No, this isn’t UMass, Florida International or even a Western Kentucky, which were past Week One opponents the Kansas State Wildcats have faced and defeated to start their season. These are the UCLA Bruins that come to Manhattan, Kansas this Saturday for a match-up that Legendary Head Coach Bill Snyder is probably not too pleased got on the schedule, but is ready for nonetheless. In year’s past, Snyder is better known to put together a ”softer” non-conference schedule (like most all D-1 schools have to do) for the Wildcats to build upon and prepare them for a difficult Big 12 season. But there have also been years when a UCLA-caliber-like team (Southern Cal in 2001 and 2002, for instance) were on the schedule and the Cats played well, defeated the Trojans both years. The difference was they got to play USC LATER in the month, not Week One. This year starts in a similar way to 2007, when the Wildcats traveled to Auburn to face a Top-5 Tiger team for their first game of the year. The Cats played quite well and had a drive late in the game to take the lead, but a Josh Freeman interception and subsequent return for an Auburn touchdown put that game out of reach. Despite the loss, an over-matched Wildcat team was still a focused team that day and played well under adverse conditions. I see the same thing happening this Saturday against UCLA. Knowing the caliber of their opponent, the Wildcats have been extremely focused leading up to this game. With that in mind, this should be a good one at The Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Saturday. Let’s take a closer look:
Offensively, the Wildcats have the weapons to move the ball against a stout Bruin defense. Conventional wisdom says KSU will lean heavily on Sr. RB Daniel Thomas to move the chains. Under Coach Rick Neuheisel, UCLA is only 1-8 when an opponent has rushed for more than 100 yards. This bodes well for Thomas and a starting offensive line that averages over 313 pounds per lineman. The Wildcats will pound the ball and keep the clock running. But this will only be successful if QB Carson Coffman can perform at a high level and pick up those essential third and long situations with quick-strike, precision passes and can keep the ball away from All-American Bruin safety Rahim Moore. Coffman, who everyone has said over the past several months has matured considerably and knows this offense very well, won’t need real big pass plays to keep KSU in the game. He just needs to be consistent and confidently complete passes to keep the Bruin offense on the sidelines. This won’t be easy, as the UCLA secondary is big and athletic and will present problems for Coffman throughout the day. Nevertheless, I look for Snyder and the Cats to put up some points in what should become a high-scoring affair on Saturday.
Unlike on offense, the Wildcat defense has more question marks. This, despite the fact UCLA has been hit hard by injuries especially on the offensive line. A strong pass rush, lead by sophomore DE Brandon Harold, will be necessary to keep the Bruins offense out of step. UCLA’s wide receivers are big and can make plays and will certainly test the smaller Wildcat cornerbacks. Yet CB Terrance Sweeney and CB Stephen Harrison, in my opinion, do have the quickness to stay with the taller Bruin receivers and this is vital to the Wildcat’s success on Saturday. Look for the Bruins to try and beat K-State deep with big plays. With all the Bruin injuries, Neuheisel will open the playbook a little more than is customary for an opening week match-up.
As opening games go, this one is as good as it gets. Both teams have questions that need to be answered and probably still won’t after this week. The Wildcats have new faces, especially on defense at LB and CB, that will need to step up to slow the Bruins down. UCLA has an offensive line with issues and a D-line that can be run on. At the end of the day, this one should be close. But I think the Wildcats have enough in the tank on offense to put up the points necessary for a win. Look for Thomas to not only get plenty of carries, but to get 5-10 snaps in the “wildcat” formation as well. As mentioned earlier, Coach Snyder has to open the playbook a little more than he’d like. If the All-American candidate has a big day (150 yards on the ground) and Coffman can complete 60% of his passes, that will mean KSU’s offense has gotten the job done. Which will leave it up to the Cat’s D to finish the job and start the Bruin’s season off with a loss. I think they will.
Kansas State – 27
UCLA – 24
Let’s get it on……
About the Author
Written by Chad Craghead
A 1988 graduate from Wichita State University, Chad has followed WSU as well as Kansas State athletics for over 30 years, along with being a lifelong Boston Red Sox and L.A./St. Louis Rams fan.