Who: Fresno State Bulldogs (2-1) @ No.13 UCLA (2-0)
When: Saturday, September 18, 7:45PM
Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA (Capacity 90,888)
How to Watch: Game is broadcast through PAC-12 Network
After thoroughly taking care of business against Cal Poly, Fresno State once again goes on the road to a Top 15 PAC-12 program. This time, they head South to the Rose Bowl to take on the 13th ranked UCLA Bruins as the last stop in the OOC schedule. Let’s take a look to see how Fresno State can extend their winning streak over the Bruins to 4, or if UCLA continues the hot start to their season.
Now in Year 4 under Chip Kelly, the Bruins may finally be turning into the team that was expected when the former Oregon coach was hired in Westwood. The last time these two teams met, Fresno State romped to a 38-14 victory en route to a 12 win season and Mountain West championship. Since that time, Kelly’s Bruins have begun showing more and more signs of life, resulting in their Week 1 upset of 16th ranked LSU this year. They began 2021 by dismantling Hawaii 44-10, then upsetting the Tigers the next week. Week 2 was an early bye week for them, and now they face the complacency bug along with a feisty Fresno State team looking to complete the upset after falling just short to Oregon two weeks ago.
The Bruins are led by 4th year signal-caller Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who the Bulldogs say in 2018 as well. While that player was a true freshman, now the Dogs will see an improved senior with a full complement of weapons around him. The biggest thing that Fresno State will be watching out for is Michigan transfer Zach Charbonnet. So far, the junior back has run for 223 yards on only 17 carries to go along with 4 touchdowns. He scythed through the LSU defense, and may be the best running back that the Dogs will face all season. While the defense is massively improved against the run, including a strong showing against Oregon, it appears that UCLA will try to run early and often to test the defense. Between Charbonnet and Brittain Brown, the rushing attack will be how UCLA plans to soften the defense before trying to throw when needed.
When they do go to the air, tight end Greg Dulcich appears to be Thompson-Robinson’s main target so far this year. 4 receptions isn’t much, but the 132 yards do show their willingness to go to him as the leading receiver. Receiver Kyle Phillips is definitely worth keeping an eye on, but the Fresno State secondary has proven to be very stout in pass coverage so far this year.
Fresno State Keys:
Last week against Cal Poly was certainly the most complete performance by a Kalen DeBoer team so far, but they can not rest on beating the stuffing out of an FCS team. Jake Haener continues to show that he is in complete control of the office, completing more than 70% of his passes so far, and is the only player in the FBS above 1,000yds passing. The biggest thing so far has been improved pass protection alongside a much faster release from Haener to his receivers all over the field. While he won’t have Kayvon Thibodeoux, Noah Sewell, and Justin Flowe to go against, the UCLA defense will be sure to test the offensive line and Haener. They bring multiple pressure and stunts across the defensive line, so it will be up to Jake to get the ball out of his hands fast, and let his skill players do what they do best.
I’ve spoken about the need for 0 turnovers in the games, but sadly it hasn’t happened yet. A fumbled punt kept Fresno State from that last weekend, but it did not turn the tide of the game like the 2 turnovers against Oregon did. They will have to avoid turnovers this week if they want to pull off the upset this week.
Keys to Victory:
- No offensive turnovers- should be pretty self-explanatory at this point
- Contain the running backs- UCLA lives on their rushing game, so containing DTR, Charbonnet, and Brown has to be priority #1
- Get the ball out fast- UCLA’s line will bring pressure, Jake will have to get the ball out fast to his receivers and backs
I will openly admit at this point that I’m a homer, but I truly don’t see winning this game as that tall of a task. They showed that they were able to go toe-to-toe with Oregon, now the No.4 team in the country. Even in that game and with two turnovers, they were able to hold a 4th quarter lead before surrendering it late. ESPN’s FPI does like Fresno State, but gives UCLA a 75% chance of victory in this one, and Vegas gives an 11 point spread on this one. I might be crazy, but I think that Fresno State pulls this one off. They finally get a quick start that they need, and manage to complete the Top 15 upset they should have had two weeks ago. For my prediction, I’ll go with-
Fresno State 31-27 UCLA
Let’s see how close I get Saturday night. For all your MWC coverage, keep it here at Mountain West Connection.