-- UCLA welcomes Kansas State to the Rose Bowl Saturday, for a kick-off at 7:15.
-- The game will be telecast on FSN (Prime Ticket in Los Angeles), with Barry Thompkins and Petros Papadakis calling the action.
-- Kansas State is 1-1, beating Massachusetts, 21-17, and then losing to Louisiana 17-15 last week.
-- Massachusetts is an FCS (previously known as 1-AA) team, and Louisiana (Layfayette) is considered one of the handful of worst teams in the FBS (1-A).
-- Bill Snyder, who is approaching 70, took over the KSU program this season, his second tour of duty in Manhattan. Snyder coached the Wildcats from 1989-2005, and then took a break from coaching, until taking on the same program this season. Snyder, in his first stint at KSU, did a remarkable job, turning one of the perennial losers in college football into an annual contender in the Big 12. Within ten years of Sports Illustrated naming KSU the worst program in the country, Snyder in 1998 posted an undefeated, regular-season 11-0 record, and Snyder was named national coach of the year. He was 136–68–1 at Kansas State in those 17 seasons, and if add his victory over UMass, that gets him ranked #8 in career victories among active BCS coaches.
-- The promotional line you always hear about Snyder is that he's "the architect of the greatest turnaround in college football."
-- After Snyder "retired" in 2005, they named the home stadium afte him. It's now called the Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium.
-- In his second stint, Snyder again has his work cut out for him. In the three years he was not in Manhattan, the Wildcats went 17-20, posting a 5-7 the last two seasons.
-- Snyder just recently received a five-year contract that will keep him at KSU through the end of the 2013 season. He'll be paid $9.575 million over the course of the contract.
-- Snyder has repeated a few times that he returned to K-State to "smooth the waters" after the tumultuous three-year tenure of coach Ron Prince.
-- It's the first meeting ever between UCLA and Kansas State.
-- UCLA does own a 22-19-1 record all-time against the Big 12.
-- Since 1989 (the year Snyder first took over), K-State is 5-2 against Pac-10 opponents, which includes a current five-game winning streak that goes back to 1999.
-- The Wildcats have been pretty tough over the years on their non-conference opponents, even recently. K-State has won 11 of its last 16 non-conference games. Of course, the knock on the program is that that they always schedule a cupcake non-conference schedule.
-- The Wildcats, though, have lost their last four non-conference road games.
-- K-State hasn't exactly had a holiday in California, with a record of 1-3-1 in five previous trips to the Golden State. They were outscored, 112-52, in those five games.
-- UCLA Head Coach Rick Neuheisel suspended four players for the K-State game because of a violation of team rules. They are starting cornerback Courtney Viney and reserves, running back Milton Knox, tight end Morrell Presley and receiver Randall Carroll.
-- If UCLA can get a victory Saturday, it will already be halfway toward securing 6 wins, which is required to get a post-season bowl bid – what Neuheisel established in fall camp as a the goal for the season.
-- Firefighters and their families will be given complimentary tickets to Saturday's game.
-- The weather will continue to warm up throughout the week, but with a 7:15 p.m. kick-off Saturday, temperatures are expected in the 60s at game time.
UCLA'S OFFENSE V. KANSAS STATE'S DEFENSE
Statistically, K-State's defense has had an impressive first two games, holding its opponents to an average of 16 points and 249 total yards, which gets them ranked as the 29th best defense in the country.
That's why you can't go by statistics – at least early on in the season.
K-State padded those defensive stats by going up against the offensive powerhouses of Massachusetts and Louisiana Lafayette.
Even though UCLA's offense isn't exactly a powerhouse, you can expect it to skew K-State's defensive stats this week a bit.
Here's maybe a stat that has some validity: Last season, the Wildcats gave up 430 points, which is 35.8 per game, the second-highest total in school history.
Snyder, when he was hired, recognized he had a defensive problem, so he brought in Chris Cosh from Maryland and Vic Koenning from Clemson to be K-State's co-defensive coordinators.
They've had some talent to work with, but the problem has been keeping it healthy and on the field.
