If this is the end of the Bill Snyder era (Part II) at Kansas State, at least the ol’ Wizard went out in memorable fashion.
The Wildcats (8-5) used a wild two-minute stretch in the third quarter to power a second half comeback at the Cactus Bowl on Tuesday to beat UCLA 35-17 and complete a flourishing kick to the 2017 season under the team’s venerable head coach.
Snyder, who is one of the best in the business in terms of making adjustments at halftime, proved his coaching acumen is still pretty sharp against a Bruins squad (6-7) that was banged up, without starting quarterback Josh Rosen and operating under an interim coaching staff. KSU took their first drive of the second half 74 yards to the end zone and included a fourth-and-inches run right at the goal line to cap it off. Safety Denzel Goolsby forced a fumble out of the hands of Bolo Olorunfunmi on UCLA very next offensive snap, setting his offense back up just outside the red zone.
They converted that into a touchdown and were off to the races for a bit of postseason revenge against the Bruins for a somewhat controversial Alamo Bowl three years ago — twisting the knife a bit with a 15-play, 98 yard drive to ice the game in the final frame.
Skylar Thompson started at quarterback but proved to be ineffective and eventually gave way to Alex Delton, who immediately took off running 68 yards for a touchdown on his first touch. The latter finished the game with 158 yards and three scores on the ground while adding another 52 through the air as the spark that seemed to get the Wildcats going and help really open things up.
Running back Alex Barnes chipped in with 117 yards and a touchdown, doing most of his damage after Delton took over signal-caller duties. Fullback Winston Dimel, who could be playing his final game with the team with his father taking the UTEP head coaching job, didn’t go out on quite the high note he would have wanted statistically and appeared to aggravate an existing shoulder injury in the third quarter as well.
Though new coach Chip Kelly was looking on from a suite, his new UCLA team didn’t exactly prove themselves to be up to the moment after looking pretty solid in the first half. Devon Modster, starting under center in place of Rosen, flashed early in throwing a pair of 50+ yard touchdowns during the second quarter but trailed off after that. He finished the game with 257 yards and added another 19 with his legs for what was still a pretty solid audition for the new staff.
It was nearly enough to stop one of the best teams in the country during the second half of the 2017 season, as Kansas State closed strong with wins in five of their last six to finish a very trying campaign on a high note. While the emotion of the effort from Chase Field in Phoenix was nice to celebrate for Wildcats fans, their attention will likely now be wondering about their head coach.
Snyder has said no decision has been made as to his plans in 2018 with the team but if Tuesday night was it for his career in the Little Apple, it was a heck of a way to go out for the man nicknamed The Wizard. And if it isn’t the end, it will make for a fine way to run into the offseason after running right over UCLA out in the desert.