Category Archives: Fiesta Bowl Countdown

Fiesta Bowl Countdown: John Hubert could make a big difference in the Fiesta Bowl

The countdown is coming to an end. It’s sad, I know. This is my final blog before the Fiesta Bowl starts at 7:30 tonight at University of Phoenix Stadium. Before I get to it, though, I want to thank everyone who sent blog ideas my way. Your suggestions were a big help.

I think the key matchup in tonight’s Fiesta Bowl will be John Hubert vs. Kenjon Barner.

Even though the running backs won’t face each other directly, the ball-carrier who gains the most yards will give his team a big advantage.

Of all the weird stats that came out of Oregon’s lone loss to Stanford, Barner’s 66 rushing yards sticks out most. He averaged more than 135 yards this season, and basically beat USC all by himself, but on that night the Cardinal held him to pedestrian yardage on 21 carries.

Marcus Mariota ran pretty well, finishing with 89 yards, but it didn’t matter. Without Barner churning out yards, Oregon’s offense struggled. It scored 14 points and lost in overtime. Stopping him should be K-State’s top priority on defense.

If the Wildcats hold to him fewer than 100 yards, they will take their chances. But they will also need Hubert to get going in their own backfield.

When you look back at K-State’s season, the Wildcats were often at their best when Hubert was running strong. He had 130 yards and a touchdown in a crucial victory at Oklahoma. He rushed for more than 100 yards in easy wins over Kansas and Miami. And he scored three touchdowns while rushing for 66 yards against Texas.

But when he was less effective, so was K-State. The Wildcats’ worst two offensive performances came against TCU, when Hubert ran for 23 yards, and at Baylor, when he ran for 43 yards.

He hasn’t hit the 100-yard mark since early October, but he did look good against the Longhorns. With a month between games, he has had plenty of time to rest and is eager to make a run at a 1,000-yard season. He needs 108 yards to get there.

If he does, he might help K-State win the Fiesta Bowl.

Fiesta Bowl Countdown: Hartman, Lamur inspire K-State’s current NFL hopefuls

At this time last year, Tysyn Hartman and Emmanuel Lamur were in the same position as Nigel Malone, Jarell Childs and Meshak Williams.

The former Kansas State defenders were coming off productive seasons with the Wildcats, and hoping for a chance to play at the next level.

Both players had an outside shot at being drafted, but their more likely routes to the NFL were through free agency. Sure enough, both players got picked up after going undrafted and went on to have solid rookie seasons.

Hartman, a safety, made 24 tackles while playing in nine games (starting two) with the Kansas City Chiefs. Lamur, a linebacker, made 19 tackles while playing in nine games for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Malone (cornerback), Childs (linebacker) and Williams (defensive end) have each done big things for K-State this year. But their NFL hopes aren’t as clear as Arthur Brown’s. He will get drafted in the first few rounds. Malone, Childs and Williams need to further prove themselves at K-State’s pro day and in private workouts with NFL teams.

Just like Hartman and Lamur did.

“Obviously, we came from the same system under the same coach,” Childs said. “Those guys are great players. If they can do it, I will always think there is a chance for me and the other defensive players on our team.”
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Fiesta Bowl Countdown: Kyle Klein impressing coaches during bowl practices

Throughout his time at Kansas State, Kyle Klein has been known best as Collin’s younger brother.

That may always be the case, but Klein will be able to make a name for himself starting next year. Older brother will be gone, pursuing a career in the NFL. Klein will be a sophomore receiver, pursuing a starting spot.

With only Chris Harper and Zach McFall leaving the program, he will face strong competition. But he will be in the mix for playing time behind Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson along with Curry Sexton, Torell Miller, and Deante Burton.

Klein saw playing time this season, but didn’t receive many targets. He didn’t catch a single pass.

At the least, that will change next season. Klein was still adjusting to the position this season. Since joining the K-State program, he has spent time at defensive end, tight end and receiver. He played practically every position, including quarterback, for his high school football team and prides himself on being versatile. Still, he needed time to fully grasp K-State’s offense as a receiver.

Now that he feels more comfortable, his coaches are expecting big things.

“He is having a great bowl prep,” co-offensive coordinator Dana Dimel said. “He is really starting to make some strides. I’m paying a lot of attention to what the young guys are doing. Kyle has made a lot of nice plays. He’s just like Collin. He is learning how to play his position. He is getting a lot better. He brings length to that position. We want to throw the ball downfield and he allows us to do that.”
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Fiesta Bowl Countdown: Dana Dimel Q&A

Dana Dimel has one of the most interesting backgrounds of anyone on Kansas State’s coaching staff. The co-offensive coordinator, who also oversees running backs and tight ends, is just about to finish his fourth straight season at the helm of K-State’s offense.

