Bruce & Jenn's Fiesta Bowl Blog

The Wildcats are in Arizona preparing for Thursday's Fiesta Bowl game against the Oregon Ducks. Bruce and Jenn are following all of the Fiesta Bowl action from the University of Phoenix.

They'll update this blog throughout the week, so be sure to check back often.

Bruce's Blog: Game Day


Oregon coach was only half joking when he said of visiting with the media early yesterday morning-that, at least his day couldn't get any worse.  The fact that Kelly has all sorts of NFL rumors swirling around him probably has a lot to do with the sentiment, but it's also time to play a football game instead of talk about it.  Not that it will keep me from doing exactly that.

Meet Marcus Mariota-

Everyone's talking about Collin Klein but K-State better not sleep on the Oregon quarterback.  Mariota has thrown for more yards than Klein and rushed for only 200 yards less.  Like his far more acclaimed backfield mates Kenyon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas-- he has great speed.  Like Klein, he has escape-ability.   There's nothing that frustrates a defense more than shutting down a play, only to have a quarterback make a spontaneous play with his feet.  

Don't blink-

There is speed and then there is speed and Oregon has them both.  A speedy tempo on offense which features speedy players-talk about double indemnity.  The Ducks run a play about every  19 seconds they have the ball.  The goal is to wear a defense down-when a defense gets tired the first thing to go is the mind.  If you're not assignment sound on every snap against Oregon-you're in for a long night.  That's why they average 50 points a game with the starters rarely playing into the fourth quarter.  Kansas State has to get lined up in the right places, defenders have to be accountable and the first guy there has to make a tackle.  That's not easy against Oregon because they run so much of their stuff in space on the edges with guys that can make you miss.  It's a very tough task.

It's not all about time of possession-

Most people seem to feel that KSU has to possess the ball for long drives--work the clock-keep Oregon's offense off the field.  It wouldn't hurt, but Collin Klein is simply more concerned with playing well.  His contention being that as long as they're playing well and not turning the ball over-they'll be fine.  He's not as concerned with time of possession as he is what they're doing with those possessions.  About half of K-State's touchdowns this year were scored in drives under three minutes.  What Klein doesn't want is guys trying to do more than system asks from them-he wants his team to believe and trust in what has gotten them here.

So what do you think?

I love the fact that, at the time they played them, K-State has played five of the top ten offenses in the country. Beating four of those high paced offenses has to give them confidence tonight.  Special teams are always keys for Kansas State, not just in scoring but in field possession.  On paper the 'Cats have an advantage in this department.  Fiesta Bowl officials think that Catbackers will outnumber Oregon fans almost 3 to 1, so the place should have a home feel.  Does it sound like I'm trying to talk myself into a K-State upset?  I'll be honest, I don't like the matchup-K-State would be far better suited to face Notre Dame or Alabama.  Having said that, I love the 'Cat's maturity and they always seem to be at their best when people are dismissing them.  Even after going 21-4 over the last two years, these guys love to play the 'lack of respect' card.  They're going to need more than a card to beat Oregon, but I'll be surprised if they're not in a position to win late.

Jenn's Blog:  Game Day

Well here I sit in my hotel room in Scottsdale licking my wounds.  Thankfully I went out to dinner with an old friend last night and I sat with my back to the tv so I didn't have to watch my Gators get mauled by our former defensive coordinator and Louisville.  Man, rough loss for my alma mater. 

Therefore I refuse to think Kansas State will lose today (I can't take talking to a losing locker room again) although they may be up for a tougher matchup.  However Kansas State does have one huge advantage and that's their chance to do something no Wildcat football team has done before:  win 12 games in a season.  In other words, Kansas State truly has something for which to play. 

I'm not saying that Oregon doesn't but I think a lot of Ducks fans and players see the writing on the wall.  Chip Kelly is a hot commodity and with close to 10 NFL teams looking for a new head coach he's already getting phone calls and shots at interviews.  He was coy about it as yesterday's press conference but it's an opportunity he probably can't resist.

I met quite a few Kansas State fans last night and saw maybe a handful of folks clad in green and yellow.  The fans as always are hopeful, I think that's a big part of what Coach Snyder brings.  The Wildcats always have faith in coach and hope that they can do some pretty wonderful things.  What I also love about Kansas State fans is that they're exactly like their team:  nothing flashy, nothing extravagant, nothing pretentious. 

