Who: UCONN Huskies (0-0) @ Fresno State Bulldogs (0-0)
Where: Bulldog Stadium, Fresno, CA (Capacity- 40,727)
When: Saturday, August 28, 11:00AM PDT
How to Watch: Game is broadcast on CBS Sports Network
It’s finally time! The 2021 football season is set to begin with 3 Week 0 games in the Mountain West, the first of which is a rare morning game at Bulldog Stadium against the visiting Huskies of UCONN. Let’s take a look at the keys to the game-
Key Info on UCONN:
After opting out of the 2020 football season, the Huskies look forward to their first game in 21 months. Under 4th year head coach Randy Edsall (on his second stint in Storrs), the Huskies now face an uncertain future after becoming an FBS independent in 2020. They transitioned back into the Big East, but as the conference does not sponsor football, UCONN was left in the wilderness like New Mexico State.
Coach Randy Edsall’s second stay at UCONN has not been as successful as his first, going only 6-30 so far in 3 seasons, with a 2-10 record in 2019. They do return a lot of players from that 2019 team, but it remains to be seen if that will lead to improvements.
The brightest things that UCONN fans can point to is senior running back Kevin Mensah. He turned in back-to-back 1,000yd seasons in 2018 and 2019, and looks to cement himself in the UCONN record books by the end of this season. Look for the Huskies to use him early and often in the game, especially given that Fresno State struggled with run blocking in 2020
Key Info on Fresno State:
Kalen DeBoer took over for Jeff Tedford before the 2020 season, then had the least amount of practice time of any team that played last Fall to put together a team. There was definitely flashes of brilliance, but times when that lack of practice and preparation showed through to a 3-3 record. Now, with a full offseason behind them, and a slew of returning stars, what is Fresno State’s ceiling in 2021?
On the offensive side, there are lots of positives, but still questions to be answered. All but 2 players who caught a pass or ran the ball last season are returning, along with budding star QB Jake Haener. 5th year senior Ronnie Rivers is back with his eyes set on breaking every record he can in the books, and Jalen Cropper looks like the star recruit he was seen as when he committed to Fresno State. Add in a now healthy Juan Rodriguez, Jordan Mims, Josh Kelly, Zane Pope, Keric Wheatfall, and incoming transfers Ty Jones and Jordan Wilmore, the Fresno State offense could be the best that fans have seen since Derek Carr and Davante Adams were on campus.
The one glaring question mark on the offensive side though remains the offensive line. After 2 stellar years where the O-Line was one of the best in the country, 2019 was ravaged by injury. The 2020 unit was healthier, but gave up more than 4 sacks/game, one of the worst marks in the nation. Despite that, Jake Haener and company did have the top offense in the Mountain West, so if the line can keep Haener upright and keep the ground game going, there really isn’t a limit on what the offense can achieve.
William Inge arrived to Fresno State from Indiana with a 4-2-5 scheme and no practice time to implement it. Which means that Fresno State’s defense was definitely not what they could have been, with walk-ons and true freshmen littering the two-deep. But now they’ve had a full offseason to develop, added in transfers like Boise State by way of FIU’s Tyson Maeva, and UCLA’s Elijah Gates, and gotten players into the correct positions for the scheme. The first game against UCONN will truly signal if the defense is vastly improved, or if the offense will be spending every game in a track meet.
Key Factors for the Game:
- The weather- no real surprise here, but Fresno gets very hot in the summer. The projected temperature for Saturday is hovering between 102 and 105. While the game should end by the hottest part of the day, will it cause problems for UCONN or Fresno State?
- The offensive line- can they make their blocks and allow Jake Haener and the offense time to operate? UCONN brings in experience along the defensive front 7 that could cause issues
- The Bulldog defense- can they stop the running game? Has a full offseason given them the improvement they need for this season? Will David Perales keep up his hot start from last season forcing fumbles and sacking QBs?
- Are they looking ahead?- after playing UCONN, Fresno State goes on the road to play the ranked Oregon Ducks. They can’t afford to overlook this Week 1 game because a bigger opponent waits on the horizon
Spread and Prediction:
Currently, the betting spread puts Fresno State as a 27.5 point favorite. ESPN’s FPI has the Dogs with a 95% chance of winning. Normally, I would shy away from this sort of spread, but Fresno State’s offense combined with UCONN’s moribund defense gives me some hope. Especially if the Huskies begin to wilt in the Central Valley heat. My final prediction for Week 0 will be-