The 42nd Tostitos Fiesta Bowl started like all the previous 41 games had, and that was with a kickoff. What happened next however, was history. Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas fielded the kick at the 6-yard line, found a gap, and took off sprinting down the sideline, returning the kick 94 yards for the touchdown. It marked the first time in the history of the Fiesta Bowl that the opening kickoff was returned for a touchdown.
That was the play that set the tone for the Ducks. Even though the fans that made the trip from Eugene were vastly outnumbered by those from Kansas State, the play sent a surge of electricity through every Ducks fan in the building, as well as the players on the Oregon sideline. Within 12 seconds, the fastest team on turf had already found the end zone.
“I just feel like my role in this game was just to be a momentum builder and a game changer,” said Thomas. “Once I seen that opening field, I just wanted to get to the end zone fast and celebrate with my team and get ready for the next play.”
Thomas, who is also a member of the Oregon track team, finished the play leaning forward in the same way he does on the track after a 100 meter race. Thomas, one of the fastest players in all of college football, was clocked at over 26 mph when he reached the end zone.
The kickoff set the tone, but it was a series of plays at the end of the first half that really changed the game. With time winding down in the second quarter, and Kansas State driving, trailing by five, quarterback Collin Klein lined up under center on 4th and 1, and tried to get the Ducks to jump offsides for the free first down. The plan backfired though, and it was the Wildcats who were called for a false start, forcing head coach Bill Snyder to bring on the field goal unit. The 40 yard attempt sailed wide, and the Ducks took over.
Then, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota engineered a classic Ducks football drive, marching 77 yards down the field effortlessly in 46 seconds, capping it off with a 24 yard touchdown pass to Kenjon Barner. In the blink of an eye, the Wildcats had gone from trailing by five with a chance to possibly take the lead going into halftime, to trailing by two possessions. The momentum was on Oregon’s side, and it wasn’t switching back.
In the second half, it was Oregon’s defense that finished what Thomas and Mariota started. Klein, the Heisman finalist, looked rusty and in way over his head, throwing for 151 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. On the ground, with the exception of his early rushing touchdown, Klein never looked comfortable running the football. His decisions seemed hesitated and unsure. Klein rushed for 30 yards, his lowest rushing total of the season.
Many fans considered this bowl a consolation prize for the Ducks after stumbling late in the season against Stanford, losing their chance to play for a national championship. Between the Chip Kelly NFL rumors, and the “consolation prize” attitude among fans, some were worried the Ducks wouldn’t be focused on this game. Throughout the night, Oregon proved that wasn’t an issue.
“My agent is outstanding and he knows that I wanted to coach this football game,” said Kelly after the game. “There was nothing I was ever going to do that was going to distract me from this game, nor was it going to distract my players from this game.”
Now, the attention of Ducks fans shift towards Kelly Watch 2013, and where he will end up in the NFL. Kelly is set to meet with the Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles, and Buffalo Bills. It was reported that if Kelly does leave for the NFL, current offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich is said to be in line to be promoted to head coach.
Stay tuned for continued coverage here at Eugene Daily News on Kelly’s possible departure to the NFL, or his stay with the University of Oregon.