Oregon is the complete opposite.  With their endless array of Nike uniforms with mirrored helmets and wings on their shoulders their flash is augmented by their blinding speed on the field.  Kansas State defensive back Ty Zimmerman joked at the pep rally that the Cats would be debuting new uniforms tonight.  'They've got a Fiesta Bowl patch on the shoulder,' joked Zimmerman.  About 23 thousand Kansas State fans laughed with him.  Because just as Snyder said yesterday 'the uniform doesn't matter, it matters who's inside it.'

This is the third straight Kansas State bowl game I will cover and it's hands down the hardest game the Wildcats will play.  However, after seeing them at practice the other day and hearing coach Snyder's words and seeing the looks on the guy's faces at the pep rally I just can't help but have a little faith that they can pull this off.

That and Eric Stonestreet seems confident his Wildcats will get a big win.  Happy Game Day everyone! 


Jenn's Blog: Wednesday

Coach Bill Snyder is nothing if not consistent.  You can usually predict how he'll answer every question, you can always count on him being extremely humble and respectful toward his opponent and you will undoubtedly see him carrying his small cup of coffee in his left hand most every minute of every day. 

Todays' press conference was no exception.  In walks coach Snyder, in a sport coat with a Kstate logo and that cup of coffee tucked nicely into his left hand.  He is quiet, he doesn't draw attention to himself, he just waits patiently for his turn. 

His presser started out simply enough with Coach saying how much he appreciated a man named Kelly who has been his right hand man at the Fiesta Bowl, telling him where to go and escorting him around.  His comments were brief but his answers methodical and intentional.  What perked my ears up the most, however, was when coach was asked about coaching in the NFL. 

It's not like this response was any different than any other Snyder answer but it just completely reiterates everything that this man is about.  It especially hit me because of the story I did yesterday on Anthony Bates' death and how hard Coach Snyder took that.  When asked if he had ever thought of coaching in the NFL Snyder gave a phenomenally typical yet powerful Bill Snyder response.  He said, 'NFL coaching is such a different environment and you don't have the same impact on young people.'  He then added, 'I wouldn't want to work where the people you're supposed to have control over make more money than you.'

Do you want to know how a man who received his AARP card more than a decade ago still manages to convince teenagers to play their hearts out for him?  Read that quote again because that's your answer.  It wasn't necessarily football that brought Snyder out of retirement, it is these young men whose lives he impacts daily, hourly. 

It reminds me of a conversation I had with an old college friend last night.  He used to be in the television business but he said he left it because he no longer knew what his purpose was.  He stepped back and took a look at his job and realized he wasn't doing anything significant for people.  Now he sells cars which may not sound that great.  But the other day a couple who was dealing with foreclosure and had bad credit and a car that was falling apart and a young child came to my friend with no other options.  My friend worked for two and a half hours calling banks and looking at all the prices and he finally found something this couple could afford.  The husband hugged my friend and almost started crying because my friend did something no one else had:  he cared about people.

That's what coach Snyder is truly all about, he cares about his players and their families and his fans and every other person on campus at Kansas State.  I don't want to take anything away from Chip Kelly who almost certainly will leave college for the NFL next year, but Snyder is just different.  Consistently different from any other coach I've ever met. 

Bruce's Blog: Tuesday

Happy new year from chilly Arizona

After three hours with them yesterday access to K-State and Oregon comes a lot harder today.  The first fifteen minutes of practice for both teams is open to the media, so we can expect the most scintillating 15 minutes of stretching we’ve ever seen.  No worries though, as both said all that they needed to at Media Day.

Looking in the mirror?

