Countdown to the Fiesta Bowl: Grading Oregon’s, Kansas State’s tight ends

Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown. Lyerla caught three passes and ran a total of 71 yards. (Tess Freeman/Emerald)

Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown. Lyerla caught three passes and ran a total of 71 yards. (Tess Freeman/Emerald)

Posted by Isaac Rosenthal on Thursday, Dec. 20 at 12:00 pm.

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 — You might assume there’s no room for a player like a tight end in Chip Kelly’s frenetic offense, but you’d be sorely mistaken. Colt Lyerla has become one of Marcus Mariota’s favorite targets and is one of the Ducks’ more productive pass catchers.

The sophomore from Hillsboro has been especially effective in the red zone, is second on the team with six touchdown grabs on the season and is near the top of the pack in receiving yards, too.  He’s just 45 yards behind De’Anthony Thomas but has 19 fewer catches (and two more scores — through the air, that is).

Among Oregon players with 10 or more catches on the year, only Josh Huff averages more yards per catch than Lyerla — and by less than a yard, at that. And while he hasn’t been asked to carry the ball since early October, Lyerla was used as Kelly’s answer to a power running back at the beginning of the season and averaged 5.9 yards on 13 carries.

Kansas State — Travis Tannahill has an identical number of receptions on the year — he and Lyerla both have 22 — but he is very much an afterthought to the Wildcats’ three-headed monster at wide receiver. His only touchdown of the year came in a 56-16 route of Kansas, and he had just four grabs against the Top 25 (Lyerla had 12).

In an offense that revolves around Collin Klein, however, Tannahill has been valuable as a run blocker, using every ounce of his 253 pounds to open run lanes for the Heisman finalist.

Advantage: Oregon. Lyerla has  61 more yards on the same number of catches and considerably more touchdowns, but Oregon doesn’t get the advantage because of stats alone.  Lyerla (or “Bane,” as he’s known in some online circles) is simply a more critical piece of the Ducks’ offense than Tannahill is to Kansas State.

Yesterday: O-lines

Tomorrow: Linebackers