PHOENIX — It’s batter up for Kansas State in another football bowl game.
For the third time in its bowl history, K-State is playing in a stadium built primarily for baseball when it faces UCLA in the Cactus Bowl at 8 p.m. today at Chase Field.
It’s the Wildcats’ second bowl game in this stadium, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, after playing in the 2001 Insight.com Bowl when it was known as Bank One Ballpark.
The Wildcats didn’t get their first look at the stadium until a Monday practice, but regardless of the facility coach Bill Snyder says it’s always about keeping it between the white lines.
“We played there one time before,” Snyder said. “We’ll get out there Monday, but we’re on grass and we’re practicing on grass.”
UCLA interim coach Jedd Fisch is taking the same approach.
“I think it’s going to be a really cool atmosphere,” Fisch said. “I said to our guys, as long as it’s 120 yards and 53 and a third wide, we’re good to go and we’re ready for that. I’m sure the grass is going to be manicured beautifully and we’ll be ready to roll, so we’re excited about that game and excited about where it will be played.”
The grass may not be as big an issue as the sight lines.
“The perception of the baseball field might be a little different,” said K-State kicker Matthew McCrane. “I think you see that in the (NCAA) basketball playoff games when they play in those big stadiums. The depth perception of the goal posts or the basketball hoop makes it tough, so we’ll see how we adjust to that. It makes field goals look a little bit longer than they probably are.”
The Wildcats are hoping for a better outcome than the last time they played in a baseball stadium. That was the 2010 Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in New York where they lost 36-34 to Syracuse in the infamous “Bronx Salute” finish.
Wide receiver Adrian Hilburn caught a touchdown pass with just over a minute remaining and was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct when he directed a salute toward the crowd. The penalty was assessed on the extra point and the Wildcats failed to convert from the 17-yard line on the two-point try to tie the score.
That game also is remembered for the blizzard conditions that hit the northeast that week.
“It was filled with snow, so it’s a little different than here,” Snyder said of playing in the Arizona desert.
REMEMBER THE ALAMO
K-State and UCLA meet in a bowl game for the second time. The Bruins posted a 40-35 victory in the 2015 Alamo Bowl in San Antonio (after the 2014 regular season).
“They’ve been the same team since 2014,” Bruins senior center Scott Quessenberry said of the Wildcats, “but I haven’t watched that tape a lot because personnel changes and our offense is completely different from then with our third different offensive coordinator.”
Something can be learned from the past, according to UCLA linebacker Kenny Young.
“I have looked at that game because I think it’s always important that you study the history of anything, whether it’s the institution, the people,” Young said. “You have to look at the history of what they have done. I have studied it, but I’ve primarily focused on the team they are this year.”
UCLA is 2-1 all-time against K-State, splitting a regular-season home-and-home series in 2009 (Bruins 23-9) and 2010 (Wildcats 31-22).
UCLA won its final game of the regular season to become bowl eligible with a 6-6 record, while K-State won four of its last five to make its eighth straight postseason appearance with a 7-5 record.
“Each of the last two years we have finished extremely well in the latter half of the season,” Snyder said. “As the players will tell you, we put a great deal of emphasis on being able to finish and finish well: Finishing a play well, finishing a day well, finishing a practice well, finishing a week well, finishing a ballgame well and certainly finishing a season well.
“I just need to put more emphasis on getting started. Part of the dialogue right now is we need to be able to start this ballgame well and if we play consistently and then finish well, we’ll have our marbles together. I was proud of them for being able to come back when things had not gone well.”