Ok, so they weren’t separated at birth, but it was interesting how many times players and coaches from both teams talked about the similarities between them.  Everyone thinks of Oregon as this ‘lightning strike’ offense and they are.  The Ducks have scored  55 percent of their touchdowns in under two minutes.  Kansas State has scored 50 percent of their td’s in less than two and a half minutes, a surprising number for a team with a reputation for ball control.  Both teams run the ball first—K-State 57 percent of the time, Oregon 55 percent of the time.  The difference, of course, is that Oregon  has taken more snaps--over 200 more snaps.  Yes, they have great skill guys—but the magic of the offense is how quickly they run it.  The whole idea is to wear out an opposing defense, to the point that their tongue is wagging and they’re no longer making clear reads.  It’s much the same philosophy as OUBaylor, Texas  Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma State run in the Big 12, it’s just that Oregon does it with faster athletes.  This is the sixth time this season that K-state will face a top ten national offense—they’ve beaten four of the five so far.

That’s not all

Both teams play ‘bend but don’t break’ defense.  There are yards to be had against both, but these are two of the nation’s best thieves.  Kansas State leads the country in turnover margin—Oregon is third.  Three of KSU’s 10 turnovers for the season came in one night at Baylor and they lost.

Ty one on

It’s great to see Ty Zimmerman back in uniform.  The All-Big XII safety went down near the end of the TCU game and his absence was felt the next week at Baylor.  He says he feels great, but after nearly two months off, admits that it may take a few series to get back to game speed.

Match game

The overriding curiosity the Wildcats yesterday was how they will matchup with Oregon.  There’s only so much one can glean from film, they know real time is the only time. 

Jenn's Blog: Tuesday

There are worse places to write a blog on New Year's Day.  Currently I'm sitting here enjoying my coffee while gazing over my laptop at Camelback Mountain.  It's things like this that remind me just how lucky I am to do what I do and work where I work. 

Kansas State will practice today around 2 pm and we will be able to shoot the first 15 minutes of it.  So if you're looking to model your stretching warm-up routine after a division one football program you're gonna love our footage!

My story today, however, will deal with something a little more serious.  I will be talking with Sharon Bates (no relation, however she's got family still in Wichita) who has a deep connection with Kansas State.  When her son Anthony was just 20 years old he passed away from an issue with his enlarged heart.  Anthony played for Kansas State and his heart condition was unknown.  Now Sharon runs a non-profit group that does heart testing on athletes at the start of every season.  I'm particularly interested to speak with her considering a young man I went to high school with died from heart issues and right after that every athlete at my school got tested at the start of every season.  Look for that story coming up tonight but in the meantime check out www.anthonybates.org for more information on Sharon's foundation.

It's really wonderful how well Kansas State fans travel for their team.  I've seen maybe on Oregon fan at my hotel and a slew of Wildcats.  I think the best part is it wouldn't matter what bowl game the Wildcats were playing in, their fans would still take all the tickets they could and spend their savings on travel.  Trust me, I was at the Pinstripe Bowl and the Kstate showing was amazing. I'm actually staring at a table of Wildcat fans right now.  Not in a creepy way or anything but just you know, noticing them.  I should stop now. 

Jenn's Blog: Monday

Every once in a while life reminds you that no matter how much you plan there is no way to guarantee anything. Take for example our travel plans yesterday. Everything had been planned since the moment Kansas State beat Texas:  we were going to send Bruce, Tim and myself to Phoenix on December 30 so we could be there for the media day on the 31 and there you have it.  Well, all that changed very quickly once we arrived at the airport, hundreds of pounds of gear in tow, only to see the dreaded yellow-lit CANCELED sign flashing next to our flight.  All of our hearts dropped, as did the hearts of Pam and Steve Graham.  The Grahams walked up behind us in a tizzy because they were on the same flight.  They were all decked out in their Kansas State windbreakers and looked absolutely crestfallen that they wouldn't be able to make the trip to Phoenix when they had planned.  You see, the Graham's son is a ball-boy for Kansas State and they have family in Arizona so their plans were truly turned into a cocked hat (that's a saying courtesy of my father, and I usually say it to make fun of him but I'll allow you to use that one too). 

Improvising is key when you find yourself with disrupted plans. There were no flights at all that day so I quickly pulled out my trusty iPhone and found a flight out of Oklahoma City for Bruce and Tim.  I had been rebooked for Monday and there you have it.  Crisis averted (somewhat) and life goes on.  I just hope Steve and Pam got to Phoenix safely.  By the way, their son will be the ball boy on the Oregon sidelines at the Fiesta Bowl.

