Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Kansas State: 2017 Cactus Bowl Champions



PHOENIX -- Bill Snyder stood on a makeshift stage in the middle of a baseball stadium with a roof, a sparkling trophy at his side depicting a football sailing through cactus uprights.

If this was the end of his storied coaching career at Kansas State, it sure was a great way to go out.

Alex Delton ran for 158 yards and accounted for four touchdowns, leading the Wildcats to a 35-17 Cactus Bowl victory over UCLA on Tuesday night in what could be Snyder's final game.

"We've got so many people to be proud of at Kansas State University and it starts with our players, quite obviously," Snyder said.

Delton replaced Skylar Thompson late in the first quarter and scored on runs of 68 yards, 3 yards and 1 yard. Alex Barnes added 117 yards and a touchdown for the Wildcats, who rushed for 345 yards.

Kansas State (8-5) struggled in the first half against UCLA's potent offense, but shut down the Bruins in the second to give Snyder his 210th -- and possibly last -- win with the Wildcats.

UCLA (6-7) played without top NFL prospect Josh Rosen, who's recovering from a concussion, and built a 10-point halftime lead without its star quarterback.

The Bruins' offensive success didn't carry over into the second half and their defense had a hard time containing Delton, saddling interim coach Jedd Fisch with a loss in his last game before Chip Kelly takes over the program.

"We handled a ton of adversity this year and a ton of change," Fisch said. "After the (USC) week, they continued to play as hard as possible."

Snyder turned around one of the nation's worst programs after taking over in 1989, leading the Wildcats to eight straight bowl appearances after un-retiring in 2008.

He says he has not decided whether he will return for a 27th season or retire again to spend time with his family.

The 78-year-old coach made a quarterback change in the first quarter of the Cactus Bowl after Thompson threw an interception. Delton had an immediate impact, bursting up the middle for a 68-yard touchdown run.

Snyder opted to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1 in the third quarter, and Delton came through again, bulling his way through a massive pile -- with some help from his teammates.

Kansas State's Denzel Goolsby recovered Bolu Olorunfunmi's fumble at the Bruins 24-yard line on the next play from scrimmage, and Delton hit Dominique Heath for an 8-yard touchdown to give the Wildcats the lead.

"That was possibly the play of the ballgame," Snyder said.

UCLA turned it over on downs -- after a successful fake punt -- and Kansas State turned its fourth-down try into a touchdown, with Alex Barnes putting the Wildcats up 28-17 with a 41-yard run.

Kansas State ended UCLA's comeback hopes with an eight-minute drive capped by Delton's final TD run.

"They wore us down," Fisch said.

Rosen, expected to leave for the NFL after his junior year, was in uniform and warmed up before the game, but Devon Modster trotted out to the huddle.

The Bruins still had their big-play game going even without Rosen, building a 17-7 halftime lead on two long TD passes by Modster.

UCLA's offensive roll ended with halftime. The Bruins had 100 total yards and three first downs in the second half.

"I just threw too many incomplete passes," said Modster, who threw for 295 yards. "That's pretty much it."

THE TAKEAWAY

If this was the final game of Snyder's career, the Wildcats sent him out on a high note with a dominant second-half performance.

UCLA's defense, a sore spot all season, had no answer for Delton, and its offense could have used Rosen in the second half.

ROSEN'S DECISION

Reports surfaced this week that Rosen wouldn't play in the bowl game, possibly to protect himself from injury. Fisch shot that notion down quickly.


"I want to be clear on this: Josh wanted to play," he said. "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."

UP NEXT

Kansas State: The Wildcats should be in good shape on offense next season whether Snyder returns or not. Kansas State has no seniors on its two-deep roster on offense, though there are five on defense.

UCLA: Kelly will likely have to replace Rosen when he takes over, but will have plenty of firepower returning. He's also a top recruiter, so the Bruins should be well-stocked with talent.

Duke: 2017 Quick Lane Bowl Champions



DETROIT -- In mid-November, after a loss at Army, the Duke Blue Devils were looking at spending a second straight holiday season at home.

That made Tuesday's success in the Quick Lane Bowl even sweeter.

After a six-game losing streak dropped them to 4-6, the Blue Devils (7-6) had to beat Georgia Tech and Wake Forest just to get bowl eligible. They managed that, got a bid to spend Christmas in Detroit, and salvaged the season with a 36-14 win over Northern Illinois.

"People ask me how we came back from 4-6, especially since we don't have a star player who we could turn to," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. "I tell them that we have a roster filled with great teammates. They decided they had to work together if we were going to come up with a decent finish."

Duke quarterback Daniel Jones finished with 338 yards of offense, throwing two touchdown passes while running for a third score, and Shaun Wilson and Brittain Brown added rushing touchdowns.

"We knew Northern Illinois had a lot of success rushing the passer this year, but our offensive line really controlled things," Jones said. "That really opened things up for our offense.

"We were frustrated after losing to Army, but we were finally able to channel that into motivation."

Redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Childers threw for 234 yards and a score for Northern Illinois (8-5), while fellow redshirt freshman Tre Harbison ran for a touchdown.

"Marcus and I know that this offseason is crucial," Harbison said. "If we work hard, we should have a special backfield next year."

The Blue Devils took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, sandwiching rushing touchdowns around a failed Northern Illinois fake punt on 4th-and-18 from their own 11.

"They were being physical with our gunners, so we thought we could get a pass interference and a first down," Huskies coach Rod Carey said. "They didn't bite, and we had a punter throwing to a defensive back."

The Huskies had two first downs and 46 yards in the quarter, but tied the game with two scores in the first 2:38 of the second. Duke, though, moved back into a 26-14 lead with two touchdowns before halftime.

