The Kansas State Wildcats will battle the UCLA Bruins in the Cactus Bowl this Tuesday. This is the third ever meeting between these two programs with the Bruins winning the most recent matchup back in the 2015 Alamo Bowl.
DATE & TIME: Tuesday, Dec 26, 8:00 PM CT
LOCATION: Chase Field (Phoenix, AZ)
FORECAST: High 50s, Partly Cloudy
BETTING LINE: KSU -6.0
UCLA enters the bowl game at 6-6 with their most recent game being a win against Cal. Former Bruins’ head coach Jim Mora was let go after their loss to arch rival USC a week prior and UCLA’s offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch was named the interim head coach shortly after.
Perhaps the biggest storyline of this bowl game is the status of UCLA’s QB Josh Rosen. Rosen left the game against Cal with a concussion and has recently been ruled out for the Cactus Bowl. Everyone now fully expects Rosen to declare early for the NFL draft and forgo his senior year.
Devon Modster is most likely then to get the start against Kansas State. The freshman filled in for Rosen against Cal and he impressed, going 14 of 18 for 191 yards.
The 7-5 Wildcats enter this matchup riding a hot streak that includes two upset wins over the Oklahoma State Cowboys and Iowa State Cyclones. Although this year has been somewhat of a letdown for Kansas State, head coach Bill Snyder has done a spectacular job overcoming numerous injuries and the Wildcats are now in a position to possibly finish with eight wins.
The situation has been particularly rocky at quarterback, where Snyder has seen both his first and second string quarterbacks go down.
That left him needing to start a redshirt freshman late this season.
In stepped Kansas State’s young quarterback Skylar Thompson, who has really come into his own over the last couple of weeks. The freshman has accounted for a total of 461 yards and six touchdowns through the last two games, throwing no interceptions in the process.
This matchup of freshman quarterbacks will be key to watch as both Modster and Thompson have shown great promise early on in their careers.
KANSAS STATE KEYS TO THE GAME
Contain Jordan Lasley: UCLA’s most dangerous receiving threat is Jordan Lasley. The junior erupted in the Bruins’ most recent game against Cal as he went for 227 yards receiving and a touchdown. Despite being banged up all year, Lasley has still compiled 1,136 yards and eight touchdowns on the year. Duke Shelly and Denzel Goolsby need to play lights out in the secondary if they want to slow down Lasley.
Pressure Modster: Although Modster certainly looked poised against Cal, he has still only played in four games through his young college career. The talented Kansas State front seven must put him under pressure and test his experience. Look for Jayd Kirby and Will Geary to wreak havoc on the freshman.
Control The Clock: UCLA is built very similar to a Big 12 team in the sense that they score very quickly and run the air raid. Even with Josh Rosen out, the Wildcats do not want to get into a shootout with UCLA. Kansas State needs to do what they do best and pound the rock, create long drives, and most importantly keep that Bruin offense off the field.
With Texas Tech’s heartbreaking loss and the uncertainty of West Virginia’s backfield, the Big 12 could very well be 0-2 in bowl season entering the Cactus Bowl. The Big 12 needs Kansas State to take care of business Tuesday night.
Las Vegas has the Wildcats favored by six in this game. I believe Vegas has this one right, and I do expect Kansas State to come away with the win. However, I see this game going down to the wire and would not be surprised to see UCLA cover.