GLENDALE (AP) — As Oregon coach Chip Kelly was about to receive the massive Fiesta Bowl trophy, Ducks fans inside University of Phoenix Stadium started a chant of “We want Chip!”
Whether he returns or not is up in the air.
If Kelly does head to the NFL, this was a great send off.
Sparked by De’Anthony Thomas’ 94-yard touchdown return on the opening kickoff, No. 5 Oregon turned the Fiesta Bowl into a track meet from the start and bolted past No. 7 Kansas State 35-17 Thursday night in what could be Kelly’s final game with the Ducks.
“This wasn’t going to be a distraction,” Kelly said of reports that he was headed to the NFL. “It wasn’t a distraction for me — I think it’s an honor. But I think it’s an honor because of the players we have in this program that people want to talk to me.”
Teams that had their national title aspirations end on the same day, Oregon and Kansas State ended up in the desert for a marquee matchup billed as a battle of styles: The fast-flying Ducks vs. the methodical Wildcats.
With Kelly reportedly talking to several NFL teams, Oregon (12-1) was too much for Kansas State and its Heisman Trophy finalist, Collin Klein, who were playing catch-up from the start.
Thomas followed his before-everyone-sat-down kickoff return with a 23-yard touchdown catch, finishing with 195 total yards.
Kenjon Barner ran for 143 yards on 31 carries and scored on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Marcus Mariota in the second quarter. Mariota later scored on a 2-yard run in the third quarter, capped by an obscure 1-point safety that went in the Ducks’ favor.
Even Oregon’s defense got into the act, intercepting Klein twice and holding him to 30 yards on 13 carries.
“We got beat by a better team tonight, combined by the fact that we let down from time to time,” coach Bill Snyder said after Kansas State’s fifth straight bowl loss.
Last year’s Fiesta Bowl was an offensive fiesta, with Oklahoma State outlasting Stanford 41-38 in overtime.
The 2013 version was an upgrade: Nos. 4 and 5 in the BCS, two of the nation’s best offenses, dynamic players and superbly successful coaches on both sides.
Oregon has become the standard for go-go-go football under Kelly, its fleet of Ducks making those shiny helmets — green like Christmas tree bulbs for the Fiesta Bowl — and flashy uniforms blur across the grassy landscape.
Thomas offered the first flash of speed, picking up a couple of blocks and racing toward a not-so-photo finish at the line.
Thomas hit the Wildcats (11-2) again late in the first quarter, breaking a couple of tackles and dragging three defenders into the end zone for a catch-and-run TD that put the Ducks up 15-0.
It’s nothing new for Oregon’s sophomore sensation: He had 314 total yards and two long touchdown runs in the 2012 Rose Bowl. The Ducks are used to it, too, averaging more than 50 points per game.
And they kept flying.
Oregon followed a missed 40-yard field goal by Kansas State’s Anthony Cantele by unleashing one of its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scoring drives late in the second quarter. Moving 77 yards in 46 seconds, the Ducks went up 22-10 at halftime after Mariota hit Barner on 24-yard TD pass.
Alejandro Maldonado hit a 33-yard field goal on Oregon’s opening drive of the third quarter and Mariota capped a long drive with an easy 2-yard TD run to the left. Kansas State’s Javonta Boyd blocked the point-after attempt, but even that went wrong for the Wildcats. Chris Harper was tackled in the end zone for a bizarre 1-point safety that put Oregon up 32-10.
It was the first 1-point safety in major college football since 2004 when Texas did it against Texas A&M, STATS said.
“There were so many things that could have changed the outcome of this game,” Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown said.
Kansas State needed a little time to get its wheels spinning on offense, laboring early before Klein scored on a 6-yard run early in the second quarter.
Klein kept the Wildcats moving in the quarter, though not toward touchdowns: Cantele hit a 25-yard field goal and missed from 40 after a false-start penalty.
Klein hit John Hubert on a 10-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter, but all that did was cut Oregon’s lead to 32-17.
He threw for 151 yards on 17 of 32 passing.
“It wasn’t really complicated,” Kelly said of slowing Klein. “He’s a great player, one of the greats of college football. I had my heart in my throat a couple of times watching him around, but our guys just made plays when they had to make plays.”
By doing so, they may have put a nice exclamation point on Kelly’s college career.
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