Opportunity Awaits K-State
Tonight, at 5:45 p.m., in the Alamodome, No. 11 Kansas State (9-3, 7-2 Big 12) and No. 14 UCLA (9-3, 6-3 Pac-12) will square off in one of this year's most exciting bowl games - the 22nd Valero Alamo Bowl.
K-State fans have truly packed San Antonio with purple and, with 25,000-plus Wildcat fans anticipated to attend tonight's game, the Purple Power is expected to take over the Alamodome.
"Our fans are great. I expect them to be out in full force, loud, because that's what they've done every single game, no matter how we're playing," said quarterback Jake Waters. "They came out to every game, they packed Bill Snyder Family Stadium, and I expect them to come out because we have some of the most loyal fans in the country. I really expect them to be out there just like a normal home game for us."
Tonight, the Wildcats' final competition of this exciting 2014 season, will mark the final time this year's senior class will step on the field.
It will be the closing game for Tyler Lockett's historic career. No records left to top, regardless of his performance tonight, Lockett will go down in history at the Wildcats' leading receiver in yards (3,546), receptions (236) and touchdowns (27).
"I think he's a tremendous player," said UCLA head coach Jim Mora about Lockett yesterday morning. "He knows how to read coverage and get himself open. You add in his return ability as a punt returner, and this is a dangerous young man. In my opinion, he's the best receiver we've played all year. He's going to be a great challenge for us."
It will be the final time for numerous former walk-ons - including captains B.J. Finney, Ryan Mueller and Jonathan Truman - to put on their K-State jerseys and take the field before their passionate purple fans. After five years of grinding it out every day, earning their way into scholarships and, eventually, team captains, they'll put it all on the line one final time tonight.
"To be able to play a great team such as UCLA, a team who a lot of people thought were a playoff team and who could have easily went to the playoffs had things gone their way, I think that for us to be able to go out there and win, and give everything that we can, that's something we all want," said Lockett.
Like Lockett said, UCLA is a talented team. In order to find success on the field tonight, the Wildcats will have to bring their 'A' game as the task ahead is no easy one.
UCLA enters the matchup led by quarterback Brett Hundley and 2014 Butkus award winner, linebacker Eric Kendricks.
Hundley has thrown for 3,019 yards and scored 21 touchdowns this season and, in terms of accuracy, he has completed a nation-leading 70.4 percent of his 368 passes and has thrown only five interceptions.
"There's always talk about how well he throws the ball, how well he runs with the ball," said K-State head coach Bill Snyder, "and I think he manages the offense extremely well, which is vital for a quality young quarterback. He's got good eyes and plays the game with them quite well. He's a very talented young guy."
But it's not just the Bruin aerial threat the Wildcats have prepared for, this UCLA team can run the ball, too.
While Hundley has racked up 548 rushing yards and eight touchdowns this year, UCLA is led by running back Paul Perkins, who has accounted for 1,381 yards this season - an average of 115 rushing yards per game.
Defensively, UCLA boasts one of the nation's toughest linebackers. In 2014, Kendricks recorded 139 tackles, including 8.5 for loss, and grabbed three interceptions, a feat that earned him the award given to the nation's leading linebacker.
However, on the flipside, the Bruins will have their hands full as well. The UCLA defense will have to put up with the one-two punch of Lockett and Curry Sexton. Sexton is just 45 yards short of hitting 1,000 receiving yards this year, which would make the duo the only two wide receivers in K-State history to both record 1,000 yards in a single season.
And while Hundley's accuracy is top-notch, so is Waters'. He has amassed an efficiency rating of 157.8 this season, which tops the Big 12 and is second-best in school history to only Michael Bishop (1998).
Waters has thrown for a total of 3,163 yards and is just 190 yards shy of Josh Freeman's single-season record set in 2007. With the accuracy of Waters' passes and the talented catches of Lockett and Sexton, this trio has proven a force to be reckoned with.
"It's been a blast. This season has been the most fun I've ever had playing football," said Sexton about competing along side Waters and Lockett. "It's been a month since we played, and I'm missing that feeling of being out there under the lights. This season has been a blast overall, and that's not just with Jake and Lockett, but with all the guys."
Defensively, K-State is led by Truman and Mueller. Both earning All-Big 12 honors this year, Truman finished Big 12 play ranked third overall with 114 total tackles, while Mueller was among the Big 12's best with 5.5 sacks.
Both former walk-ons and Kansas natives, Truman and Mueller's journey through K-State football has been truly special.
Yesterday afternoon at the K-State Pep Rally where an estimated 10,000 fans gathered at San Antonio's Freeman Coliseum to wish the Wildcats good luck one last time before the game, Truman had the opportunity to share a few thoughts with the fans.
"I just want to say it's an honor for me to stand here with my teammates, my brothers, in front of the best fans in the nation," said Truman before the event came to a close. "Coach Snyder tells us all the time to surround ourselves with people who genuinely care, and when you look around, I can see that everywhere. You guys are the best."
The best fans in the nation, K-Staters have traveled far and wide for tonight's game and the excitement level is high.
And come 5:45 p.m., all eyes will be on the field the as this year's Wildcat squad competes together one final time.
K-State fans cheer for Tyler Lockett during a pep rally at the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio, Texas on January 1, 2015. (Scott D. Weaver/K-State Athletics)
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