Valero Alamo Bowl: #14 UCLA vs #11 Kansas St.
Talk about conferences going in two different directions.
Through five games so far the Big 12 is 1-4, with Baylor, Oklahoma, and West Virginia all being upset. It appears for about the sixth year in a row that the Big 12 will have done marginally better in performance than flipping a coin.
Not quite the same for the Pac 12 this year. They were favored in seven of their eight games and are currently 5-1. The only upset so far is Arizona losing to Boise. Oregon made FSU look stupid last night.
What we have in this match up are two very good teams who are not quite elite, but are disciplined and tough. Kansas State’s three losses came to TCU, Baylor and Auburn. UCLA lost to Utah, Oregon, and Stanford, so both schools are definitely beat able.
All comparisons are against Power Five teams.
Both teams are nearly identical in scoring offense, with UCLA holding a slight advantage averaging 32.1 points per game while Kansas State averaging 31.7. The differences start to show up in how they gained those points.
Kansas State ranks 15th in the nation via passing offense, netting 289.7 yards a game with 17 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. UCLA, ranked 30th, averages 256.9 yards per game with 20 touchdowns and gave up 5 interceptions.
On the ground the results are quite different. UCLA ranks 20th, with a 204.45 per game average, including 19 touchdowns. Kansas State isn’t even in the same ballpark, ranking 77th with 128.6 yards per game and 18 touchdowns.
If UCLA gets 200 yards of rushing in this game they will be very difficult to beat.
What we’ve seen often this year so far, defense wins the game. Without one you give up 21 points in the fourth quarter, as an example. Kansas State has a defense and they are ranked 13th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 21.7 points per game, just slightly behind TCU’s defense who shut down Ole Miss. UCLA’s defense is ranked 40th, giving up 26.8 points per game. Since that sounds close, let’s define it a bit more. UCLA gave up 38 touchdowns in 11 games, or 3.45 per game, while Kansas State gave up 28 over 10, or 2.8.
Through the air neither team is winning any awards with their play, but both also play in pass happy offensive minded conferences. UCLA gives up 237.7 yards of passing while Kansas State gives up 241.5. The difference worked out to be only a half yard difference in averages per attempt.
What will be interesting to watch is how Kansas State’s rushing defense, which ranks 26th with a 136.5 yards allowed per game, nearly 70 yards less than UCLA rushes per game. UCLA’s rushing defense is much worse, allowing more than Kansas State normally runs.
Kansas State is in the top ten in punt return yards, with a whopping 13.44 yards per attempt, including one score this season. UCLA isn’t bad, at #22, but is averaging three yards less per attempt. This game will probably feature far more punts than kicks. That may actually help UCLA, since they rank 102nd in the nation in kick return yards, far below Kansas State’s 30th.
UCLA is far better at defending punts, however, ranking 14th in the nation allowing only 2.38 yards per attempt, or ten less than Kansas State usually averages. I’m not even sure Kansas State fields a punt defense, ranked 114th out of 121. They allow 18.83 yards, which is much more than 2.38. Ironically the stats are flipped when it comes to defending kicks, with UCLA ranked 84th with a 23.22 average. Kansas State is 29th with 18.74.
That being said, it may not matter how bad UCLA’s kickoff defense is, since they’ve put 64.62% of them into the end zone. Kansas State, however, only had 28.79% of their kicks go for touchbacks.
It seems like each sides strengths and negatives offset each other in an almost mirror image.
Neither team has a lot of injured players, but UCLA has a bit more with eight to Kansas State’s five. In addition Brett Hundley is upgraded to probable for the game tonight. Both should have enough depth that injuries prior to today won’t cause much of an issue. Now if they lose a bunch during the game, like Alabama’s linebackers, then that’s a different story.
This game should be a close one and probably won’t be high flying like a lot of the games we’ve had so far. The only mutual opponent both teams shared was Texas. UCLA beat them 20-17, while Kansas State beat them 23-0. It is very possible that is also how scoring breaks out tonight:
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