Cats miss chances to beat UCLA

PASADENA, Calif. -- If it wasn't clear before, it is now. It's tough for a one-weapon offense to be effective at the Division-I level. So while Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas looked as effective as ever in gaining 113 yards of total offense, the Wildcats mustered few points in their 23-9 loss to UCLA on Saturday.
K-State, now 1-2 on the season, was unable to put much of anything together as mistakes both on offense and in the kicking game once again forced head coach Bill Snyder's team to leave a significant number of points on the field.
So while starting quarterback Carson Coffman looked improved at times in his third game as a starter, his progress was not significant enough to secure a win on the road.
Along with his 20 completions for 194 yards, Coffman failed to come up big when needed, failing to convert on a handful of third downs and tossing a pair of interception while struggling to get comfortable in the pocket.
But if the offense was mediocre, for a second straight week, K-State's performance on special teams was downright bad, as a botched hold on an extra point and a missed field goal from Josh Cherry cost the Wildcats' what seemed to be four very important points at the time.
"Once again we failed to take advantage of opportunities that presented themselves," Snyder said. "Carson (Coffman) did some good things tonight, but he made a lot of mistakes as well."
After going into halftime facing a 10-point deficit, the Wildcats, who were just 3-for-13 on third down conversions in the loss, struck first in the third quarter, as they rode Thomas down the field on a drive that resulted in touchdown. The drive, which was topped by a 7-yard run by Thomas, saw the junior tailback account for 61 of the 80 yards the offense covered on the scoring march.
The mistakes that were so common in Saturday's contest didn't stay away for long, though, as a muffed snap on the extra point prohibited K-State from pulling within a field goal and left UCLA holding a 13-9 advantage.
"I knew Bill Snyder would have his team ready and eager," said UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel. "This game scared me as much as any game in my career because of the excitement after the Tennessee win. … It was difficult to focus on the next week."
The kick that could have tied the game came shortly thereafter, as a penalty-aided K-State drive ended in another missed field goal try from Cherry sailed right of the target. The missed attempt was Cherry's fourth of the season.
Almost fittingly, it was a successful fourth-quarter field goal try from 40 yards out off the foot of UCLA kicker Kai Forbath that stretched the UCLA lead back to seven and helped do away with K-State.
Forbath finished the game a perfect 3-for-3 on field goals attempts.
The dagger came just minutes later, however, when Bruin quarterback Kevin Craft found a wide open Terrence Austin on a 51-yard touchdown strike that gave UCLA a commanding 23-9 lead with just more than six minutes to play.
But While K-State was put away in the game's late stages, it wouldn't be hard to argue that the Wildcat's second loss of 2009 took shape in the first two quarters.
Trailing by just one score late in the first half, Joshua Moore picked off a deep pass from Craft, who attempted to go for the home run on third and short. The turnover was an unnecessary one, but as has been the theme so far this season, K-State was unable to make its opponent pay for its mistake, and was forced to punt after running just three plays.
As it turned out, Moore's interception was the last sign of life the visiting team would show for the remainder of the half. The ensuing UCLA possession yielded a field goal that put the Bruins up 13-3. It was a score that held until the halftime whistle.
After allowing the Bruins to find the end zone on their first possession of the game, the Wildcats numbed the blow's impact as big gains in the rushing attack by both Thomas and Coffman fueled a 63-yard drive that yielded a 26-yard field goal from Cherry, his first and only converted attempted of the year.
But the Wildcats' first and only scoring effort in the opening half was not a sign of things to come Coffman and the offense, which were each plagued by sporadic but costly mistakes.
After completing his first three passes of the contest, it didn't take long for Coffman to make his first mistake, throwing an ill-advised ball that was intercepted by UCLA cornerback Alterraun Verner, who had a pair of interceptions on Saturday, at the UCLA 36-yard line. The ensuing Bruins possession yielded the game's first score.
K-State's Brandon Banks caught a team-high six passes for 42 yards while junior wideout Lamark Brown finished the game with four catches for 43 yards.
K-State is set to take on Tennessee Tech, its second FCS opponent of the year, next Saturday in Manhattan.