PHOENIX — The Kansas State defense was adept at creating turnovers this season. The Wildcats managed only one takeaway in the Cactus Bowl against UCLA, but it was a game-changing play.
K-State scored a touchdown on its first possession of the third quarter, and on the first play of UCLA’s next series Wildcat safety Denzel Goolsby stripped the ball from Bruin running back Bo Olorunfunmi and had a fumble recovery on the UCLA 24.
Four plays later, K-State scored again to take the lead and pull away to a 35-17 victory in the Cactus Bowl on Tuesday at Chase Field.
“It’s quite possible that was the biggest play in the ballgame,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said, “depending on how the offense responded, and they responded the right way.”
The Wildcat defense was swarming Olorunfunmi and Goolsby came into the middle of the scrum to swipe the ball.
“I know he runs hard and luckily he was already wrapped up by a few of our guys,” said Goolsby, who had five tackles and was voted the game’s defensive MVP.
“We have a lot of guys flying around and a lot of guys getting to the football at the same time, so they made my job easy just coming in there and trying to strip the ball and give our offense the ball in the red zone.”
The Wildcats converted the turnover into an 8-yard touchdown pass from Alex Delton to Dominique Heath to go up 21-17.
“That was huge,” K-State running back Alex Barnes said. “It was the first play after we had just scored our first touchdown of the second half. He set us up in great field position so it was huge for him to do that.”
The Wildcat defense came up with a fourth-down stop on the next series – surviving a UCLA fake punt earlier that kept the drive alive – and the offense put two more touchdowns on the board to pull away.
“We drop a third-down ball that would have been a first-and-10 on the 30,” UCLA interim coach Jedd Fisch said of the Bruins’ opening drive of the second half. “We don’t make it, they score and then we wind up fumbling the ball.
“We had some self-inflicting wounds and at the end they kind of wore us down a little bit.”
UCLA led 17-7 at halftime with touchdown passes of 52 and 70 yards by freshman quarterback Devon Modster, who played in place of the injured Josh Rosen. The Bruins produced 264 total yards and 10 first downs in the first half, but in the second half the Wildcat defense limited them to 100 yards and four first downs.
“I think in the first half we were a little sloppy with our play, maybe rusty after not playing for a month,” Goolsby said. “During halftime we tightened it up a little bit. The defense came together and we knew the little things we had to correct. We came out a little bit more fired up in the second half.”