Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl: Game Preview, How To Watch, Odds, Prediction
The Mountain West will look to win the LA Bowl again as Fresno State battles Washington State. Here’s how to watch and what to watch for.
A top-notch SoCal showdown.
JIMMY KIMMEL LA BOWL: Fresno State Bulldogs (9-4, 7-1 Mountain West) vs. Washington State Cougars (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12)
WHEN: Saturday, December 17 — 12:30 PM PT/1:30 PM MT
WHERE: SoFi Stadium; Inglewood, CA
WEATHER: Partly sunny, high of 62 degrees (note: game indoors)
STREAMING: Fans can sign up to receive a free one-week trial of Fubo, which includes ABC, by following this link.
RADIO: The Fresno State broadcast can be found on the affiliates of the Bulldog Sports Network, including 1340 AM (KCBL) in Fresno. The Washington State broadcast can be found on the affiliates of the Washington State Sports Network, including flagships 104.3 FM (KHTR) and 920 AM/100.7 FM (KXLY) in Pullman and Spokane, respectively.
SERIES RECORD: Washington State leads the all-time series, 21-5. In the last meeting on September 10, 1994, the Cougars defeated the Bulldogs, 24-3, in Pullman.
LAST GAME: Fresno State defeated Boise State on the road in the Mountain West football championship game, 28-16, while Washington State lost to Washington at home, 51-33.
ODDS: Fresno State -3
SP+ PROJECTION: Washington State by 6.6 (65% win probability)
FEI PROJECTION: Washington State by 5.3
PARKER FLEMING PROJECTION: Washington State 55.77% win probability (29.85-27.85)
— Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl (@LABowlGame) December 6, 2022
After clinching the third outright Mountain West football title in program history, the Fresno State Bulldogs will take the field on Saturday in the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl against the Washington State Cougars.
To say that the Red Wave is excited for the trip would be an understatement: Fresno State sold out its initial ticket allotment early last week and might do so again with several more days until kickoff. However, in spite of heading into the game shorthanded, Washington State will certainly be motivated to secure the team’s first bowl win since 2018 and won’t shy away from what might be a hostile neutral site environment.
Here’s how the Bulldogs and Cougars can come away with a win to close out 2022.
Three Keys to a Fresno State Victory
1. Protect Jake Haener.
The Bulldogs had a sluggish start on offense in the championship game and one big reason for that was shaky pass protection: Boise State had three sacks and put a lot of pressure on Haener early in the contest before the offensive line settled in and enabled Fresno State’s star quarterback to get the ball moving.
A faster start could be important against a Washington State pass rush that possesses talent up front but has also produced feast and famine in equal measure. The Cougars have a team sack rate of 6.3% that’s a full two percentage points better than it was in 2021, but they couldn’t manage more than one sack against any of the five ranked teams they faced in Pac-12 play. Granted, no one is going to mistake Fresno State’s offensive line with the likes of USC, Oregon, and Utah, but how well they hold up in the trenches against a veteran-laden defensive line will be a big key for both sides.
2. Get David Perales back on the field (at least a little bit).
You may recall that Fresno State’s star defensive end suffered an injury in the regular season finale which limited his availability in the subsequent title game. He played just eight early snaps against Boise State before calling it an afternoon. Kevin Coyle’s defense managed just fine without him, but there’s no doubt a healthier Perales will keep Washington State quarterback Cameron Ward from getting too comfortable.
That’s because the Cougars have found it tough to replace star left tackle Jarrett Kingston, who suffered a season-ending injury in early November, and fellow offensive lineman Ma’ake Fifita, who has been slowed in the second half of the season with his own ailments. Rival Washington had six sacks in their Apple Cup victory on Thanksgiving weekend, a fact of which Perales and the Bulldogs must be aware, but as the Merced native has 10.5 of the Bulldogs’ 24 sacks, having him back in the edge rusher rotation, at least, would be a big boon for the team’s fortunes.
