Who: Fresno State (1-1) v. UCLA (0-2)
Where: Rose Bowl, capacity 90,888
When: Saturday, Sept. 15, 7:30pm
How to Watch: Game will be available on Fox Sports 1
After the crushing loss last Saturday to Minnesota, the Dogs continue their road trip with a familiar foe, the UCLA Bruins. With the beginning of Chip Kelly’s tenure in Westwood not going according to plan, can the Bulldogs bounce back and get a P5 win before the bye week?
Fresno State and UCLA have met 8 times in their history, with UCLA holding a 6-2 advantage. What is interesting though is that Fresno State has won the last two in the series, the 2003 Silicon Valley Bowl 17-9, and a 2008 regular season game the Dogs won 36-31. Can they make it three in a row Saturday?
To say things haven’t gone smoothly in Year 1 of the Chip Kelly Experience is charitable. All neutral observers knew that it would take some time to get adjusted to Chip’s system, but they also didn’t expect the starting QB to get hurt in the first half of the first game, and to have 6 players suspended. UCLA dropped their season opener to Cincinnati 26-17, then they got blown out by Oklahoma 49-21 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicates. Now they return home to try to get in the win column against Fresno State.
UCLA started the year with Michigan transfer Wilton Speight under center, but he suffered a back injury early in the loss to Cincinnati, forcing true freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson into action. The highly touted recruit was deemed perfect for Chip’s system, but I’m sure they saw more development time before he’d be pressed into service. He’s performed decently so far, but he’s only faced middling defenses so far. He’s gone 31 for 51 on the season, good for 60% and 371yds. Also pairs with 1TD and 0INTs, so quite different from the high-flying offense we’re used to seeing from Chip Kelly.
The one name that everyone in the Valley will be keeping track of is Kazmeir Allen. The Tulare native committed to the Bruins over the Bulldogs back on Signing Day, and instantly made his presence known. He’s already UCLA’s leading rusher, notching 145yds on 15 carries, almost 10yds/rush. The state 100m track champion will look to get to the outside and run past Fresno State’s defenders. The other Valley native looking to make a mark is RB Bolu Olorunfunmi. He’s a Clovis North alum, and is known more as the bruising back in the Bruins’ offense. Look for both back to work as a tandem against their local team and fans.
The passing game hasn’t exactly lit up the scoreboard so far, but TE Caleb Wilson has definitely been a bright spot. He’s only brought in 8 passes, but at 16yds/catch, he’s a threat that the Fresno State secondary will need to be aware of. Since the Bulldog defense has been elite so far against the run, but just middling against the pass, expect them to try to shut down the passing game early, and force UCLA to be one-dimensional.
Fresno State Preview:
After such a tough loss, it’s normal to try to examine what went wrong, and how the team can fix it in the next game. Watching the game film over again, the first thing that jumps out is how little success the Dogs found on the ground. Minnesota stacked the box, and dared them to run at them. They tried to find weak spots, but kept getting swallowed up, which meant that the 3RBs combined for a scant 3.6yds/carry. They’ll definitely need to improve those numbers this week, and it looks like they have a good chance against a battered UCLA defense. They’ve given up almost 400yds through two games, and gave up over 5yds/carry to Oklahoma’s offense last week.
Where the Bulldogs will really need to improve is in the deep passing game. They’ve proven through two games that they can be very good, and very accurate with the short passing game, with Marcus McMaryion over 70% completions through two games. Now they need to take some more shots downfield to really get Jamire Jordan and Keesean Johnson into the endzone. Jordan so far only has 4 receptions, after being the 3rd leading receiver for the Dogs last year. Last season, he averaged 20yds/reception, and is sitting at only 5.3 this year. Look for Marcus and Jamire to really probe the UCLA secondary for openings and chances to hit the home run pass.
On the injury front, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that Michiah Quick and Jaron Bryant should be back in action after getting dinged up in the Minnesota game. Both are integral to this team, and will hopefully stay healthy the rest of the way. The bad news is the loss of Netane Muti. The elite O-lineman ruptured his Achilles, and had surgery on Tuesday. This is the second season that Muti has lost to an Achilles injury, although hopefully he’ll get a medical redshirt to grant an extra year. This has shuffled the O-Line around, moving Christian Cronk over to left tackle, and inserting JuCo player Nick Abbs into the left guard spot. This is good for Cronk, since he was at left tackle all of last season. And hopefully they’ll be able to open up a few more holes for the RBs to get that chunk yardage that they’re known for.
One cool story to follow with be Markus Boyer at right tackle. The senior is actually a former UCLA player, and came to join the team last fall. This will be his first meeting with his former team, and I’m sure that he’ll be trying hard to make an impression.
This game is kind of a tough one to predict. Will Fresno State still be on an emotional hangover from last week? Will UCLA finally start to adjust to Chip’s system? Will the Bulldog faithful turn the Rose Bowl red again? This will definitely be the best defense that UCLA has faced so far, but there is definitely a pure talent advantage for the Bruins over the Bulldogs. We’ve seen the Bulldogs take the last 2 from the Bruins, and I think they’ll make it 3 after tomorrow. There’s just too many holes for Chip Kelly to fill before his team starts being a real threat. The Dogs will probably take this one in a tight game, unless the defense can force a couple of scores like they did in Week 1