The KSU defensive line has the feeling of UCLA's offensive line last season – with guys being moved around seemingly every couple of days. In its first two games, K-State has had six different starters on the defensive line, and only one player started at the same position in both games.
At this point, it's seriously a crapshoot who will start at DL for K-State, it's that bad.
We do know some things: Budding sophomore star defensive end Brandon Harold is still out with an injury, and senior linebacker Hanson Sekona (6-0, 230) has been moved to defensive end. Senior transfer Jeffrey Fitzgerald (6-4, 280), who started at defensive tackle two weeks ago, now looks like he's the other defensive end. It's interesting because senior Eric Childs (6-3, 250) was billed as their speed rusher, but he's been relegated to the two-deep after starting the first game.
A lot of the position changes have been to try to find some better bodies to shore up the defensive tackle spots, which were problems last season. Sophomore Raphael Guidry (6-4, 274), a new starter, has started both games and been solid. The nose is senior Daniel Calvin (6-3, 318), who is also a new starter this season.
|Safety Tysyn Hartman.|
K-State has also been trying to find the right personnel at linebacker, with five different starters in two games.
Senior John Houlik (5-11, 219), the weakside ‘backer, steps into a starting spot this season after being a long-time reserve. He's under-sized and not greatly talented, but a scrapper. Senior Ulla Pomele (6-1, 228) mans the middle; he's a former starter under the previous head coach who had been demoted to the second-string for the first two games. Junior transfer Troy Butler (6-1, 200) is a converted safety.
All in all, it was anticipated that the linebacking unit was going to be a weak spot on the team, and so far in two games it hasn't proven otherwise. They're not greatly talented, while undersized and inexperienced – not a great combination.
The secondary is K-State's defensive strength. Sophomore safety Tysyn Hartman (6-3, 207) is a former back-up quarterback who returns as a starter, and has had two very good games to start the 2009 season. He leads the team with 13 tackles, and two interceptions, and has had some key pass break-ups.
The K-State faithful are very excited about sophomore transfer Emmanuel Lamur (6-4, 214), who came to the program, took over the spot and has had two good games.
At corner, junior Joshua Moore (5-11, 184) is considered one of the best at his position in the Big 12. He led the team in tackles last year, and has improved his cover skills from last season. If you were going to pick on a spot in the secondary it might be the other corner position, where senior corner Billy McClellan (5-8, 170) and sophomore David Garett (5-9, 180) are sharing the position, even though Garrett has started the first two games. Both are small and the word is that neither has clearly won the position because neither has asserted himself.
UCLA's offense will be without its starting quarterback, Kevin Prince, who is out for 4-6 weeks due to a fractured jaw. That has created the drama at UCLA practice for this week – determining who will get the nod in his absence, senior Kevin Craft or true freshman Richard Brehaut.
Going into the week we heard that Brehaut would be prepared to start, and he got most of the reps with the 1s in Tuesday's practice. But he didn't fare well, and then Craft worked with the first-string Wednesday and looked better.
Of course, Craft is trying to live down a 20-interception season from a year ago, which still lingers in the minds of UCLA fans – and UCLA coaches, for that matter. Brehaut is more talented, but he's struggled this week.
It could be that Neuheisel does exactly what he said he might do – and that's use both of them. Throw them both out there for a series, see who looks the strongest and go with that.
Either way, you can expect UCLA to put a big emphasis on its running game. In UCLA's first two games, its rushing attack has looked improved from last season, and promising.
For a young and inexperienced offensive line, it' run blocking has been encouraging. If you may have noticed, UCLA tends to like to run over the left side of the line, which is anchored by true freshman tackle Xavier Su'a-Filo. In an effort to put the best five on the field, offensive line coach Bob Palcic has been utilizing Jeff Baca at left guard this week in practice, with Eddie Williams and true freshman Stan Hasiak alternating at right guard.
|Tailback Johnathan Franklin.|
Losing Randall Carroll and Morrell Presley this week to suspension takes two players out of UCLA's receiver and tight end rotations. Thankfully, UCLA is very deep at both positions, but without Carroll, who was in for an increased amount of plays against Tennessee, UCLA doesn't really have that guy who can stretch the field.
