PASADENA, Calif. — For the first time this season, the Kansas State Wildcats are underdogs.
Going up against UCLA (a 2-0 team that just won at Tennessee) in the Rose Bowl (one of the most picturesque and famous stadiums in America) the Vegas odds makers are predicting K-State to lose by about two touchdowns.
I doubt that matters to anyone on the Wildcats’ roster. They were favorites last week at Louisiana-Lafayette and that didn’t work out so well for them. Their goal this week is to simply put that out of their minds, ignore a large baby-blue clad crowd and try to stay focused all the way through the game, which doesn’t start until 9:15 tonight.
That means they will likely be taking snaps after midnight, and that will be a new experience.
K-State coach Bill Snyder didn’t hide his feelings when asked if he thought that would be tough for the Wildcats to handle.
On a difficulty scale of 1-10 he said, “It’s probably about a 44.”
That’s pretty difficult.
Much like Kansas State, the Bruins are not an offensive powerhouse.
Through two games, they are only averaging 26 points and 272.5 yards per night.
Making things even more difficult on the Bruins’ offense tonight is the fact that starting quarterback Kevin Prince will be out with a broken jaw. Either Richard Brehaut or Kevin Craft will start the game, and coach Rick Neuheisel has said he may play both as the game goes along.
UCLA has also suspended four other players for this game.
So a 50-point outburst against K-State’s solid defense is likely out of the question.
But the Bruins haven’t needed loads of offense to win so far. What UCLA hangs its hat on right now is defense. At Tennessee, for example, UCLA held the Volunteers to 208 total yards and forced four turnovers.
Sophomore defensive back Rahim Moore, who has already grabbed five interceptions this season, was responsible for two of those turnovers.
If the Bruins come anywhere close to duplicating those numbers against the Wildcats, they will almost certainly win.
Possibly helping K-State’s chances, though, is the way UCLA performed a game after upsetting Tennessee a year ago. Back then, the Bruins beat the Vols 27-24 at home in overtime and went to BYU 12 days later and lost 59-0.
Just like the Wildcats are trying to block some outside factors tonight, the Bruins are trying to block that memory.
About Kansas State
After struggling so mightily to move the ball through two games, improving the offense is goal No. 1 today for the Wildcats.
Or more precisely, goal No. 1 is to take as much pressure as possible off of Daniel Thomas.
The junior running back has already proven himself as a play-maker, rushing for more than 100 yards in each of his first two games. Now Kansas State needs to surround him with a few more.
I don’t think it will take much for the Wildcats to do that. If Carson Coffman can complete the easy throws and raise his completion percentage to somewhere around 60 percent that will help tremendously.
If Snyder gets inventive with play calling, that will help.
If kicker Josh Cherry connects on a field goal or two, that will help quite a bit as well.
We’re not talking Statue of Liberty plays here.
The question is can the Wildcats do a better job of accomplishing the simple task against an upgraded defense? Also, can the Wildcats solid defense continue to play tough against an upgraded offense? Even as mediocre as UCLA is moving the ball, it’s better at it than UMass and ULL.
Kansas State’s secondary has looked strong so far, but it will need the help of a pass rush to stay tough against UCLA.
When UCLA runs the ball: UCLA
When UCLA throws the ball: UCLA
When K-State runs the ball: K-State
When K-State throws the ball: UCLA
Special Teams: UCLA
Prediction: UCLA 28, K-State 10