Fresno State vs. UCLA: Game Preview, How to Watch, Odds, Prediction
The Bulldogs head to Pasadena to take on red-hot UCLA. Here’s how to watch and what to watch for against the Bruins.
Can the ‘Dogs finish the job this time?
WEEK 3: Fresno State Bulldogs (2-1) vs. #13 UCLA Bruins (2-0)
WHEN: Saturday, September 18 — 7:45 PM PT/8:45 PM MT
WHERE: Rose Bowl; Pasadena, CA
TV: Pac-12 Network
STREAMING: Fans can sign up to receive a free one-week trial of Fubo, which includes the Pac-12 Network, by following this link.
You can also find the audio broadcast on Fresno State All-Access.
RADIO: The Fresno State broadcast can be found on in and around Fresno on Fox Sports 1340 AM, as well as on the affiliates of the Bulldog Radio Network around the San Joaquin Valley. The UCLA broadcast can be found in Pasadena on 570 AM.
SERIES RECORD: UCLA leads the all-time series, 6-3. In the last meeting on September 15, 2018, the Bulldogs defeated the Bruins in Pasadena, 38-14.
LAST WEEK: Fresno State defeated Cal Poly at home, 63-10, while UCLA beat LSU at home, 38-27.
ODDS (as of 9/15, via Vegas Insider): UCLA -11
SP+ PROJECTION: UCLA by 18.1
FEI PROJECTION: UCLA by 11.1
The Fresno State Bulldogs put a world of hurt on FCS Cal Poly at home last Saturday night, but another stiff test awaits this weekend against the surging UCLA Bruins.
Chip Kelly came into 2021 with a lot of pressure on his shoulders, but after blowing out Hawaii and handling LSU in the first two games of the season, many doubters have been silenced for the moment. Fresno State is talented enough to do exactly what they did in 2018 to these Bruins, but can they avoid the mistakes that doomed their upset bid in Oregon two weeks ago?
Here’s how the Bulldogs can maintain their winning ways and beat the Bruins.
Three Keys to a Fresno State Victory
1. Get the Bruins behind schedule on first downs.
No team in the Pac-12 has tried to set a tone with its running game quite like UCLA, who have kept the ball on the ground for 70.5% of its plays (without adjusting for sacks) in its first two games. That’s especially true on first downs, where running backs Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown have combined for 6.75 yards per carry and given UCLA a substantial leg up in moving the chains.
That means any upset bid is going to start up front with — you guessed it — another strong performance from a defensive line that has already strung together three great games in a row. The Bulldogs have averaged a shade under ten tackles for loss per game so far, ranking sixth among FBS defenses by that measure in the young season, so winning this strength-on-strength matchup will be critical because…
2. Put pressure on Dorian Thompson-Robinson early and often.
It’s not totally clear how often Chip Kelly wants to put the ball in his veteran quarterback’s hands. He torched LSU for three touchdowns last Saturday in part because the Tigers had to respect Thompson-Robinson’s ability to run on early downs himself and, to compound the problem, tackled very poorly, but DTR has just 36 pass attempts in two games because the Bruins are happy to take the air out of the ball once they’ve built a lead.
Case in point: Before the game got away from LSU, the Tigers sacked Thompson-Robinson four times in the first half, twice on third downs (the first pushed the Bruins back outside the 40 and forced them to punt on the opening drive) and one of which forced an intentional grounding penalty. Between that and DTR’s red-zone misfires in a slow start against Hawaii, there’s a chance that the Bulldogs can put the Bruins behind the 8-ball and keep them there, The sooner they manage it, the better their chances will be.
3. Use the passing game early to set up the run late.
One thing that Fresno State has invested in with only modest returns is its running game. Ronnie Rivers is averaging just 3.95 yards per carry overall and 4.41 YPC on first downs, and though that is offset somewhat by his contributions as a pass catcher, it also suggests that offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb shouldn’t be shy about leaning on his star quarterback a little more often.
The Oregon loss is instructive in that Jake Haener went 11-of-16 for 107 yards on first downs while the ground attack scuffled to 2.7 yards per carry, the major factor being that two of Fresno State’s three turnovers happened on first down. Keeping a similar game plan and correcting the mistakes (the ‘Dogs had three first-down penalties, too) could be what gives the visiting team an early advantage. Get ahead with what you do best, then salt the game away by burning clock.
It sounds strange to say, but the Bulldogs might be the best team that UCLA has faced to date. Other than the turnovers which doomed their upset bid against Oregon, Fresno State hasn’t made many mistakes on either side of the ball, so the Bruins might have a harder time creating explosive plays than they did against Hawaii and LSU.
In that case, are the Bruins equipped to win a battle of attrition? Can Haener and the Bulldogs’ legion of pass-catching threats expose the UCLA secondary where others couldn’t? It should make for a close and entertaining game either way, but I’d count on Fresno State winning in the trenches just enough to finish the job where they couldn’t in Eugene.
Fresno State 34, UCLA 31