UCLA's Kenny Clark to go head to head with Kansas State's B.J. Finney

Kenny Clark, UCLA's 'rock' on defense, will be in key matchup with Kansas State center B.J. Finney

SAN ANTONIO — Embedded in the group efforts during the Valero Alamo Bowl on Friday will be a mano-a-mano struggle.

On one side of the line will be UCLA sophomore nose tackle Kenny Clark, the "rock" of the Bruins, according to defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich.

On the other side will be Kansas State senior center B.J. Finney, a former walk-on who quarterback Jake Waters said "puts my mind at ease."

Anyone looking for a flash point should start at the center of the action.

"The closer you are to the football, the better you have to be," said Dana Dimel, Kansas State's co-offensive coordinator. "Everything starts right there. It's going to be fun watching those two go against each other."

The UCLA defense starts with Clark.

"Man, he is underappreciated," linebacker Eric Kendricks said. "He is an absolute monster when you watch the film. He eats up so many blocks. It's an unselfish job. Someone has to do it and he does it better than anyone."

Clark was a high-end recruit his senior year at San Bernardino Carter High, and he wasted little time when he got to UCLA, moving into the starting lineup late in his freshman season.

This year, he is fourth on the team with 57 tackles despite often being double teamed.

"He is one of the best I have been around at any level," Ulbrich said. "He is what we want our defensive players to look like, act like and play like."

Clark relishes helping others run up their tackle statistics.

"I make sure everything has to bounce outside," Clark said. "It gives our defensive backs and linebackers a chance to make plays. I take pride in doing that."

Finney came to Kansas State without a scholarship but has started in 51 consecutive games.

"Knowing he's there makes me not think too hard about whether the blitz is coming," Water said.

Finney was a finalist for the Rimington Award, given to the nation's top center.

"He's very intelligent, which is so critical at that position," Dimel said. "He's the guy who sets the targets."

Whoever wins the Clark-Finney matchup will give their team a critical advantage.

Finney "is not going to overwhelm you with power," Ulbrich said, "but he's crafty. He understands every angle and technique."

Both players say they are ready to be tested.

"We have faced all kinds of good centers this season, but this is a different guy," Clark said. "He's strong. He's stout. He has good feet."

As for Clark, Finney said, "He's a physical guy, highly explosive. It doesn't matter where the ball is at, he just keeps coming at you."

The replacements

It's never too early to delve into a quarterback competition.

UCLA loses Brett Hundley for next season, but sophomore Jerry Neuheisel and freshman Asantii Woulard are expected to return. Bellflower St. John Bosco High's Josh Rosen is expected to enroll at UCLA next week.

UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone sets up the competition, starting with the returners:

"Jerry gets it," he said. "He has had a very good fall. What I like about Jerry is his emotions, his excitability. He wears all of that on his sleeve. It's kind of cool to see that passion."

As for Woulard, Mazzone said, "nobody knows who No. 3 guys are. That doesn't mean they can't be great."

Rosen will be given every chance to win the job during spring practice and fall training camp. Mazzone has never started a first-year freshman at quarterback, but said, "we don't have too complicated of an offense. It's five plays, then call them again, only change the order."

chris.foster@latimes.com

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

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