First look: UCLA vs. Kansas State in the Cactus Bowl

Kansas State running back Alex Barnes (34) takes a handoff from quarterback Skylar Thompson (10) during the first half against Iowa State. (Orlin Wagner/AP)

UCLA (6-6) vs. Kansas State (7-5)
Tuesday, Dec. 26 |6 p.m. PT | Chase Field, Phoenix
TV: ESPN
Radio: AM 570/AM 1150

Scouting report

While UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen’s collegiate career could only have one more game left, Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson’s is just getting started.

After starting the year as the third-string quarterback, the redshirt freshman led the Wildcats to four wins in their final five games. The dual-threat signal-caller is already developing a reputation for late-game heroics:

  • He ran in a game-sealing touchdown against Kansas with 1:21 to go as K-State won 30-20
  • He threw the game-winning touchdown in overtime against Texas Tech (42-35)
  • He led an 87-yard touchdown drive in less than two minutes, capped off by a 1-yard pass with no time left, to beat Iowa State 20-19 in the regular-season finale.

For good measure, Thompson also threw three touchdowns in an upset over No. 10 Oklahoma State, all to junior receiver Byron Pringle, whose 25.2 yards per reception leads the country.

Kansas State’s 186.7 rushing yards per game ranks second in the Big 12, but the Wildcats’ leading rusher Alex Barnes averages only 58.5 yards per game. Thompson is a running threat at quarterback and averages 4.1 yards per rush.

On defense, the Wildcats are stout up front with the 20th-best rushing defense in the country, allowing 121.8 yards per game. The line is anchored by senior defensive tackle Will Geary, who was a first-team All-Big-12 selection. D.J. Reed, another first-team all-conference player, leads the secondary with four interceptions. Continue reading “First look: UCLA vs. Kansas State in the Cactus Bowl” »

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First look: UCLA vs. Cal

Justin Wilcox, shown speaking at Pac-12 Media Days in July 2017, has Cal challenging for a bowl game during his first season at the helm. (Photo by Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press)

UCLA (5-6, 3-5 Pac-12) vs. Cal (5-6, 2-6 Pac-12)
Friday, Nov. 24 |7:30 p.m. PT | Rose Bowl
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: AM 570

Scouting report

Cal was voted to finish last in the Pac-12 North, but the Golden Bears, in their first season under head coach Justin Wilcox, have exceeded many expectations by challenging for bowl eligibility. The winner of Friday’s game reaches the six-game threshold and earns itself a postseason opportunity.

Wilcox, a former defensive coordinator at Washington and USC, helped turn Cal’s defense around quickly this season. The Bears were the Pac-12’s worst scoring defense last season, allowing 42.6 points per game, but have jumped to seventh with 28.3 points per game allowed this year. They forced seven turnovers in their 37-3 upset over Washington State on Oct. 13.

The offense has been inconsistent with redshirt sophomore Ross Bowers at quarterback, but got a boost from running back Patrick Laird last week as he rushed for 153 yards and one touchdown against Stanford in Cal’s rivalry game.

Laird scored a 1-yard touchdown run with 4:02 left in the third against the Cardinal that helped cut the deficit to three points, but both teams were held scoreless in the fourth and Stanford came away with its eighth straight win in the Big Game.

Cal is 11th in the Pac-12 in total offense with 377.8 yards per game. Continue reading “First look: UCLA vs. Cal” »

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First look: UCLA at USC

USC quarterback Sam Darnold (14) in the second half of a NCAA college football game against the UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. USC Trojans won 36-14. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

UCLA (5-5, 3-4 Pac-12) at No. 11 USC (9-2, 7-1 Pac-12)
Saturday, Nov. 18 | 5 p.m. PT | L.A. Coliseum
TV: ABC
Radio: AM 1150 or AM 570

Scouting report

USC sewed up its second Pac-12 South title in three years last weekend with its 38-24 win over Colorado. The Trojans built up a commanding 27-0 lead before giving up 14 straight points in the third quarter, which injected a fleeting moment of drama into the battle between the two previous Pac-12 South champions.

While winning three straight games since a demoralizing loss to Notre Dame, quarterback Sam Darnold has thrown for 906 yards and seven touchdowns, completing 63 percent of his passes. Running back Ronald Jones is also surging with 184 rushing yards per game in the past three games.

The Trojans leads the Pac-12 in sacks (36), but UCLA just neutralized Arizona State, which entered last week’s game as the second-leading sack team in the Pac-12. The Bruins didn’t give up a single sack last week for the first time in a game this season.

UCLA hasn’t won a conference game on the road in two years while the Trojans have a 15-game home winning streak. Continue reading “First look: UCLA at USC” »

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First look: UCLA vs. Arizona State

Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins and receiver N’Keal Harry celebrate a touchdown against Colorado (AP Photo/Matt York)

UCLA (4-5, 2-4 Pac-12) vs. Arizona State (5-4, 4-2 Pac-12)
Saturday, Nov. 11 | 6:30 p.m. PT | Rose Bowl
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: AM 1150 or AM 570

Scouting report

Arizona State has won three of its past four games and relied on different strengths during each victory. The Sun Devils sacked Washington quarterback Jake Browning five times in their 13-7 win over Washington on Oct. 14, then picked off Utah’s Tyler Huntley four times the following week to win 30-10 in Salt Lake City. After a 48-17 loss to USC, ASU bounced back with a 41-30 victory over Colorado last Saturday in which it rushed for 381 yards to come back from a 10-point deficit entering the fourth quarter.

The sudden burst of rushing offense is out of the ordinary for the Sun Devils, who average just 150.2 rushing yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry. Running back Demario Richard leads the team with 71 rushing yards per game, which ranks 10th in the Pac-12.

As has become a staple under head coach Todd Graham, the Sun Devils are one of the best teams in the Pac-12 in sacks with 30 in nine games, which ranks second behind USC’s 34 in 10 games. For its exotic pressures, ASU trades pass defense as the secondary is 11th in the conference in pass defensive efficiency.

ASU is the least penalized team in the Pac-12 with 35.7 penalty yards per game. Continue reading “First look: UCLA vs. Arizona State” »

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First look: UCLA at Utah

Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley (1) passes the ball against Arizona State in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

UCLA (4-4, 2-3 Pac-12) at Utah (4-4, 1-4 Pac-12)
Friday, Nov. 3 | 6:30 p.m. PT | Rice-Eccles Stadium
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: AM 1150 or AM 570

Scouting report

Utah is one of the few teams in the Pac-12 floundering more than UCLA. The Utes have lost four in a row, falling from No. 20 in the nation on Oct. 7 to last in the Pac-12 South less than a month later.

Sophomore quarterback Tyler Huntley has struggled since returning from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for two games. In his two games since the injury, he completed 56.4 percent of his passes after a throwing at a 73.3 percent clip during the first four games of the year. The Utes, working under new offensive coordinator Troy Taylor, are averaging 21.4 points per game in conference play.

In a 41-20 loss to Oregon last weekend, the Utes rushed for only 3 yards in the first half and finished with 91 total rushing yards.

Despite its reputation as a typically stout defensive front, Utah is allowing 5.6 yards per carry in conference play. The Ducks piled up 347 rushing yards on 49 carries last Saturday. Continue reading “First look: UCLA at Utah” »

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