Before that, though, he was a head coach at Wyoming and Houston and the associate head coach at Arizona. He is a K-State grad and got his coaching start with the Wildcats, originally serving as a graduate assistant and becoming offensive coordinator in 1995. He was with Bill Snyder at the start of his first successful run at K-State and came back for his second.

He has coached a Heisman Trophy finalist (Collin Klein), he has helped K-State reach two Cotton Bowls (1997 and 2012), he is about to coach in the Fiesta Bowl and he recruited Rob Gronkowski. He went 22-13 in three years at Wyoming. He went 0-11 in his second year at Houston and only lasted three seasons with the Cougars.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, interesting.

On Sunday, at a Fiesta Bowl news conference, he talked about his background, his dream of following Snyder as K-State’s head coach, the Wildcats’ 11-win season and the upcoming game against Oregon.

What does it mean to you, personally, to be part of K-State’s recent success?

It’s been very nice. Nice personally to be back with my family, back at Kansas State, where I went to school. To be around the community, where I know so many people, to see them as they raise their families, it’s home for me. I’ve spent 16 years of my life in Manhattan, Kansas. More than any place else.

Do you want to be a head coach again?

Sure, yeah, absolutely. That is always important for people to want to do that. I have been there and done it a couple times. I enjoyed it and want the challenge again. I always learned to be a good head coach you have to be good at what you are doing right now. So I don’t think about that. I just try to be the best running backs, tight end, fullback coach and offensive coordinator that I can be.

Do people around campus ever talk to you about the possibility of being the head coach at Kansas State?

Sure, absolutely. But it’s just something you don’t talk about that much. Obviously that would be a goal of mine. That is something I would want to happen, and hopefully someday it does happen. But right now let’s just do the best at what we are doing right now. To answer your question very candidly, though, yes — of course.

So that’s a dream of yours?

Sure.

You want to take over the program when Snyder steps down?

Sure. Absolutely. I think it would be a challenge, but obviously I understand the inner workings of this program. I saw coach come in when we weren’t very successful. So I’ve seen what can make K-State not successful. I’ve been around for the losing years. I’ve also been around here during the transition and around for the positive years. I have seen the whole gambit of what K-State football is about. I have a great understanding of what it takes to win here, but also what not to do here.
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Fiesta Bowl Countdown: From now on, Nigel Malone isn’t taking chances at the goal line

If Nigel Malone has the chance to score a touchdown against Oregon, he says he won’t drop the football until he runs through the back of the end zone and an official asks him for it.

Even then, he might be hesitant to part with the pigskin.

That’s the kind of caution he vows to show the rest of his career after the humiliating play he made against Texas. If you don’t recall the gaffe, here’s what happened: He intercepted a pass near the sideline in the first quarter and saw nothing but open field between him and the end zone. But as he approached the goal line, he became overconfident and dropped the ball an inch short of paydirt. Officials originally awarded him a touchdown, but took it away after a lengthy review.

“I’m pretty sure I crossed it. The line was behind me before I let the ball go. But it is what it is,” said Malone, a senior cornerback. “I know next time I won’t make it close. I’m going to give it to the ref. I might bring it back to the sideline.”
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Fiesta Bowl Countdown: K-State’s defense will stick with fundamentals against Oregon

With Oregon only losing one game this season, it’s easy to sit back and say Kansas State should devise a defensive gameplan similar to the one Stanford used during a 17-14 victory in Eugene.

The Cardinal out-gained the Ducks that night and held Oregon well below its average scoring output. Heck, it scored at least 42 points in each of its other 11 games. Stanford must have been onto something, right?

Perhaps, but K-State coaches aren’t thinking that way.

“That would be a game that a lot of people would say, ‘You could feed off of that,’” coach Bill Snyder said. “But all teams are different. Our defense is different from Stanford’s defense and vice-versa. You have to be careful. You can’t say, ‘They did it, so we can do it.’ It doesn’t work that way.”

So what will K-State’s defensive strategy be against Oregon? Snyder runs far too tight a ship to come out and diagram his plans with the media. But after talking to Snyder and defensive coordinator Tom Hayes, it is clear they won’t be using any brand new schemes or formations.

