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 — Chip Kelly doesn’t talk about injuries beyond repeating his “next man in” mantra, a mantra that was all too fitting of the Ducks’ defensive line this year. As the season wore on, the Ducks were hit by injury after injury, forcing Nick Aliotti to play musical chairs with the Ducks’ defensive front. When the Ducks took the field against Cal, they were without Isaac Remington, Dion Jordan and Ricky Heimuli, who all dressed for the game but did not play, while Wade Keliikipi didn’t even suit up for the game; Taylor Hart missed most of the game with a leg injury. When all was said and done, Oregon was without its top-five defensive linemen, and Alex Balducci was forced to burn his redshirt ten games into the season.
Not that the Ducks cared, of course.
“The bottom line is you can’t worry about it,” defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said at the time. “You got to go on. You can’t forfeit. …The next guy in has to step up and play, and I thought they did.”
Kansas State — As with Oregon, most of the talk about Kansas State centers around its offense, but the Wildcats’ defense has been impressive, too — save for the 580 yards they gave up to Baylor. Still, Kansas State is a top-20 team against the run, giving up just 119 yards per game on the ground and just 12 rushing scores all season. While some of that is due to the style of play in the Big 12, the Wildcats 3.71 yards allowed per rush puts them second in the conference — less than half a yard behind Texas Christian University, which leads the Big 12 in rush defense. But the Baylor game is hard to ignore: The Bears had two backs over the century mark and rushed for five touchdowns, nearly half of the rushing scores given up by Kansas State all year.
Advantage: Oregon. What made Baylor so successful against Kansas State was their ability to split carries between Lache Seastrunk — the same Seastrunk who left Oregon because he was worried he’d get lost in the depth chart that also included LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas — and Glasco Martin, a recipe the Ducks may well be able to follow.