff return with a 23-yard touchdown catch, finishing with 195 total yards. Kenjon Barner ran for 143 yards on 31 carries and scored on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Marcus Mariota in the second quarter. Mariota later scored on a 2-yard run in the third quarter, capped by an obscure 1-point safety that went in the Ducks’ favour.
Even Oregon’s defence got into the act, intercepting Klein twice and holding him to 30 yards on 13 carries.
“We got beat by a better team tonight, combined by the fact that we let down from time to time,” Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said
Whether Kelly leaves Eugene or not, he had a good run, leading the Ducks to four straight trips to BCS bowls, the last two wins.
“It’s amazing,” said Barner, a senior. “Just to go out like this, the Fiesta Bowl with my teammates, the coaching staff, I couldn’t be happier.”
Last year’s Fiesta Bowl was an offensive fiesta, with Oklahoma State outlasting Stanford 41-38 in overtime.
The 2013 version was an upgrade: Nos. 4 and 5 in the BCS, two of the nation’s best offences, dynamic players and superbly successful coaches on both sides.
Oregon has become the standard for go-go-go football under Kelly, its fleet of Ducks making those shiny helmets — green like Christmas tree bulbs for the Fiesta Bowl — and flashy uniforms blur across the grassy landscape.
Their backfield of Thomas, Barner and Mariota made up a three-headed monster of momentum, each one capable of turning a single play into a scoring drive of 60 seconds or less.
Mariota has been the show-running leader, a question mark before the season who ably ran Oregon’s high-octane offence as the first freshman quarterback to start for the Ducks since Danny O’Neil in 1991.
Oregon won the Rose Bowl for the first time in 95 years last season and was in position for a spot in the BCS title game this year before losing a heartbreaker to Stanford on Nov. 17.
Thomas offered the first flash of speed, crossing into the end zone like a sprinter taking the finish-line tape after picking up a couple of blocks and racing past Oregon’s bench for a touchdown on the opening kickoff. The Ducks, are they are apt to do, went for 2 on the point-after and converted on a trick play to go up 8-0 in the game’s first 12 seconds.
It was the second straight day a BCS bowl began with a quick strike; Louisville returned an interception for a touchdown against Florida on the first play of the Sugar Bowl Wednesday night.
Thomas hit the Wildcats (11-2) again late in the first quarter, breaking a couple of tackles and dragging three defenders into the end zone for a catch-and-run TD that put the Ducks up 15-0.
It’s nothing new for Oregon’s sophomore sensation: He had 314 total yards and two long touchdown runs in the 2012 Rose Bowl. The Ducks are used to it, too, after averaging more than 50 points per game.