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UCLA vs. Kansas State Cactus Bowl Defensive Preview: Wildcats’ Strength is in the Secondary

While the Wildcat defense isn’t the most athletic, they are fundamentally sound and should not be taken lightly.

NCAA Football: West Virginia at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

I think we can all agree that while 2017 wasn’t exactly a standout year for the UCLA Bruins, the production on offense was much improved. Defense took a turn for the worse, but that’s another article for another day. Right now, Rosen and Company are focused on getting their last win of the season, and they’ll be facing the 97th ranked defense in the country. While the Kansas State Wildcats are still better than the worst Pac 12 team (we won’t mention who that is...), I truly believe the Bruin offense is what will make all the difference in this game. Let’s take a closer look at the defensive units.

Defensive Line

K-State employs a 4-3 defense up front, and they average two sacks per game with 24 on the season, which is about a half sack more than UCLA gets per game. I was pretty surprised we were so close in this category, considering sacks were not our strong suit at all this year. Jordan Willis was a huge loss for this unit in 2017, as he was names the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and has since taken his talents to the Cincinnati Bengals. Now, the Wildcats have two sophomores and two seniors up front, with defensive end Reggie Walker bringing a lot of talent to the line as well as Will Geary. Geary isn’t huge, but he’ll make you earn every yard if you want to get past him. This entire front won’t be nearly as big as our offensive line, but I always worry about our line’s ability to keep Rosen from scrambling and offering him enough time to set his feet and make good plays.


The K State linebacking corps is stacked with experience, but again, relies more on knowing the fundamentals and grit rather than raw talent. Senior Trent Tanking is the epitome of this, playing since November 27 with a broken hand he suffered in the second half of their win against Oklahoma State. He still had nine tackled in that game, and didn’t want to leave the field until a trainer diagnosed his injury. He started at K State as a walk-on and has since taken on a huge role in this defense. Senior Jayd Kirby and Elijah Sullivan are next on the depth chart, who both have the speed that Tanking may lack and can cover in both man and zone situations.


While the Front seven aren’t the most talented, the bread and butter of this defense is in the secondary. Our receivers are going to have to run perfect routes and turn on the jets to get past these guys. Junior cornerbacks D.J Reed and Duke Shelley are an exciting duo, but Reed was sidelined with an injury the last two games of the season. Before that, he had four interceptions and two special teams touchdowns, one on a punt return and another on a kick return. He is second in the Big 12 in passes defended per game and interceptions, so he’ll be a big loss if the Wildcats don’t get him back for this game. Safeties Denzel Goolsby and Kendall Adams round out this group and guard the backfield.


At the end of the day, we got this. If you’re looking at our offense vs. K-State’s defense, I just don’t think they have the talent to contain Rosen. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t think we should ever take a team’s shortcomings for granted, especially with this much time off. While their defense is better than ours on paper (and not even that much), Fisch will out coach Bill Snyder and have yet another opportunity for an extremely awkward handshake between Kansas State and UCLA.

Go Bruins!