"We let up for a little while, and they took advantage of our mistakes," Duke linebacker Joe Giles-Harris said. "We knew we had to get focused again, and we shut them out from there."

Jones fumbled on the first possession of the second half, but Northern Illinois turned the ball back over after a failed fake field goal.

THE TAKEAWAY

Duke: Other than the start of the second quarter, where they lost defensive focus on back-to-back possessions, the Blue Devils were in complete control.

"They hit a couple big plays against us, and our offense stalled, so we made some adjustments," Cutcliffe said. "We started passing the ball more, which is what we needed, and our defense started making plays."

Northern Illinois: The Huskies recovered from the disastrous first-quarter fake punt to get back into the game, but couldn't stay with Duke on either side of the ball.

"We were flying around out there, trying to make plays, but we didn't execute our game plan," said safety Mycial Allen, who was playing in his hometown. "Duke came up with the big plays and we didn't."

STUNNING SPECIAL TEAMS MOVE

The Blue Devils were startled by Carey's decision to run a fake punt in such a tough spot, especially in the first quarter of a 7-0 game.

"That was a very risky move," Cutcliffe said. "We're going to jam their gunners at the line, just like in press coverage, but we aren't going to hit them after that. That means you have to complete the pass to get a first down, and that's not easy to do."

UP NEXT

Duke: By winning their final three games, including Cutcliffe's second bowl victory in 10 seasons at Duke, the Blue Devils take some momentum into the offseason.

Jones will be back as a junior next season, while Brown is expected to replace Wilson as the No. 1 running back.


"We showed a lot of mental toughness to finish this season with three wins instead of rolling over and losing the last two games," Jones said. "This is an exciting way to go into the offseason."

Northern Illinois: After winning at Nebraska, the Huskies thought they were on the verge of another big season. However, conference losses to Toledo and Central Michigan knocked them out of MAC title contention and they were overmatched against Duke.

"This is disappointing, but we're going to have a good group of players coming back next year," Carey said. "We can build on this."

LAST WORD

"A month ago, no one thought we had a chance at a bowl game, so this was a great way to finish the season," said Giles-Harris, who was named First-Team All-ACC as a sophomore.

Utah: 2017 Heart of Dallas Bowl Champions



DALLAS -- Zack Moss took a third-down handoff and burst through the line into an opening in the middle of the field. Utah was off and running to another bowl victory.

Moss ran for 150 yards, including a career-long 58-yard run for a touchdown on the Utes' opening drive in the Heart of Dallas Bowl as they went on to a 30-14 win over West Virginia on Tuesday. Utah is now 11-1 in postseason games under Kyle Whittingham, who matched Alabama's Nick Saban for the most bowl wins by an active coach.

"He knows how to coach the team and he always caps the year off right," Utah sophomore quarterback Tyler Huntley said.

Huntley scored twice on 2-yard keepers , but the Utes led for good in their fifth straight bowl victory after Moss broke free early on a drizzly and chilly day in Cotton Bowl Stadium.

"It was very important for us to come out of the gates with a big play early on and set the tone," said Moss, who like Huntley still has two seasons left with the Utes (7-6).

West Virginia (7-6) finished the season with its third straight loss. The Mountaineers had only 153 total yards without junior quarterback Will Grier, who broke a finger Nov. 18, and 1,000-yard rusher Justin Crawford, a senior who bypassed the bowl game in advance of the NFL draft.

"It was a pretty disappointing loss to end a pretty disappointing season," Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen said. "You never hear me use it as an excuse. If you lose guys, you need guys to step in and play at a high level and that is the bottom line."

Whittingham's debut as head coach was a Fiesta Bowl win at the end of the 2004 season. He co-coached that game with Urban Meyer, who had taken the Florida job three weeks earlier but returned to be part of Utah's postseason win over Pittsburgh after his defensive coordinator had been promoted to head coach.

Under Whittingham, the Utes prepare for bowl games like regular season games, often in full pads and with continuing conditioning work. There is also a little bit of peer pressure.

"We've got a group of guys and have had several groups of guys come here that take a lot of pride in their bowl performance and the bowl record that we have," Whittingham said. "This group was no different. Each subsequent group doesn't want to be the group that lets the previous groups down. They want to keep that bowl prowess alive."

THE TAKEAWAY

Utah: Both of Huntley's TDs came after West Virginia miscues. The first came after a muffed punt return set Utah up at the Mountaineers 13, and the second came after an offside penalty on a short punt gave the Utes a second chance on fourth down. Huntley then completed a 25-yard pass on the fourth-and-3 play before scoring on another short run.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers missed Grier, who broke the middle finger on his throwing hand early in a loss against Texas. Grier, whose 34 TD passes were the second most in a season for West Virginia, already has said he will return next year for his senior season.

SABAN'S TIEBREAKER?

Saban has a chance, maybe two, to add a bowl win this season. The Crimson Tide will play Clemson in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day in the College Football Playoff. Two other active coaches can get their 11th bowl wins before then: Miami's Mark Richt and Meyer, who is now at Ohio State.

ONE SHORT OF 1,000


KaRaun White's 18-yard TD catch with 2 minutes left for West Virginia put him over 1,000 yards receiving this season, along with teammate Gary Jennings. But David Sills V, who had 18 TD catches, had no catches Tuesday and finished 20 yards shy of giving the Mountaineers three 1,000-yard receivers.

UP NEXT

Utah: The junior seasons for Huntley and Moss begin at home on Aug. 30 against Weber State. For the start of what will be Whittingham's 14th full season, the Utes could have back 14 of their starters from the bowl game (eight on offense, six on defense).

West Virginia: Grier can be back in the lineup for the 2018 season opener Sept. 1 against Tennessee in Charlotte. It will be the third time in five years the Mountaineers will open a season against another Power Five opponent in an NFL stadium.