About last night: A review of UCLA’s Cactus Bowl loss to Kansas State

UCLA defensive back Nate Meadors (22) tackles Kansas State quarterback Alex Delton in the first half during an NCAA college football bowl game, Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

That was not the way UCLA was planning to honor Jim Mora, but its 35-17 loss to Kansas State in the Cactus Bowl did seem appropriate in some ways.

For the coach whose teams were regularly among the nation’s worst in penalties, the Bruins committed eight penalties for 73 yards. For the coach whose tenure included two 10-win seasons in the first three years, UCLA took a 10-point lead at halftime. Then for the coach who steered the program’s fade into mediocrity during the past three seasons, the Bruins gave up 28 unanswered points in a second-half collapse.

“Obviously, very disappointed in the final result,” interim head coach Jedd Fisch said. “But couldn’t be more proud of the team. We handled a ton of adversity this year and a ton of change.”

There will be more change on the horizon as the Chip Kelly era has officially started.

Links to wrap up the game:

A more in-depth review of the game. There will be more review done for the season as a whole in the coming days:


  • It’s over: Perhaps the best thing about the disappointing 2017 season was that it was bad enough to bring Kelly to Westwood. It’s unfortunate for the players and the coaches who coached the bowl game that they couldn’t get the win against Kansas State for themselves and for Mora the way they were hoping. Seeing the seniors walk off the field for the final time without a win is crushing for those involved. But the game was more of a formality in the long run for the program. Kelly’s time is now and there seems to be new excitement about the direction of UCLA program from fans and many alumni.
  • Nate Meadors: I think it’s safe to say Nate Meadors was the best tackler on the team this year. From his textbook tackle in the red zone against Cal to three stops he had in one drive against Kansas State, the junior has shown the ability to tackle in the open field reliably, a rare skill on this year’s defense. (He did get called for a horse-collar tackle however.) I didn’t notice him much in the second half as I saw more of Mo Osling at corner (maybe a chance to get the freshman some experience going into the offseason), but Meadors, I think, had a good year in coverage and against the run. He played often in the slot and seemed to do well in that role matching up against smaller receivers than he usually would outside. He didn’t give up a single touchdown this year, according to Pro Football Focus.
  • Stefan Flintoft: It’s too late for this year’s Heisman, but it’s never too early to start a campaign for next year. Flintoft was at his most-consistent best against Kansas State. He dropped three of his four punts inside the 10-yard line. Two landed inside the 5.


  • Backside contain: Almost all of K-State’s big runs came on cut backs. Running back Alex Barnes has a quick and sharp jump cut that victimized the UCLA defense again and again. Delton found daylight on a backside run at the end of the first quarter that resulted in his 68-yard touchdown run. He froze four UCLA defenders on one run later with a cut back. Discipline has been a season-long problem for the UCLA defense and it came back Tuesday. The unit was starting to show signs of improvement late in the year, but was all out of whack again. The new defensive coaching staff will likely be spending lots of time focusing on fundamentals and basic technique when spring camp rolls around.
    • Side note: Watching the K-State rushing defense was a stark reminder of how a good defensive front should function. I was impressed with the linebackers. They were fast and decisive when diagnosing plays. As a result, the Bruins were held to 2.8 rushing yards a carry.
  • Penalties: It was classic Mora era. The Bruins had eight penalties for 73 yards. Five flags came in the fourth quarter and three came on one drive. Jordan Lasley even earned one when he wasn’t even on the field. There was a substitution infraction on third-and-5 that gave K-State a first down. Mora set out to establish a tougher, more physical, culture at UCLA. He forgave some penalties that he deemed “effort” penalties, but it turned the Bruins into one of the most penalized teams in the country for the past six years. It’s hard enough to win when you can’t tackle and don’t have your starting quarterback. You don’t need to make it any more difficult with penalties.
  • Drops: Another visit from an old, unwelcome friend. The turning point proved to be a third-down drop from Eldridge Massington that would have given the Bruins a first down. Instead, the Bruins punted, K-State scored on a long drive after UCLA barely came up short on the goal-line stand. Bolu Olorunfunmi fumbled it on the next play and the UCLA train was all the way off the rails. Lasley, who had been on such a hot streak to finish the year, also had a few drops in the game. The Bruins very rarely showed an ability to overcome those types of momentum-draining plays this season and it was no different Tuesday.


  • 355 rushing yards by K-State, the fifth time a team has rushed for more than 300 yards on the Bruins this season.
    • 7 rushing yards per carry for K-State.
    • 2.8 for UCLA.
  • 11 minutes, 29 seconds of possession for the Wildcats in the fourth quarter


“I want to be clear on this: Josh wanted to play. Josh was unable to play because of the fact that he had two concussions within a four-week span in November, and our physicians didn’t feel comfortable putting him out there and putting him at risk for a possibility of a third concussion.”

~ Jedd Fisch on Josh Rosen


  • Colin Samuel was out with an injury. He was seen in a shoulder sling at the end of UCLA’s game against Cal.
  • Mique Juarez got his first snaps on defense this year. He came in during the goal-line stand at linebacker after Keisean Lucier-South was injured earlier on the drive. Juarez also starred in a fake punt that gave the Bruins a first down.