“We are not going to gimmick and do a bunch of crazy things,” Hayes said. “Several of these teams that have gotten in trouble against Oregon gimmicked and got caught out of gaps – woosh, 50, 70 right over the top – misreads, misexecution if you will. Hopefully we stay away from that.”
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Fiesta Bowl Countdown: Play of the Year, Kansas State football edition

Kansas State entered its road game against Oklahoma as a heavy favorite. Even though both teams were ranked, most expected the Sooners to make short work of the Wildcats. Oklahoma hadn’t lost to a ranked team at home since the Renaissance (not really, but it had quite a streak going) and it humiliated K-State a year earlier in Manhattan.

But all that went out the window when Justin Tuggle hit OU quarterback Landry Jones from behind, causing a fumble that resulted in a K-State touchdown.

As soon as Jarell Childs scooped up the loose ball and fell into the end zone to give the Wildcats a 7-3 lead in the second quarter, it was obvious they had a chance. They went on to win the game, the Big 12 and the conference’s automatic berth in the Fiesta Bowl.

How important was that play? Well, you could say it sparked K-State’s run up the national polls. The Wildcats weren’t in many close games this year, but that was one of them. It was also the most important, because it gave them a tie-breaker over the Sooners in the conference championship hunt. In my mind, that made it an obvious choice for K-State’s Play of the Year.

I asked Tuggle about that play for a story that ran in today’s paper, and though he didn’t think it alone sparked K-State’s winning streak he was glad he was able to make it.

“There are a lot of things that ignited this run. I’m glad people can look back and see that as maybe one of the reasons,” Tuggle said. “But there was a lot that went on this year. We had a lot of guys step up and make big plays. It’s big to be on a defense like that. We all swarm to the ball and go out there to make big plays. It’s really fun.”
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Fiesta Bowl Countdown: Lookout Ducks, Cats have been dominant vs. bird mascots

Observations like this one, from @camchiles3 via twitter, are why I ask for your suggestions at the bottom of the blog: “@Kellis Robinett #KState is 12-0 the last 4 yrs vs teams with bird mascots.” Thanks for the stat, Cam!

Since K-State football coach Bill Snyder re-joined the Wildcats four years ago, the Wildcats have been dominant against opponents that use birds as their mascots.

They are 4-0 (with three extremely lopsided victories) against the Kansas Jayhawks, they are 4-0 against the Iowa State Cyclones (their mascot is half bird, half tornado), they are 2-0 against the North Texas Mean Green (aka Eagles) and they have victories over Tennessee Tech and Kent State (both Golden Eagles). That’s a 12-0 record.

Throw in two more wins over the Miami Hurricanes (their mascot, Sebastian, is an American White Ibis) and the record improves to 14-0.

During the last four years, nobody has beaten up on bird mascots like Snyder. So I guess that means the Oregon Ducks need to be on high alert heading into the Fiesta Bowl.
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Fiesta Bowl Countdown: A statistical look at Oregon’s only loss

When the Oregon Ducks won football games this season, they did so convincingly.

Their average margin of victory was more than 32 points. Of their 11 wins, all but two came by more than 20 points. USC gave them the best game during that stretch, losing 62-51 at home.

There were moments, such as a 49-0 blowout of Arizona (which was ranked at the time), that Oregon looked like the best team in the country. If college football started its four-team playoff this postseason, it might still have a chance to prove that it is.

Instead, the Ducks are in the same position as Kansas State. One off night — a 17-14 overtime loss to Stanford — sent them to the Fiesta Bowl.

So what happened against the Cardinal? Here’s a statistical look:
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Fiesta Bowl Countdown: University of Phoenix Stadium is a unique stadium

Plenty of new football stadiums have retractable roofs. But only one has a retractable field, too — University of Phoenix Stadium.

That makes the site of this year’s Fiesta Bowl between Kansas State and Oregon a unique stadium.

It may not be as fancy as new Cowboys Stadium, and it may not be as massive as MetLife Stadium, but it is still considered a state-of-the-art place to play.

After three years of construction the stadium opened in August 2006. It’s official capacity is 63,400, but it is expandable up to 72,200. The Arizona Cardinals play their home games at the facility, and it has hosted the Fiesta Bowl every year since it has been running. The Super Bowl, BCS championship game, NCAA Tournament and countless concerts have also come to Glendale in recent years.

Still, what sets University of Phoenix Stadium apart from most stadiums (aside from its exterior surface, which represents a barrel cactus) is its retractable field. It slides in and out of the facility, allowing groundskeepers to grow a natural grass playing surface in the Arizona sun during the week and football players to make plays on it inside the dome on the weekend. It also prevents unwanted wear and tear from people walking on it during concerts or trade shows.
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