Advantage: UCLA. Kansas State's defense hasn't seen a BCS offense yet and despite the fact that UCLA's offense isn't a high-powered machine and is missing its starting quarterback, it's still on another level compared to the Massachusetts and Louisiana Layfayette offenses.
The KSU defense was one of the worst, if not the worst, in the FBS last season, and they haven't done much to upgrade. In fact, they very well might be worse off after losing some key starters and without Brandon Harold.
UCLA is going to run the ball. With Prince out and Craft and Brehaut being unknown factors, the Bruins are going to rely on their running game. Expect UCLA to get a little more imaginative, too, in its running plays, with perhaps some pitches and misdirections. Kansas State, too, is going to anticipate that UCLA is going to try to run the ball. Heck, everyone in the Rose Bowl is going to expect it. But K-State's front seven, going against UCLA's offensive line and its good blocking tight ends, are going to struggle to get their hands on Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman.
Of course, like Norm Chow did in the opener against San Diego State, expect him to come out in the first series and throw the ball.
One of the biggest keys to this match-up is whether K-State can get pressure on either Brehaut or Craft. The good money is saying they won't, since they didn't show much of a pass rush against UMass or UL-Layfayette. The best situation possible for either Brehaut or Craft is getting plenty of time to throw. With UCLA's receivers, especially savvy Terrence Austin and Taylor Embree, you can expect Brehaut/Craft to actually connect enough to keep drives moving since they'll almost certainly have an improved amount of protection from UCLA's first two games.
KANSAS STATE'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
As we've said, you can't take much from how a team did against a very weak, previous opponent.
K-State's offense, in its first two games, produced an average of almost 400 yards of offense, and 210 on the ground, which is 28th in the nation.
But, again, it was against UMass and UL-Lafayette, so you have to throw it all out.
But we can probably at least surmise that Kansas State's offensive strength is going to be junior JC transfer tailback Daniel Thomas (6-2, 227). Again, figure in who this was against, but Thomas has run for 240 yards in two games, for an average of 4.8 yards per carry. That's good enough to lead the Big 12 and be 11th nationally. He had a couple of semi-spectacular runs, too, hurdling over would-be tacklers.
|Wide receiver Brandon Banks.|
Thomas does have a banged-up shoulder, and has been getting cortisone injections before games.
Another reason the Kansas State brain trust wants to get the ball in the hands of Thomas more is to possibly get it out of the hands of their quarterback, junior Carson Coffman (6-3, 212). Coffman has been inconsistent, and has struggled in just about every aspect of the position – making decisions, going through his checks, and throwing accurately.
Last week, back-up, senior Grant Gregory (6-1, 210) was put in to see what he could do, but he didn't complet a pass.
The one consistently positive element Coffman (and Gregory, for that matter) bring to the table is the ability to run. He doesn't just scramble, but K-State designs running plays for him. He rushed 13 times for 50 yards last week against Louisiana.
The quarterback inconsistency has happened, too, without having to fend off even a decent pass rush from its first two opponents.
The K-State offensive line has had to make up for some injuries. Probably its best lineman going into 2009 was left guard Brock Unruh, and he's lost to a season-ending injury. They then lost their starting center, Trevor Viers, after the season's first game.
Probably the most dangerous player on K-State's offense is senior receiver Brandon Banks (5-7, 150). Banks is small, obviously, but very slippery and athletic. He is easily KSU's #1 receiving target, being a threat to go deep but KSU likes to get him the ball in space and allow him to create.
Senior Attrail Snipes (6-1, 180) has shown some ability in the Wildcats' first two games, exhibiting good speed. There was a concern going into the season about who would be able to take the pressure and double-teams off Banks and it appears KSU has found their guy in Snipes.
Senior tight end Jeron Mastrud (6-6, 253) is a good one. He'll get a consistent three catches a game, and Coffman will look for him quite a bit, being such a big target. After a good defensive performance last season, most observers believed UCLA's defense would be just as good – if not better – this season.
The Tennessee game confirmed those beliefs. The UCLA D shut down Tennessee in Knoxville, which is a tough thing to do regardless of how talented Tennessee happens to be on offense.
