Oregon defense shuts down Heisman candidate Collin Klein

Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein dives into the endzone to score the Wildcats' first touchdown of the game. (Tess Freeman/Emerald)

Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein dives into the endzone to score the Wildcats' first touchdown of the game. (Tess Freeman/Emerald)

Posted by Jackson Long on Friday, Jan. 4 at 12:04 am.

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein racked up 2,490 passing yards in the 2012 season. In the rushing department, Klein ran for 890 yards, and if you combine both his aerial and ground scores, he tallied 37 touchdowns on the season. If you break it down further, the Heisman candidate was insanely impressive on a game to game scale; he averaged a yardage total of almost 282 yards per game with three touchdowns in each contest.

On Thursday night in the Fiesta Bowl, Klein didn’t measure up. He gained over 100 yards less than what he typically totals in a game and scored only two touchdowns, one of which his tailback John Hubert did all the work on.

“They (Oregon’s defense) just made a lot of great plays,” said Klein, “They really flew to the football, executed better than we did.”

Optimus Klein, they call him, a nickname likening his 6-foot-5, 226-pound frame to the mammoth Transformers robot. Against the Ducks defense, he was anything but a streamlined machine, with loads of inaccurate passes and minimal rushing gains.

The Oregon defense forced Klein to be one-dimensional by taking away his running ability, in walling-up his running lanes. In the first half, Klein tried using his legs to gobble yards but the Duck defense loaded the box and allowed Klein only 10 rush yards on six tries. They halted K-State’s tailback John Hubert as well, allowing him no yards despite four attempts.

Klein had only attempted 11 passes in the game before Oregon ceased KSU’s scoring run and, after a missed Wildcat field goal, the Ducks blazed down the field in under a minute for a score, leaving the Wildcats behind by 12 at the half. Klein was forced to let the ball fly in the second half in order catch up, especially since his run game wasn’t working.

Klein attempted 20 more passes in the second half and completed only eight of them. His run game was equally as ineffective as it was in the first half and by the game’s end Klein had turned in the worst statistical performance of the season.

“I think the hardest thing is we had difficulty throwing the football, which they put you in a position where you had to do that for the most part of the game,” said Wildcats head coach Bill Snyder. “The second half, when we fell behind, you get to a point after a while where you become one-sided, which we were.”

Klein only passed for fewer yards in three games this season, which were all matchups in which he rushed for more than 50 yards and a score in each. Thursday’s ground total of 30 yards was the lowest tally of the year for Klein. The Fiesta matchup against the Ducks compares nicely with K-State’s only other loss of the season, against Baylor.

The Baylor game was the only other matchup this season in which Klein was picked more that twice and was his previously worst rushing day before the Fiesta Bowl, having gained on 39 yards against the Bears of Baylor.

The standouts for Oregon’s defense were a pair of players who began the year with very different expectations.

Fiesta Bowl MVP, senior Michael Clay, came into the year as leader of the defense as was expected to turn in a stellar season. Sophomore Erick Dargan was a third-string safety who climbed into the starting position later in the season due to injuries and has excelled since. Clay and Dargan finished as team leaders in tackles against the Wildcats, Clay with nine and Dargan with eight. Clay also had a nine-yard sack and two tackles for losses. Dargan got two interceptions for a return total of 33 yards.

“I thought our defense played extremely well at every level,” said Oregon head coach Chip Kelly. “Our secondary, our linebackers, our defensive line. I thought they got a lot of good pressure without having to all-out blitz Collin, kind of disrupted him a little bit, kept him off balance.”