Two teams that did not live up to expectations will square off in the 2017 Cactus Bowl. UCLA was supposed to compete for the Pac-12 South with quarterback Josh Rosen. Kansas State did well last year with a young team, but they failed to take the next step this year. Here is the 2017 Cactus Bowl preview:
Kansas State Wildcats (7-5)
Bill Snyder is still coaching for Kansas State and was looking forward to a great year. That didn’t quite happen, but they still won seven games. They finished the season strong, beating three bowl eligible teams in the last four weeks (Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Iowa State).
The offense scores 32.1 points per game, but isn’t really dynamic. Their running game is the forte of the offense and averages 186.7 yards per game. Running back Alex Barnes leads the team in rushing with 702 yards and six touchdowns. Other than him, quarterbacks pick up most of yards on the ground. Alex Delton, Jesse Ertz and Skylar Thompson have all played significantly at quarterback and have combined for 941 yards rushing.
Passing the ball has been a challenge for the Wildcats. Thompson is the current starter for the Wildcats and was a big part of their wins over Oklahoma State and Iowa State. On the season he has 662 passing yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. Although they don’t do the best in the passing game, one of their best players, Byron Pringle, is a wide receiver. Through the changes at the quarterback position, Thompson has 705 yards receiving and six touchdowns.
Their scoring defense is average at 25.8 points allowed per game. They rank 20th against the run, but their problem is that they rank 128th against the pass. Linebackers Jayd Kirby and Trent Tanking are tackle machines and are tied for 11th in solo tackles this season with 70 each.
UCLA Bruins (6-6)
UCLA beat three bowl eligible teams on their way to a .500 record. Jim Mora was fired as head coach and Chip Kelly is now the man in charge. Coaching changes are a part of life with bowl games, but there are always questions of how much teams will be motivated to play in bowl games when coaching changes happen.
The Bruins score 33.8 points per game, but lack a good running game. They rank 117th in rushing yards per game. Soso Jamabo and Bolu Olorunfunmi have gotten the bulk of the carries and have combined for just under 1,000 yards on the season. They do a good job when they get touches, but UCLA tries to throw the ball as much as possible with their star quarterback.
Josh Rosen is likely going to be the first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. He has had a fantastic junior season with 3,756 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Rosen has done all this while completing 62.6% of his passes. He was recently ruled out for this game with a concussion, so unproven backup Devon Modster will play. Jordan Lasley has been the most productive receiver for Rosen with 1,136 yards and eight touchdowns. Darren Andrews has also been a good target with 773 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Their defense is a problem and ranks 117th with 36.8 points per game allowed. The Bruins rank 128th against the run and 39th against the pass. Linebacker Kenneth Young and safety Jaleel Wadood are good tacklers and are among the country’s leaders in solo tackles. Young has 68 solo tackles, while Wadood has 57.
This game prediction was thrown completely out of whack with the news that Josh Rosen wouldn’t be playing. Rosen carried the UCLA team this year and without him, UCLA will have more questions than answers. Bill Snyder will get the bowl win.
Kansas State Wildcats 38 UCLA Bruins 28
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