In the days leading up to the 2012 Fiesta Bowl, the Emerald will take a position-by-position look at Oregon and Kansas State, determining which team has the edge going into the BCS showdown on Jan. 3.
Oregon — The Ducks’ offensive line was one of the team’s most bruised and battered units in 2012. Coach Steve Greatwood’s squad suffered its first blow just after the regular season began when news broke senior offensive lineman Carson York would miss the year after undergoing knee surgery.
Junior Mana Greig injured his knee just weeks later against Colorado. It was Greig’s second career start, and the right guard would end up sidelined for the rest of the year. Lesser injuries to senior Nick Cody, junior Everett Benyard III and sophomore Jake Fisher would nag the Ducks throughout October.
“We’ve been practicing at different positions all year,” redshirt freshman Tyler Johnstonesaid after Oregon’s win over Colorado. “We’re still comfortable. We all still got our assignments down, and we know every position on the line. We’re going to be OK.”
One could argue they did better than OK. Running behind a patched-up line, senior running back Kenjon Barner broke the school’s single-game rushing record with his 321-yard, five-touchdown bonanza against USC in November. Entering the Fiesta Bowl, Oregon is averaging 323.3 rushing yards — the third-best in the country.
Kansas State — The Wildcats’ line, bolstered by sophomore center BJ Finney, started the year strong. Through the first nine games, the Big 12 co-champion averaged 191 rushing yards and kept Heisman finalist Collin Klein clean in the pocket.
But Finney told the Kansas City Star that’s when the trouble began.
“It’s certainly not helped us at all that we haven’t been able to run the ball,” Finney said after Kansas State’s loss to Baylor. “We’ve had some pretty bad games as far as missed assignments and not executing our game plan well. Obviously, we can’t run the ball if we’re not executing well. That’s something we have to fix.”
Against the Bears, which ended the Wildcats’ championship hopes the same day Oregon lost to Stanford, Wildcats O-line coach Charlie Dickey saw his squad pave the way for only 76 yards. While part of that can be explained by the air-it-out shootout that developed, Klein was forced into three interceptions and was sacked twice.
Kansas State bounced back in the season finale, helping dual-threat Klein average 4.5 yards per carry. He finished the night with 103 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
While the Wildcats also suffered their share of injuries during the year — especially to left guard Nick Puetz and tackle Boston Stiverson — both squads will be rested and healthy (season-ending injuries aside) when the teams meet on Jan. 3.
Advantage: Push. Both squads overcame adversity throughout the year, but Oregon’s gaudy stats are partially a product of its backfield talent and offensive schemes. The Wildcats’ road-graders can’t be discounted, especially considering Klein’s near-constant goal-line touchdowns. Even when Big 12 rivals knew it was coming, they still couldn’t stop it.