Kansas State runs over UCLA, 31-22

Reporting from Manhattan, Kan. — On the bill Saturday was the premiere of UCLA’s “pistol” offense.

The plot line, however, turned out to be how many times the Bruins could shoot themselves in the foot during a 31-22 loss to Kansas State.

There were mind-cramp penalties, too many men on the field and a personal foul, which led to touchdowns.

There were players dropping the ball, literally, on passes and one key fumble that might have kept points off the scoreboard.

But mostly, there was a defense that Kansas State’s Daniel Thomas ran through, over and around.

All of which left Wildcats fans chanting “Hail Bill,” to Coach Bill Snyder, while the Bruins lumbered out of Bill Snyder Stadium and headed off down Bill Snyder Highway wondering what-in-the-name-of-Bill-Snyder just happened.

“It’s no excuse,” UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel said, “but we’ve got to tackle better.”

“We had, and this is no excuse, seven new starters on defense,” defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough said.

“We’ve got to get back to fundamentals,” cornerback Aaron Hester said. “There are no excuses.”

The Bruins nearly avoided having to look for non-excuses.

A two-play drive ended in a 29-yard touchdown pass from Kevin Prince to Ricky Marvray, pulling UCLA to within 24-22 with 44 seconds left. But Prince’s pass to Taylor Embree on the two-point conversion was tipped away.

Kansas State recovered the onside kick and Thomas barreled through the Bruins one last time for a 35-yard touchdown run to finish with 234 yards rushing.

It was the most against UCLA since USC’s Reggie Bush went for 260 in 2005. Kansas State had 313 yards on the ground, the most against UCLA since Oregon ran for 323 in 2008.

Neuheisel placed the blame on two weeks without live tackling during practice. But Bullough also cited a lack of “gap responsibility,” a lesson, he said, the Bruins have been through “1,000 times before.”

Free safety Rahim Moore was ready to move forward, saying, “This was just our first game. It was a chance to see where we are. It’s behind us now. We got work to do. It’s over. We’re human beings. We’re not perfect.”

There was evidence to back that up.

UCLA stopped Thomas one yard short of the goal line on a fourth-down play but was penalized for having 12 players on the field. Thomas scored for a 7-0 lead five minutes into the game.

“I was trying to call timeout, but where I was standing, they couldn’t see me,” Neuheisel said.

Linebacker Akeem Ayers had his own vision problem. He gave a post-play shove to Thomas, who was out of bounds. That added 15 yards to a 27-yard run and led to Carson Coffman’s five-yard touchdown pass to Broderick Smith for a 24-16 lead with 4:45 left.

“It looked like he was still in bounds,” Ayers said. Neuheisel said, “It was not a very smart play.”

Add to those damaging penalties numerous dropped passes and Prince’s fumble at the Kansas State 41 early in the fourth quarter. All of which can be chalked up to first-game-moments.

The deeper concern seemed to be the defense.

The Bruins held Thomas to 54 yards in a 23-9 victory last season. But Saturday there were six first-time starters in a front seven that was anything but magnificent.

Bullough suggested fatigue, as Kansas State had only 105 total yards at halftime. Ayers called it a lack of discipline. Neuheisel laid it out simply.

“That is not UCLA football,” he said. “That’s not how we play and it’s not how we can play if we expect to have any kind of success this year.”

The trouble started after halftime. Kansas State was buried, facing a first-and-20 at its own 10. The Bruins provided the shovel. Thomas got loose on 44-yard run on third down. William Powell went on a 28-yard stroll for a touchdown on the next play, running through three would-be tacklers.

“That was a punch in the mouth,” Neuheisel said. “I don’t know if our defense ever came back from that.”