San Antonio, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - A couple of nationally-ranked teams trying to bounce back from defeat in their last outings get together in the Alamo Bowl, as the 11th-ranked Kansas State Wildcats battle the 14th-ranked UCLA Bruins on Friday.
The Bruins opened the 2014 campaign with four straight wins before hosting Utah and Oregon in early October and bowing to both Pac-12 Conference foes. However, UCLA rebounded by stringing together five consecutive victories in league play, but ended up falling to Stanford in the regular-season finale, 31-10.
UCLA wound up in a three-way tie for second place in the South Division of the Pac-12 at 6-3.
"It is an honor to be a participant in the Valero Alamo Bowl," said UCLA head football coach Jim Mora. "Our players know that when you play in a bowl of this magnitude, the nation is watching. When you consider that the Valero Alamo Bowl has produced a number of the most-watched Non-BCS Bowl Games in its broadcast partner's history, we can't wait to get on the field at the Alamodome, compete every down against a tremendous Kansas State team and fight for our second consecutive 10-win season."
As for the Wildcats, they too had a strong start to the campaign with seven wins in the first eight outings, the lone setback being a 20-14 decision against Auburn in the middle of September. However, there were a couple of stumbling blocks down the stretch as the program bowed to both TCU (41-20) and Baylor (38-27), although both opponents were nationally-ranked at the time. With the two defeats in the last four games, KSU was left with a 7-2 mark against the rest of the Big 12 Conference.
Kansas State does not have an extensive history in the postseason as the team enters its 18th bowl contest. The squad is 7-10 in such efforts dating back to a 14-3 loss to Wisconsin in the 1982 Independence Bowl. Last season, the program managed to halt a five-game slide with a 31-14 triumph over Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
The bowl history for the Bruins reaches back to a 9-0 loss to Georgia in the 1943 Rose Bowl. Since winning eight straight bowls between 1983-1991, UCLA has been unable to register back-to-back bowl victories in the last 15 appearances, although the team will have a chance to make it happen this time around after having defeated Virginia Tech, 42-12, in last year's Sun Bowl.
Overall, the Bruins have a record of 15-17-1 in bowl games.
The teams have split two previous meetings, the most recent coming in 2010 when Kansas State opened the campaign with a 31-22 home victory over the Bruins.
Kansas State leaned quite a bit on quarterback Jake Waters this season, as he completed 66.2 percent of his passes for 3,163 yards and 20 touchdowns against only six interceptions. His efficiency rating was 157.8 and thanks to the contributions of Joe Hubener in his six limited appearances, the Wildcats rank eighth in the nation in pass efficiency (158.67).
Tyler Lockett blazed a trail through opposing defenses with his 93 catches for 1,351 yards and nine touchdowns. Lockett, the first player in school history to earn All-America recognition in all four years, is also a two-time winner of the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year award as he averaged 19.0 per punt return and 21.2 yards per kickoff return this season. Lockett ended up as one of the nation's leaders in all-purpose yards in 2014 with 2,047 (170.6 ypg).
Other credible offensive threats for Kansas State are running backs Charles Jones and Waters, who combined to produce just under 1,000 yards and a total of 21 TDs on the ground.
From a defensive standpoint, the Wildcats ranked 26th in the country in points allowed (21.8 ppg), and the red zone defense was 28th as it limited opponents to only 77.1 percent success.
Jonathan Truman topped the tackles list with an impressive 114 stops, his 74 solo tackles alone being enough to pace the program. However, Truman was short on impact plays as he failed to record a single stop behind the line of scrimmage and had only one fumble recovery. Among the top eight tacklers on the roster, there were just two sacks, far short of the 5.5 sacks logged by Ryan Mueller who had just 33 total stops to his credit. Then again, Dante Barnett (73 tackles) and Randall Evans (61) did handle the pass defense rather well with a combined seven interceptions and 24 passes defended.
Going up against the KSU defense will be the highly-touted Brett Hundley for the Bruins. Listed as probable for the contest with a finger injury, there is little doubt that Hundley will have a say in the outcome of this meeting after completing a sizzling 70.4 percent of his pass attempts for 3,019 yards and 21 touchdowns, against only five interceptions. His efficiency alone (155.4) compared favorably to the Wildcats as a whole.
More than just a passer Hundley, who was named a finalist for the Manning Award, also made himself into a threat with his legs as he finished second on the team with 548 yards on 148 attempts, culminating in a team-best eight touchdowns. Paul Perkins, a starter in 10 games at running back, took most of the beating on the ground with his 1,381 yards, averaging 6.0 ypc as he reached the end zone seven times.
As for options down the field, Hundley's favorite targets are Jordan Payton and Devin Fuller, the former catching 63 balls for 896 yards and seven touchdowns, while the latter turned his 57 grabs into a modest 428 yards and a single score. Thomas Duarte was a significant contributor with 27 receptions for 521 yards and four touchdowns.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Bruins were rather mediocre from a statistical standpoint. The unit was 68th in the nation in yards allowed (401.0 ypg) and 74th in points surrendered (27.5 ppg), and yet Eric Kendricks still played the game with reckless abandon. The 2014 Butkus Award winner and the recipient of the Lott IMPACT Trophy, Kendricks averaged close to 12 tackles per game, notched 8.5 TFL, two sacks and three interceptions on his way to being named an All-American.
Also having an impact for the UCLA defense were Owa Odighizuwa with 9.5 TFL and five sacks, as well as Deon Hollins who needed just 27 total takedowns to reach seven TFL and a team-best six sacks.
"Their defense is very good - the safeties and the corners," KSU's Lockett said of his competition. "They are physical and they are really good at high pointing the ball as well. We have to work on high pointing the ball and not waiting for the ball to come to us. We just have to be able to beat them in and out of our routes."