Fiesta Bowl, Oregon vs. Kansas State • When: Thursday, 5:30 p.m. • TV: ESPN • Radio: KICE-AM 940, KBND-AM 1110
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Chris Harper's back story as a former Oregon Duck aside, there is also the matter of defending him come Thursday night's Fiesta Bowl, which could be no easy task.
Since transferring to Kansas State, and moving from quarterback to wideout just as he did at Oregon, Harper has developed into one of the top 10 receivers in K-State history. Entering the Fiesta Bowl, the second-team all-Big 12 performer has 50 receptions for 786 yards and three touchdowns this season, quality production in an offense built to run the ball.
“We don't throw the ball like everybody else does; I still think I'm effective in what we do," Harper said. “I'm just in my third season, got a ways to go, but I think I've progressed a lot."
Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, a sophomore who knows Harper only from film study, has grown to respect what he has seen. Ekpre-Olomu said the Wildcats like to use Harper on drag routes, running across the field underneath the secondary's coverage, to exploit his 6-foot-1, 234-pound frame.
“I think that helps him," Ekpre-Olomu said.
“With his big body, he's able to come across the field and make people miss, break a lot of tackles and get first-down yardage. They really utilize him on third down when they need to make a big play."
With his muscled physique on a compact frame, Harper preesents a challenge similar to that of Oregon's own Josh Huff, Ekpre-Olomu said. Both are physical players but also athletic enough to go up in the air and make plays.
“That's something that caught my eye right away," Ekpre-Olomu said. “You can't be lazy on the balls up in the air, because he's going to go up and get it rather than wait for it to come down."
Harper also can be unpredictable.
At Kansas State, quarterbacks and receivers attend about 75 percent of positional meetings together. That gave Harper a head start on learning the receiver position, while he practiced at quarterback during his redshirt season in 2009, and also gives him insight into a quarterback's thinking that he still exploits.
“There's not a lot of routes I run like it's drawn up," Harper said. “I just kind of get open, within the scheme. I run the routes, but it's a little bit different because I understand what defensive backs (are doing). That helps me a lot."
K-State quarterback Collin Klein said developing the chemistry to be that flexible took some effort.
“There are times it's not what we wanted on paper, but we both knew what we were seeing and it worked," Klein said.
“ ... It took us awhile to be on the same page with that. It took us awhile to click together and understand that and get on the same page. But once we did, and now that we are, it's been fun."