The UCLA Bruins (6-6) and the Kansas State Wildcats (7-5) face off this Tuesday in the 2017 Cactus Bowl. These Pac-12 and Big 12 teams, respectively, will match up at 9:00 EST from Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona. The game can be seen on ESPN.
Wildcats coach Bill Snyder comes into yet another bowl appearance, the 19th of his career. Kansas State took a step back from its 2016 season, but still has the same incredible resilience found in most Snyder teams over the years.
They also can thank the offense for getting them to bowl season. Spreading out the carries to several different running backs has paid major dividends, as fresh legs and experience have been provided all year at the position. Redshirt sophomore Alex Barnes leads the way with his 5.2 YPC.
The QB position had been a spot of inconsistency until former backup Skylar Thompson found his groove, with 25 completions on 34 attempts (four touchdowns) over the last two games. He also occasionally shows off the wheels, as he did with 93 rush yards against Oklahoma State.
For UCLA, having a new coach in Chip Kelly is reason to celebrate. But their 6-6 season was another one of clear disappointment for a program stuck in USC’s shadow.
Having QB and future first-round draft pick Josh Rosen out with a concussion doesn’t help their chances against K-State. The Bruins have a good combo in the backfield in Bolu Olorunfunmi and Soso Jamabo. But much of their success has been predicated on establishing the pass game, which will be much harder to do on Tuesday.
Devon Modster, who played well in limited time, will get the start. UCLA comes in as 6 ½-point underdogs.
Kansas State only won one Big 12 game by more than 10 points this season. That’s some cause for concern, as they’ve played many close games to win. But they also ended the season with impressive wins over preseason darling Oklahoma State and scrappy Iowa State.
UCLA’s lack of Rosen will make them resort to the run more often in this game. Kansas State has a top-20 run-defense. Even if the Big 12 doesn’t run the ball as much as other conferences, the fact the Wildcats are only giving up 3.4 YPC in their last six games is impressive.
Modster was 30 for 45 with two TDs and no INTs in limited work this year. Playing against Washington, Utah, and Cal is not bad experience for a freshman. But he’s no Rosen. He’ll make some plays here and there with natural talent, but can’t be expected to carry the Bruins.
Despite a little regress against Iowa State, the Wildcats were really starting to find their way on the ground. They’ll go run-heavy in this game and it will make all the difference. UCLA has the second-worst run-defense in the entire nation. Kansas State is more than good enough on the ground to exploit their front-seven.
Look for them to pull away late with their clear possession time differential. Modster will never have the proper time to get comfortable, and the Bruins won’t have enough late to pull close.