UCLA football: A fan's look back at Kansas State
That was the danger Saturday in taking on a less-than-stellar Kansas State team at the Rose Bowl after the previous week's emotional 19-15 win in Knoxville against Tennessee.
Making it even tougher was the fact that starting quarterback Kevin Prince would sit out after breaking his jaw late in the Tennessee game.
Though there were some missteps, the Bruins did what was needed and came up with timely plays on offense and defense to improve to 3-0 for the first time since 2005.
Here are "observations, opinions and reflections from the fan's chair" after UCLA's 23-9 victory over Kansas State.
-- It was satisfying to see senior quarterback Kevin Craft finish his night with a 51-yard touchdown pass (the longest of his career) to senior Terrence Austin. After Craft's well-documented struggles last season, he stepped up and did enough positive things to manage the game well. Craft's attitude of team-first has never wavered publicly so seeing that smile on his face after the touchdown was worth it.
-- Craft was far from perfect, though -- he had an interception and could have had three other passes picked off if not for good fortune -- but the ball had some nice zip on it coming out of his hand when he had time to step up and throw.
-- As expected, the play-calling was fairly conservative, but Craft looked at his best when asked to roll out (usually to the right) and throw short passes for solid gains.
-- Obviously the biggest difference this season, Craft will certainly tell you, is the play of the offensive line, which is extremely young, talented and inexperienced but slowly coming together to perform solidly. The line did not allow Craft to be sacked.
-- Another player benefiting from the line's play is sophomore running back Johnathan Franklin, who became the first UCLA back since Chris Markey in the 2007 Las Vegas Bowl to rush for more than 100 yards in a game. Franklin had 119 yards in 23 carries and has established himself as the Bruins' go-to back.
-- We're still looking for such a player from UCLA's group of receivers, though there seem to be plenty of candidates. No one player has become the primary target for UCLA's quarterbacks this season, but Taylor Embree and Austin have shown flashes. The latest to join the fray is Nelson Rosario, who led the Bruins with three receptions for 45 yards, including a brilliant one-handed catch to keep a drive alive.
-- He doesn't get enough credit, but there's something comforting about having Chane Moline in the backfield doing all the dirty work and occasionally coming up with a big play.
-- Though Craft did fine, I really was hoping to see freshman Richard Brehaut. Not sure if there's any message in the fact that he didn't play one snap, since a game against a nonconference opponent would have seemed to be the opportune time to see what he could do under pressure.
-- Like last game with Courtney Viney, I didn't hear freshman cornerback Sheldon Price's name called out too often, so it must've meant he played pretty well. Price was replacing Viney in the starting lineup after Viney and three other Bruins sat out for disciplinary reasons.
-- What's the deal with Rahim Moore? No interceptions? After getting five in the first two games, Bruins fans had become spoiled by his exploits. Moore actually could have had three more picks had it not been for some dropped balls and bad luck.
-- Lurking in Moore's rear-view mirror in what is fast developing into a friendly battle for supremacy in the secondary, senior Alterraun Verner had two more interceptions to give him three for the season and 11 for his career. Verner's interceptions came on Kansas State's first and last possessions.
-- Overall, the UCLA defense turned in another solid effort, especially up front with its size and speed, leading to six sacks of Kansas State quarterback Carson Coffman, including two by Akeem Ayers.
-- Speaking of Ayers, though I love his energy, skill and passion, he has to avoid penalties such as the one for illegal helmet contact as Coffman was being tackled. Those are killer.
-- In fact, the Bruins had 80 yards in penalties, which is still way too much. Two of the penalties came on illegal chop blocks by Embree and Austin on what would have been big gains by the offense. Logan Paulsen also had a costly illegal man downfield penalty that negated a touchdown pass from Craft to Ryan Moya in the first half, and Moore got called for an illegal head butt while in the middle of a pile in the center of the field.
-- Getting back to the defense, it's clear that speed is making a huge difference this season.
-- Up front, Datone Jones played well (a sack and four tackles) as did David Carter, who had a sack. Damien Holmes also had a sack and a few other solid pressure plays. It goes to show that there's more to this line beyond Brian Price (who, by the way, left the field hobbling late in the game with what appeared to be a left-leg injury).
-- The defense did a nice job of limiting the effectiveness of Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas, who had rushed for a combined 240 yards in his first two games. The Bruins held Thomas to 54 yards, many of which were gained during Kansas State's lone touchdown drive when Thomas took the direct snap from center in the wildcat formation on a number of the plays.
-- Also, kudos to Tony Dye, who had a career-high nine tackles.
-- Did you notice Trevor Theriot -- playing as an up man on kickoff returns -- make a nice 33-yard return up the left sideline in the first half?
-- And how could I forget kicker Kai Forbath, who was three for three on field-goal attempts (giving him 53 for his career) with kicks of 39, 35 and 41 yards.
-- 13-9 notwithstanding, UCLA fans are not in a position to gloat, but it sure is nice to be the only undefeated Division I team in Los Angeles. We'll see how long it lasts.
-- Final grade for Week 3: B-minus. I almost scaled it back to a C-plus but figured that would be harsh since, after all, the Bruins won. Still, there are many areas that need cleaning up, including the number of penalties, as we previously discussed. UCLA also was poor on special teams defense, allowing too many yards on punt and kickoff returns. But all in all it was a solid win and now comes an open date before beginning Pac-10 play at Stanford.
-- Jim Barrero
Photo: UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin is tackled by Billy McClellan in the first half. Credit: Jeff Gross / Getty Images.