Coming in to Saturday's game, the UCLA Bruins knew that Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas was a threat. The 6-foot-2, 228-pound back was the Big 12's leading rusher in 2009 after all. The fact that the Wildcat offense would rely on putting the ball in his hands was perhaps the worst-kept secret in Bill Snyder Family Stadium. What the Bruins may not have expected, however, was the additional impact that Thomas' backup, William Powell would provide. Together, Thomas and Powell combined for 306 yards and three touchdowns to help push the Wildcats to a 31-22 victory.
"In years passed," K-State quarterback Carson Coffman said, "I don't think we would have stepped up to the challenge like we did today."
As was the case for most of 2009, Thomas served as the Wildcats' workhorse. The senior back carried 28 times against UCLA and tallied a career-high 234 yards and a pair of scores. "(Thomas) plays so hard," coach Bill Snyder said. "Second, third, fourth effort -- that's just his way."
Though he seemed to touch the ball nearly as often as quarterback Carson Coffman, Thomas said he was no worse for wear after the game. "I though I had less (than 28)," Thomas said. "I think I can take a few more."
Proof of Thomas' durability could be seen in this final carry of the day, on which he burst through the line and sped 35 yards for a Wildcat touchdown. How durable is Thomas? "Daniel," Powell said, "he's like Superman. He's so durable, it's like nothing can stop him."
When K-State's man of steel needed a breather, Powell stepped up in reserve. The senior toted his first carry of the day for six yards after a delayed handoff. His second did not come until the Wildcat's first possession of the second half, but the 5-foot-9 Powell made it count. One play after Thomas gained 44 yards up the right sideline, Powell shrugged off defenders on his way to a 28-yard touchdown. Powell's score gave the Wildcats a 14-10 lead just two minutes into the third quarter. They would lead for the rest of the game.
"We're very confident in our run game," Powell said. "We get better every day at it and we work very hard."
The Thomas-Powell duo combined to not only put up whopping rushing totals, but also to leave the Bruins shaking their heads. "They had us on the ropes and it was a great one-two punch," UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said. "I looked up at the scoreboard walking off the field and I think that they had over 300 yards rushing. That's not UCLA football."
The Bruins had a chance to tie the game late when UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince hooked up with Ricky Marvray for a 29-yard score. The Bruin scoring drive went for 64 yards in just two plays, but UCLA was unable to convert the two-point conversion that would have tied the contest at 24.
The Wildcat defense operated in an up-and-down manner, showing the capability to get to the quarterback and to provide tight coverage downfield, but also allowing big plays like the Bruins' final score. Snyder said that the defense had improvements to make, but that he did see some things he enjoyed. "I liked the way that the defense responded to adverse situations," Snyder said. "There's some character there."
Defensive end Brandon Harold, returning to the field after missing nearly all of the 2009 season due to injury, did his best to remind fans of the impact he had as a freshman in 2008. Harold tallied five tackles and a sack in his first start since 2008. Harold caused havoc for much of the game, but his largest impact came in the fourth quarter when he forced a Prince fumble, which his bookend Antonio Felder recovered.
The Wildcats grabbed an early 7-0 lead thanks to a series focused largely on getting the ball in the hands of No. 8. The reigning Big 12 rushing leader touched the football on eight of 12 plays as K-State pushed the football 80 yards downfield. Kansas State's drive stalled on fourth-and-one, when the Bruin defense stuffed Thomas for no gain, but the Wildcats were given a second chance thanks to a UCLA illegal participation penalty. Thomas took an option pitch in for a one-yard touchdown on the next play.
As steady as the Wildcat offense looked on its opening drive, it met its share of challenges as the game moved forward. Thomas coughed up the football in K-State territory on the second play of drive number two. Though the Wildcat defense was able to blanket that mistake and keep the Bruins off the scoreboard, they were not as lucky two drives later. After UCLA recovered a fail snap exchange between center Wade Weibert and Coffman, Prince strolled into the end zone from 11 yards out, thanks to a play-fake that seemed to fool all in Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
Coffman opened the contest by completing each of his first four passes, but hit hard times soon afterward. In all, Coffman completed 11-of-16 tosses, but passed for just 66 yards and was sacked five times. The senior quarterback did throw for one touchdown, and it was a big one. Coffman connected with receiver Brodrick Smith for a five-yard score with under five minutes left in the game to push the Wildcats' lead to eight, 24-16.
Kansas State returns to the field next Saturday, when Missouri State visits Manhattan.