Tonight’s Tostitos Fiesta Bowl is honestly a dream matchup. Oregon and Kansas State were the 2 best teams in all of college football for a considerable stretch of the season, but two late season hiccups and neither team was able to make it to the BCS championship game.
So for the last week or so everyone with an opinion has decided to talk up this game. And rightfully so, as both teams feature dynamic offenses that can put up points in a hurry. Both teams are led by uber-talented quarterbacks and the Ducks own a star studded cast of skill position players.
So, that’s all anyone wants to talk about. But as I study these two teams, there are two players that I haven’t heard anyone talking about that are really going to make all the difference in this game.
Kansas State defensive ends Meshak Williams and Adam Davis are the two players that will make or break this game for the Wildcats and it’s really not even close. The Ducks run an offense that is predicated on two essential plays. The zone read and the jet sweep. Fundamentally, both of those plays put a tremendous amount of pressure on an opposing teams defensive ends. In the Ducks only loss of the year, Stanford used their edge players, whether it was a linebacker or defensive end in the 3-4 to seal the edge and maintain their gap responsibilities, and forced the Ducks to either work inside or to beat the Cardinal defensive backs one on one.
The Wildcats have a really good pair of ends, and they have a daunting task ahead of them. It’s easy to sit here and say what they should do, but in the heat of the moment and quarterback Marcus Mariota sticks that ball in the belly of running back Kenjon Barner the natural instinct is to dive down on him. But for Williams and Davis, they have to hold their spots and let the linebacker and free safety make the play in the dive, and they hold out for the outside read. Same with the jet sweep. Instead of biting on the quarterback keep inside, maintain the edge and force that sweep man to either change direction, or give ground and give your teammates time to come up and make a play.
What we saw in the Oregon/Stanford game was Ducks head coach Chip Kelly had a plan. And when that plan was blown up but the Stanford defense, he struggled to adjust. Wildcats head coach Bill Snyder is going to have his players ready. He’ll have a plan in place that will feature his defensive ends as the lynch pin in the scheme. But in the final analysis, it will be down to them to execute.