UCLA dispatched Kansas State 40-35 in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Friday night.
But there's so, so much more to the story than that simple line. To truly understand, you also have to know the score at the half; UCLA led 31-6.
As is not entirely unfamiliar to Wildcat fans, K-State came out flat. Unable to make anything work on offense, largely because the offensive line just couldn't protect Waters, and unable to really stop the opposition on defense, the situation was grim by the middle of the first quarter. Things improved in the second, and K-State actually closed the margin to 17-6, but two turnovers led to two UCLA scores, and K-State was facing oblivion. The true damage had been dealt on the ground by the Bruins; three of their four touchdowns were runs of 10 and 28 by Brett Hundley and 32 by Paul Perkins.
And then things got crazy. Although the Wildcats never were able to mount a rushing attack, a switchup on the offensive line (notably with B.J. Finney moving to right tackle and Drew Liddle taking over at center) afforded Jake Waters much more time to throw and he and Tyler Lockett went to work. Two Wildcat touchdowns in the third quarter -- a three-yard pass to Lockett followed by a pass to Lockett for two, and a two-yard run by DeMarcus Robinson -- closed the deficit to 10 points. A UCLA field goal with 33 seconds left in the quarter didn't alter the calculus, and K-State went into the fourth down two scores.
And then, having spent the entire third quarter hitting Lockett play after play, Waters switched to his other best buddy, Curry Sexton. With just under five minutes to go, Waters scored on a one-yard keeper to bring the Wildcats within six.
And then disaster struck, the one play that absolutely could not happen. With 2:20 to go, Perkins broke through a hole in the middle and raced untouched 67 yards to put UCLA back up by two scores.
It took K-State less than a minute to score again, although it was one of the longest minutes ever. On the first play after the kickoff, Waters was intercepted, and Boston Stiverson went down with what appears to be a fairly gruesome injury. But a facemask penalty on UCLA's Priest Willis erased the interception and gave K-State 15 yards. Waters then hit Sexton for 19, Lockett for 12, ran himself for 15, and finally just lobbed a perfect rainbow into Lockett's arms after one of Tyler's patented double-moves. A kick later, and K-State only trailed 40-35.
And then came the onside kick, which was itself a moment of epic beauty. The only problem: UCLA recovered, and that was the ballgame.
Waters finished 31 of 48 for 338 yards, ultimately eclipsing Josh Freeman's old single-season passing record by over 140 yards. He finishes the year with 3,501 yards, and his career just shy of 6,000. The school's single-season passing yardage record, held by the 2007 squad with Freeman at quarterback, also fell.
Lockett hauled in 13 passes, an Alamo Bowl record, for 164 yards; Sexton added 10 catches for 104. In addition to being the fifth dual 100-yard game in K-State history (out of 13 occasions all-time), Sexton eclipsed the 1000 yard barrier. That makes Lockett and Sexton the only K-State receiving duo to both reach 1000 yards in the same season.
What may be the stat of the game, though: K-State went for it four times on fourth down, and were successful every single time.
For UCLA, Perkins had 194 yards on the ground, and Hundley had 98; UCLA rushed for 331 yards on the day. K-State only had 31 yards, but that's not sack-adjusted, and that's sort of important -- because Waters was sacked seven times, most of them in the first half. On the bright side, Hundley was completely held in check as a passer; K-State held the UCLA signal-caller to only 136 yards in the air, almost a quarter of that on one 37-yard completion to Jordan Payton.
A big key to the game was penalties. UCLA was hit a whopping 15 times for 128 yards, and a frightening number of those were of the dirty variety. Jim Mora's not going to be pleased about that.
At halftime, we were all on suicide watch. But even with the loss, the performance by the Wildcats pulled us back from the brink. The team that played the second half would have won this game by 40 if they'd shown up at kickoff. So we'll always regret that first half, but the stars of this team -- Waters, Lockett, Sexton, and even Ryan Mueller (who absolutely destroyed UCLA's offense for most of the second half) -- went out like they should.
They lost, but they went out like champions.