Kansas State to Run Wild Over UCLA

cactus bowl

Rainman M.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017 5:28 PM GMT

Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017 5:28 PM GMT

Kansas State (7-5) plays UCLA (6-6) on Tuesday, December 26, at 9 p.m. ET in the Cactus Bowl in Phoenix, Arizona. The Bruins, led by offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, are 2-point underdogs.

Cactus Bowl: Kansas State vs. UCLA

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Free College Football Pick: Kansas State -2Best Line Offered: Heritage

The key matchup is Kansas State's rushing attack against UCLA's run defense. Kansas State's offense is run-first, ranking 21st in run-play percentage. Alex Barnes leads the Wildcats with 5.2 yards per carry. Skylar Thompson is K-State's third-string quarterback, but the freshman finished the season with a completion percentage of more than 70, with four touchdown passes and no interceptions. He had 105 rushing yards in his last two games combined, including an upset win at Oklahoma State.

Thanks to their run game, the Wildcats rank 45th in average time of possession. K-State's offensive philosophy will force UCLA's defense to confront its weakness against the run. The Bruins rank fifth-to-last in average yards per carry allowed. Time of possession has critical betting significance against UCLA; in six of its eight non-covers, the opponent won the TOP battle.

Controlling the clock will allow K-State's run attack to wear down UCLA's weak run defense. K-State's run game can also keep Josh Rosen, UCLA's elite quarterback, off the field, making him less able to establish a rhythm and do his usual damage.

Wide receiver Byron Pringle complements K-State's grinding mentality with his big-play ability. The speedster leads the team with 705 receiving yards and 25 yards per catch.

UCLA's weak run game, which ranks 95th in yards per carry, keeps it one-dimensional on offense. The Bruins rank fourth in pass-play percentage. Facing a pass-first offense will be nothing new for Kansas State, which plays in the pass-happy Big 12. Three Big 12 teams, including Kansas State, allow the top-10 highest frequency of pass plays.

The Wildcats' experienced secondary features cornerbacks Duke Shelley and D.J. Reed, who lead the team with combined 20 passes defensed. The secondary receives support from versatile linebackers who likewise defend the pass effectively. Trent Tanking and Jayd Kirby lead K-State linebackers with four passes defended each. Kirby also posses a threat in the opposing backfield, leading the team with 10.5 tackles for loss. Defensive tackle Will Geary leads the line with nine tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, and end Reggie Walker finished the season strong with four TFL and two sacks in his last three games.

It's difficult for a pass defense to have pretty statistics in the Big 12, but K-State has easily covered against the two most talented pass-first teams it has faced, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

The Verdict

K-State can control this game with its grinding rush attack that can help keep Rosen off the field. K-State's battle-tested defense will more effectively stop Rosen than UCLA's bottom-ranked run defense can stop K-State's rush attack.

Injuries are something for bettors to watch. Two starting defensive backs and a backup cornerback are listed as "questionable" for K-State's secondary. Also, UCLA's second-best defensive lineman in terms of tackles for loss is "questionable" for the team's run defense.

The situation speaks for K-State: UCLA is 0-6 SU and 1-5 ATS away from home this season and 1-7 ATS in its last eight non-conference games. K-State misses its offensive coordinator, but will maintain its offensive identity under head coach Bill Snyder. UCLA has the coaching disadvantage with interim Jedd Fisch, who has coached one game after Jim Mora's firing.

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