UCLA’s Paul Perkins saw the ball bouncing toward him, and the Kansas State kickoff team in pursuit. One thought ran through his mind.
“This is going to hurt,” Perkins said.
Perkins snagged the onside kick and was planted onto the Alamodome turf. When the referees untangled the mass of bodies — with help from UCLA linebacker Myles Jack — UCLA’s 40-35 Alamo Bowl victory over Kansas State was finally secured Friday.
It was fitting that Perkins was there for that moment. He had been there for the Bruins throughout in a game in which they thrived, then labored, then won.
“It was a dog pile and it was not a safe place to be,” said Jack, who hurled Kansas State players aside to get to Perkins. “Perk was on the bottom there, and Lord knows what’s going on underneath. I was trying to help him out.”
Jack, and the Bruins, are going to need him in the future.
In quarterback Brett Hundley’s final dance after three seasons of setting records in Westwood, this turned into Perkins’ spotlight moment.
Perkins rolled up a career-high 194 yards and two touchdowns. None were more important than the 67-yard dash with 2 minutes 20 seconds left that gave the Bruins a 40-28 lead.
With Hundley leaving for the NFL, the Bruins are going to need more performances like that next season. UCLA returns 18 of 22 starters, including Perkins — a sophomore — and the entire offensive line.
But the Bruins will breaking in a new quarterback.
Having Perkins there “takes the pressure off the quarterback and having him have to try to make every play,” offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said. “Brett did a nice job managing the running game tonight. That’s what the next guy can do.”
The Bruins ran for 331 yards, 96 by Hundley. They very nearly ran away with the game.
This goes in the books as a victory, leaving the No. 14 Bruins with their second consecutive 10-3 season., But this was also UCLA’s season rolled into one game. So much promise. So much struggle.
After a plethora of wild finishes in bowl games this season, this one didn’t seem headed in that direction, as the Bruins bolted to a 31-6 halftime lead. All their polished pieces were in motion.
By the end of the first quarter, Hundley had completed nine of 11 passes for 85 yards. He had touchdown runs of 10 and 28 yards. By halftime, the defense had smothered Kansas State’s offense, holding the No. 11 Wildcats (9-4) to 87 total yards.
UCLA averaged 1.8 sacks during the regular season. The Bruins had four in the first half and finished with a season-high seven.
“We’ve been watching a lot of crazy bowl games,” Kansas State receiver Tyler Lockett said. “We watched Baylor go up by 20 against Michigan State and all of a sudden Michigan State came back [to win]. We heard about Houston, down 30 points in the fourth quarter, coming back and beating Pittsburgh. We understood at halftime we still had a chance.”
The Wildcats got some traction. The Bruins started slipping.
Hundley completed only three of 13 passes after the first quarter. Perkins had a fumble that led to a Kansas State touchdown. The defense had trouble locating Lockett, who had 13 receptions for 164 yards and two touchdowns.
And there were penalties. The Bruins had 15 of them for 128 yards, an Alamo Bowl record. Two extended a Kansas State touchdown drive in the fourth quarter that cut UCLA’s lead to 34-28 with five minutes left.
UCLA Coach Jim Mora credited the Bruins for being “resilient” and was cross when asked about a big lead that nearly slipped away.
“When you’re playing the 11th-ranked team in the nation, if they don’t fight back, they don’t deserve to be 11th,” Mora said. “Anyone that has a question about us closing out a game, walk right onto the field and look up at the scoreboard and tell me who won the game.”
Perkins did, in the end.
With UCLA leading by six, Perkins took a handoff on a second-and-13 play and was off and running.
“The offensive line has been doing that all year,” Perkins said. “Anybody could have ran through that hole.”
It gave Perkins, who led the Pac-12 Conference in rushing, 1,575 yards, the second-most in a season by a UCLA running back.
“Paul has always been, to me, the best back in the country,” Hundley said.
Follow Chris Foster on Twitter @cfosterlatimes