The word around the program is that all the offense needed was a game to build their confidence, and they think the Tennessee game was it. Some players believe that some of the defensive mistakes in the first couple of games were due to players – even veterans – trying to do too much. But now, with the newfound confidence, they feel they're settled in and settle down.
UCLA middle linebacker Reggie Carter has been fantastic, playing easily like an All-Pac-10 player and potentially more.
What's really getting it done with the linebacking crew is that Carter isn't alone; senior Kyle Bosworth has had two stellar games himself.
While sophomore safety Rahim Moore has said he could still improve on many details of his performance, his five interceptions in two games isn't just coincidental – he's a full-fledged ballhawk.
The defensive line has been very good, with Brian Price looking even more unblockable. The boost the line has gotten from back-up defensive tackles David Carter and Jess Ward has been tremendous, with DL coach Todd Howard able to go to them with no hesitation. They were both in during the 4th and goal at Tennessee.
The biggest thing to watch going into the KSU game is the one cornerback spot, that will be manned by true freshman Sheldon Price. Price gets the call after starter Aaron Hester is out with a cracked fibula, and second-stringer Courtney Viney serves his one-game suspension. It's amazingly ironic that it's the one game where the 5-8 Viney would actually be able to match up against a 5-8 receiver in Brandon Banks. Price is talented but, heck, he's a true freshman, so he's going to make some mistakes. Everyone in the building knows that KSU is going to go right at him and challenge him.
Advantage: UCLA. Pretty significant advantage, too. KSU is one-dimensional, struggling in their passing game, so UCLA knows the Wildcats are going to try to exploit their new strength, running back Thomas. You might have given the KSU ground game a bit of a chance if they were healthy on the offensive line, but they've already had two starters go down. With UCLA's strength in its front seven, and Kansas State trying to piece together an offensive line, it doesn't make for a good projected match-up for the Wildcats.
Banks is going to get his catches. The key for UCLA's defense is to keep him in front of them, and not let them exploit Price. You would think UCLA wouldn't allow Price to be off on an island with Banks, or Snipes even, and would utilize some zone to keep those guys in front of the secondary. If Kansas State can't do it on the ground, they'll have to go to the pass, at least to a certain extent, and then UCLA could easily sit back in the zone, in third-and-longs, and put pressure on the quarterback and force him into mistakes.
Coffman, like we said above, can make some plays with his feet. It's a good match-up to watch how UCLA's linebackers shadow and contain him. He'll more than likely get flushed out of the pocket often, so he's going to be taking off and running for those first-down markers quite a bit.
Punter Ryan Doerr has been solid, averaging 38 yards per punt, but he has had one blocked.
The return teams have been good. Banks returns kick-offs and is a threat to break one. He also returns punts, along with Hartman, who has been solid doing it.
UCLA is fighting the letdow factor. There are so many things pointing to a letdown in this game – coming off a big win on the road, playing a team that is clearly inferior at home, where the team might feel they can put it on cruise control. It will be a big indication if the Bruins come out flat or sharp in this one.
What the Bruins do have going for them is that the Kansas State team is a bit of a mess. It's still trying to recover from the last three tumultuous years. Both units are trying to get accustomed to new coordinators and new schemes. And they're trying to do it while being hit by injury on both their offensive and defensive lines, and with poor play from the quarterback position.
As we'll probably point out in every game preview, the game will be dominated by the clearly best unit on the field – UCLA's defense. They will be fighting that letdown factor, but with guys like Reggie Carter, Alterraun Verner and the Bosworths, it'd be a surprise if the defense didn't stay focused and sharp. They also have that 59-0 reminder against BYU a year ago that helps to keep them from letting down.
UCLA will try to put pressure on Coffman, which he really hasn't experienced much yet in two games, and force him into mistakes. It's not unreasonable to expect UCLA's defense to be good for a couple of touchdowns – at least setting up UCLA's offense for two scores.
Take away some points from UCLA for missing its starting quarterback.
But we're going to go out on a limb here and guess that Kevin Craft is going to play, and do well, and redeem himself – at least partially – in the eyes of UCLA fans.
This very well could be a blow-out, and we'd probably be predicting one if Prince were healthy.
Kansas State 14