So today as I arrived early at the Wichita airport I was greeted by two lovely ladies spending their New Year's Eve working so I could fly out to Phoenix (I still haven't left yet as I'm writing this so my fingers are crossed).  I chatted with them for a while about how yesterday's flight got cancelled and how I felt bad for them because it isn't their fault, however they usually bear the brunt of people's emotional anger.  I could empathize.  Now, I didn't plan on traveling in first class but the nice lady behind the counter told me they had oversold the back of the plane by ten people and she needed to upgrade a few folks.  She didn't plan on having to do that, but she improvised, and now I'm booked in first class.  The golden rule wins again!

And now, as I sit writing this blog post that I'm sure has enthralled you beyond belief (just lie and nod your head yes) I am trying to draw some parallels between my situation and that facing Kansas State.  They didn't plan on being in the Fiesta Bowl, but that inciting incident, that loss to Baylor, forced them to improvise.  They took their time, found a solution and made the best of the situation.  Now they're in a position to do something that has never been done in Kstate history:  win 12 games in a season.  Not too shabby, huh?  Now, the Golden Rule doesn't exactly apply to what will happen on the field but Kansas State absolutely respects Oregon because they want respect in return.  It's the Bill Snyder way.  And hopefully, they will be rewarded for that respect and hard work because this group of Wildcats deserves it.

Also I figure third time is a charm for me covering a bowl game.  I was in NYC for the Pinstripe bowl two years ago, was in Dallas last year for the Cotton bowl and so I'm banking on that old saying to push the 'Cats to a win on Thursday.  

Bruce's Blog: Monday

Tough start

Let’s hope this trip ends a lot better than it started. American Airlines cancels our flight out of Wichita at 2:55pm on Sunday, forcing us to drive (at a high rate of speed) to Oklahoma City to catch a 5:00PM flight. Love the ‘Air Capitol’. I hope you’re not ‘that guy’, but there’s one—or more in every crowd on an airplane. You know, that guy who thinks that the request to turn off all electronics before takeoff isn’t directed at them. In matters of flight, I generally defer to the airlines—and if they think you should have to part from your smart phone for a few moments—there’s probably a reason. Anyway, there’s this one guy on the plane who hides his phone from the stewardess each time she came down the aisle to check before takeoff. I finally asked him if he was that curious to see if he could cause a wreck. We didn’t talk much the rest of the flight, maybe we should have texted.

A K-State Fiesta

It’s media day at the Fiesta Bowl. Back in the day that they played this game at Sun Devil Stadium the two teams did all their interviews on the field. Now that the game is out in Glendale they hold festivities at the media hotel. It’s quite a trip out to Glendale, about 40 minutes depending on traffic. I’ve heard that the turf, which they laid about three days ago, is spongy. I’m going to check that out this afternoon.

Fun in the sun?

It doesn’t appear so, in fact it rained here a good portion of Sunday. Temperatures in Phoenix this week are expected to peak at 61 degrees, expect the roof at Glendale to be closed on Thursday, as it has been for all six Fiesta Bowls played at Phoenix Stadium. This is the fourth time that Kansas State has been to Arizona, they pounded Wyoming in the 1993 Copper Bowl (which has now morphed in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl). In the first of their two Fiesta Bowls, K-State’s Michael Bishop outplayed Syracuse QB Donovan McNabb , in the ‘Cats 38-15 win. In 2004, Kansas State quarterback El Roberson was questioned by police just a couple of days before kickoff against Ohio State. A woman at the team hotel had accused him of sexual assault—Roberson was never arrested and no charges would ever be filed after authorities determined that no crime had occurred. But the damage was done. A clearly drained Roberson started the game, in what remains Bill Snyder’s most controversial decision at Kansas State and the Wildcats were beaten. In fact, KSU is looking for its first bowl win since the ’02 holiday Bowl against Arizona State.

Purple People

Officials are expecting upwards of 45,000 K-State fans for Thursday’s game with Oregon, a matchup that could have happened during the regular season. These two teams were originally scheduled for earlier this season but the home and home series was cancelled at the behest of both parties because of other scheduling issues that both had.

Happy New Year all, check back here later as I will keep you abreast of the latest from Phoenix.