If you are a Kansas State fan, you are celebrating a rare post season win in the Bill Snyder era and hoping it is not the end of the road for the venerable coach. If you are a UCLA fan, you are not celebrating anything other than the relief that this era is over, and the Chip Kelly era starts today. The two ends were brought together by a completely predictable 35-17 KSU win over the Bruins in the Cactus Bowl in Phoenix, AZ Tuesday night.
UCLA Loses To Kansas State In Predictable Fashion
The story lines were many for a game that was dominated in the second half by the Wildcats. UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, despite warming up and trying to convince team doctors to clear him, never passed the concussion protocol. In all likelihood, his UCLA career ended with him standing on the sidelines in his jersey. Offensive coordinator Jedd Fish, who guided the Bruins to a win in their last game to become bowl eligible, dealt with many of the same problems Jim Mora did this season. Like Mora, he will be moving on to other opportunities.
Rumors persist that Kansas State coach Bill Snyder will be retiring. The 78-year-old Snyder has been at KSU for a total of 24 years over two separate stints, the current one beginning in 2009. New UCLA coach Chip Kelly watched from a suite at Chase Field, clearly realizing how much work he has to do before next season.
The most relevant storyline to the game though was one that has persisted for UCLA all season. An offense that cannot rush the ball and a defense that cannot stop the run. This was the simplest of breakdowns before the game and proved to be the most real factor during the game.
Kansas State started quarterback Sklyar Thompson, and for reasons known only to Snyder, threw 7 passes in the first quarter. The obvious move was then made to the quicker, faster, more agile Alex Delton. His first play behind center was a mere 68-yard touchdown run that gave the Wildcats a 7-3 first quarter lead.
The Bruins went with Devon Modster in Rosen’s absence, and he fared well for as long as he could. He spread his passes around to Theo Howard, Christian Pabico and Jordan Lasley. It was a 10-yard screen pass that Lasley turned into a 52-yard touchdown reception, with the help of block on the outside by Pabico that gave the Bruins a 10-7 lead in the second quarter.
Modster also hit Howard over the middle for a picture perfect 70-yard touchdown pass. The Bruins were up 17-7 at the half.
The problems that would arise in the second half were obvious to anyone paying attention to the first half. Kansas State was picking up chunks of yards on the ground. The Wildcats were not sustaining long drives, but the holes were starting to become bigger against a Bruins run defense that was second worst in the country statistically.
Kansas State Dominates Second Half
When UCLA could not score on the opening drive of the second half, it became all KSU. The Wildcats marched 74 yards in eight plays with seven of them being rushing. Isaiah Zuber picked up 37 yards in one play. Alex Barnes had a couple of runs and the drive ended with a one-yard touchdown by Delton that closed the gap to 17-14.
UCLA gave the ball right back to K-State when Bolu Olorunfunmi fumbled on the on the next play from scrimmage at his own 25-yard line. Three more running plays followed by an 8-yard Delton-to-Dominique Heath touchdown pass and the Wildcats were up 21-17 to put the game away. Barnes would get a 41-yard touchdown run. Delton would add another rushing touchdown late in the game for the final score. UCLA, which had a 10-point halftime lead, had been outscored 28-0 in the second half.
Kansas State came into the game averaging 187 rushing per game, one of the top running teams in the Big XII. UCLA has not stopped a decent, or less-than-decent, running team all year. In all, the Wildcats ran the ball 49 times for 344 yards. That’s seven yards per carry. That kind of ability keeps the clock running, shortens the game, and makes it nearly impossible for the opponent to come from behind.
Can’t Win If You Can’t Run
Coming-from-behind was made all the more impossible for UCLA when the Bruins put the entire offensive load on Modster’s shoulders. The redshirt freshman performed admirably considering he still lacks significant experience. He had thrown all of 45 passes in his college career prior to Tuesday night. He was 21 of 34 for 295 yards and two touchdowns against Kansas State. The bigger problem was again that UCLA could not run the ball. The Bruins had 25 rushes for 69 yards. That is less than three yards per carry. And 11 of those yards were by Mique Juarez as the up man on a fake punt.
Soso Jamabo did not play until the second half and had -1 net yards. Olorunfunmi, Modster and Demetric Felton were the only players to have positive rushing numbers aside from the fake punt. The lack of a viable running game, made the passing efficiency for Modster much more difficult in the second half. Kansas State had an 11-minute time of possession edge by being able to run the ball and the clock. UCLA also hurt itself down the stretch with back-to-back personal foul penalties, but the game had been decided by then. Reality is, it was decided the minute Kansas State took the third quarter lead.
Kansas State finished the season 8-5. UCLA dropped to 6-7, their second straight losing season. The coming days will tell more about whether one of the more veteran coaches in the game retires a second time, but for good. As for UCLA, Kelly was clearly making mental notes. The list of must-fix situations was enough to fill any coach’s brain. Checking off the boxes starts right away. Many have memories of Kelly’s high-powered offense being one that flung the ball all over the field. The truth is that it was a balanced offense that averaged about 30-35 passes per game. Recruiting for the running game will be the priority starting today.