That was definitely the bounceback game that the Bulldogs needed. After the heartbreak loss to Minnesota in Week 2, Fresno State continued their road trip with a game at the vaunted Rose Bowl against Chip Kelly and his very young Bruins. It was 10 years since these two programs played each other, and the veteran Bulldogs were able to again secure a win in the Rose Bowl 38-14, moving them back into the win column at 2-1.
It does appear that the coaching staff learned their lesson from last week, as this game featured a lightning quick start from Marcus McMaryion and company. They got the ball first, and drove it straight down the field to the 1yd line. Marcus would run a great fake hand-off, and scamper into the endzone to put the Dogs on top early. Asa Fuller missed the PAT, his second miss of the season, but we were out in front.
The Bulldog defense again came to play, and were able to quickly force a UCLA punt. The UCLA offense is extremely young, which is part of Chip Kelly’s plan there. They will get better, but they looked completely out of sorts against this veteran Fresno State defense. Jeff Allison continued being absolutely everywhere on the field, and the secondary rebounded from last week’s missed assignments to only have one blown coverage. This defense is looking every part as good as last year’s elite unit, which should scare the rest of the Mountain West.
After forcing the punt, the Bulldog offense again looked in solid control moving the ball down the field, including a brilliant pass to Jared Rice. Seeing how the new coaching staff has been able to utilize tight end play is a great change from the former staff, who treated them as if they didn’t exist. Three TEs logged receptions today, and two even scored. That creates so many more options, especially with the myriad receiving options already on the team.
Driving all the down to the red zone, Marcus hit Kyle Riddering on a brilliant slip route for a 10yd touchdown pass, and the Dogs were up 13-0 less than halfway through Q1. Definitely looked like the offensive issues of Week 2 were a thing of the past, and the Dogs were prepping to cruise to an easy win.
The next drive for UCLA started to show some sparks of life, including a few strong passes from Dorian Thompson-Robinson. But, it was rather short lived, as a botched snap gave Fresno State the ball back deep in UCLA territory, and gave Patrick Belony a good fumble recovery for the reserve D-lineman. The Bulldog offense would stall out in the red zone, but were able to add a FG from Asa Fuller, putting the Dogs up 16-0 at the start of the 2nd quarter. It was here though where the coaching staff made the same mistake as last week, and put the offense into a shell for the rest of the half, which let UCLA get a couple of extra possessions through mistakes and slow offense.
Things didn’t go exactly swimmingly on the next drive for the Bulldogs, as Marcus gave up a strip sack to star defender Keisean Lucien-South giving the Bruins the ball at the 45. This would lead to the 1st UCLA score of the game, as DTR hit Theo Howard on a brilliant strike into some busted coverage to put the game to 16-7. All of a sudden we had a bit more of a game with the UCLA offense finding some rhythm, and the Fresno State offense sputtering. Both teams would trade punts though until we hit the half, with the Dogs still maintaining a 9 point advantage, and a big advantage in yardage and time of possession.
The second half could not have gone any worse for the Bulldogs if they tried. After forcing a punt on UCLA’s first possession, Keesean Johnson fumbled the punt, giving the Bruins the ball already in the red zone. They would quickly rush into the endzone, and all of a sudden we were looking at a 16-14 game. All Bulldog fans were starting to have flashbacks to decades of games where the Dogs let a win slip away, but this veteran squad had other ideas. This really shows the difference between the Jeff Tedford Bulldogs, and the teams that came before. Older teams would have folded and kept making mistakes to let a game slip away, but these guys are resilient, and trusting in their training and coaching.
After trading punts again, the offense started to wake back up, and get Keesean Johnson involved in a big way. 3 receptions for 51 yards moved the Dogs down the field, aided by a UCLA penalty to get the Dogs into the endzone. The biggest issue though was Marcus McMaryion’s back. On a run, he was clotheslined by a UCLA defender, an came up gripping his back. Trainers worked on his back, and he was able to stay in for the rest of the game, but couldn’t quite get the same zip on the ball that he had earlier. Hopefully just a strained muscle, and nothing more serious moving forward.
A Jordan Mims 7yd run put the Dogs at the 1, and then it was Marcus again diving into the endzone. No need for passing TDs if you’re going to be able to rush for them. So far the Dogs have scored 79, 14, and 38 in 3 games, and only have 3 passing TDs. Apparently we’re an option team now, as the coaches would much rather pound the ball into the endzone than go with the dozens of options at WR.
After Marcus’ second rushing TD of the night, the Dogs decided to go for 2 to get back to a normal number, and we saw a rather interesting play from them. Backup Jorge Reyna actually came in, and the offense set up in a very strange set. Jorge and the center were lined up together, and both sets of receivers and the rest of the O-line were spread outside the hashes. Hokit came in motion as a decoy, and Jorge tossed the ball to Gunner Javernick on a tunnel screen for the two-point conversion. Definitely an odd play, but it works, so who am I to judge?
At this point, the wheels really started to come off for UCLA. A brilliant interception by Jeff Allison got the ball back for Fresno State already in UCLA territory. They would not waste time, as McMaryion hit Jordan Mims on a 45 yard swing pass to get down to the 4yd line, giving them just two more rushes into Marcus dove into the endzone for his 3rd rushing TD of the night. For a guy with an injured back, he was playing absolutely brilliantly. That veteran leadership and never quit persona has been exactly what these Bulldogs needed during the Tedford transition, and will really help the younger QBs on the roster learn how to be Bulldogs.
The next UCLA drive ended the exact same way the last one did, with the ball in Jeff Allison’s hands. Somehow this guy is absolutely everywhere, grabbing two INTs to go with all of his tackles during the game. We all want him to stay for his senior season, but if he keeps up this pace, there’s a really high chance that the NFL comes calling. The Fresno State offense started with a strong pass to Jamire Jordan for 38yds, as Darnay Holmes got picked on all night by the Bulldogs. The UCLA defender was a weak link for them all night, as FS receivers went over him for big gains with almost no defense offered by Holmes. I’m sure UCLA will be looking at other options as the season goes on.
Marcus McMaryion ended up rushing for his 4th TD of the night, giving him 5 total on the night. Fantastic night for the senior signal-caller, and definitely showed that his back couldn’t have been bothering him too much down the stretch. Hopefully just a small tweak, and it loosened up as the game went on. Would have liked to see more passing TDs, but if you don’t have to pass to get in the endzone, don’t. Lot less chance of a mistake if you’re rushing it in than putting the ball in the air.
After going up 38-14 and pouring on 22 unanswered points, both teams were willing to just let the clock wind down, and the Dogs emerged victorious for the 3rd straight time over UCLA, and their 2nd time in the Rose Bowl. This also marks their first P5 win since 2012, and their first road OOC win since 2009. Both streaks showed the problems the Dogs have faced over the last few years, and the changes that Tedford has been able to get in the program.
Fresno State(2-1) now heads onto their bye week before facing a home date against Toledo on September 29th. It’s a bit odd having the bye week this early in the year, but it should give them a chance to rest up before hitting conference play. First conference game will be at Nevada, who just beat Oregon State to also move to 2-1.
UCLA (0-3) also hit a bye week before traveling to Colorado for a Friday night PAC-12 showdown. It looks like it will be a very rough season for Chip Kelly in Year 1, with maybe 2 potential wins left on the schedule unless the young team can really gel on the bye week.