3. Don’t waste opportunities in Wazzu territory.
While the Cougars offense has averaged 2.38 points per drive, a good if not great figure that ranks 55th in the country, one thing Washington State has done well is maximize the opportunities presented to them. They were one of just 19 FBS teams to turn at least 90% of their red zone trips into points and, additionally, were one of only nine in that select group to score a touchdown at least 70% of the time.
By contrast, Fresno State has a Mountain West-high 60 trips inside the 20-yard line through 13 games but have scored a touchdown on 53.3% of such possessions. To be fair, Haener’s return from a high ankle sprain has provided exactly the boost you would expect on that front (points on 21-of-24 red zone trips in the last five games, including 15 touchdowns), but head coach Jeff Tedford and offensive coordinator Kirby Moore may want to consider pushing the envelope a little more than usual against a Washington State defense depleted by personnel departures.
Three Keys to a Washington State Victory
1. Get young pass catchers involved early.
Top wide receivers De’Zhaun Stribling and Donovan Ollie entered the transfer portal last week and Stribling, at least, has already found his landing spot in the Big 12, which means that the Cougars are headed into the bowl game without 94 combined catches and 1,093 receiving yards. At first glance, this would appear to be good news for a Bulldogs secondary that’s peaking at the right time, which could also mean that quarterback Cameron Ward won’t want to waste time building a rapport with their replacements.
Keeping running back Nakia Watson in the mix is always an option — the junior from Austin, Texas had 15 of his 29 catches on the year in November — but others like freshmen Leyton Smithson, Tsion Nunnally, and Orion Peters, as well as former Hawaii transfer Lincoln Victor, will have a hand in keeping the passing game afloat. At a minimum, the Cougars need to identify someone who can create explosive plays: Ward was one of seven FBS quarterbacks in November with zero interceptions on at least 100 pass attempts (coincidentally, Jake Haener was another), but he had just seven plays of 20 or more yards through the air in Washington State’s last four games, averaging 5.8 yards per attempt.
2. Keep Jordan Mims in check.
Fresno State’s veteran running back has displayed a tremendous nose for the end zone this fall, scoring 17 touchdowns in 13 games, but Washington State may have the athletes up front to keep Mims bottled up. The Cougars allowed just 3.79 yards per carry in 2022 (before adjusting for sacks) and come into the contest with a 19.5% stuff rate that ranks 41st in the country thanks in large part to the edge trio of Brennan Jackson, Ron Stone Jr., and Quinn Roff, who combined for 20.5 tackles for loss in the regular season and will likely be key, one way or another, in whether Fresno State is able to salt the game away should they get an early lead.
3. Don’t let the replacements at linebacker get bullied.
Related to the above point, another quandry with which the Cougars have wrestled this week is how to replace Daiyan Henley, who opted out of the bowl to focus on NFL Draft preparations, as well as Francisco Mauigoa and Travion Brown, who entered the transfer portal with Stribling, Ollie, and a number of other Wazzu athletes in the past week. As pointed out by Colton Clark of the Spokesman-Review, head coach Jake Dickert has plans to start Kyle Thornton and Ben Wilson for the first time this season and shift Jordan Lee from safety to make up at least part of the difference, but will that be enough?
Regardless, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Bulldogs decided to test the new starters’ mettle with short throws over the middle to the likes of Jalen Moreno-Cropper and Zane Pope, especially since the Bulldogs have a rush rate that’s 8.1% under what’s expected of an average offense. That means Haener is going to be trusted with the ball early and often, which is something he’s done quite well throughout the season with a completion rate of 70.2% and 8.8 yards per attempt on first downs. Surviving that will be crucial for the Cougars.
Los Angeles is getting a great matchup between two quality quarterbacks, but the contest is more likely to be determined by newer faces in key spots on both sides. The Cougars we see on Saturday won’t be of quite the same vintage as in the regular season, most critically on a defense which quietly played well more often than not this fall, which I’d wager will be the big difference in why the Bulldogs win a shootout.
Fresno State 38, Washington State 31