The Bruins and Bulldogs have some beef, and Saturday is when it will be on full display.
No. 13 UCLA football (2-0) will play Fresno State (2-1) for the 10th time in program history at the Rose Bowl this weekend. The Bruins opened the in-state series 6-0, but have lost the last three head-to-head matchups with the Bulldogs, including the most recent game in 2018.
Both teams have changed drastically since then, however, with Fresno State boasting one of the most prolific pass attacks in the country while UCLA has more returning experience than almost anyone else in the nation.
All Bruins is making its picks for who will win, what the score will be and how the game will play out, courtesy of Managing Editor Sam Connon and contributing writer Benjamin Royer.
Sam Connon, Managing Editor
Prediction: UCLA 41, Fresno State 31
One of the weird things about the Bruins starting 2-0 is that every game has an insane amount of stakes and weight to it.
The way Power Five football works, one loss essentially dashes all hope of making the College Football Playoff, and two losses basically take you out of the running for a New Year’s Six bowl. That hasn’t really been a focus for UCLA under Chip Kelly though, considering they opened his first three seasons with a loss.
So while by no means are the Bruins a CFP favorite, it is technically still in play for them until they lose.
That means even a Fresno State game in mid-September has playoff and postseason implications, putting UCLA under a microscope at the Rose Bowl against a challenging and talented Mountain West team.
The Bulldogs boast one of the most prolific passing games in the country thanks to Jake Haener’s cannon and his three top receivers. Their defense isn’t too shabby either, holding opponents to less than 160 passing yards and 100 rushing yards per game.
The statistics across the board make it look like Fresno State is going to give UCLA trouble – a high-octane pass attack, stout run defense and momentum following two blowout wins and a near-upset over Oregon in between.
Oregon game aside, though, the Bulldogs’ other two outings hardly provide enough of a real picture to consider those numbers valuable in a vacuum. Fresno State opened the season against probably the worst FBS team in the country in UConn, then played FCS program Cal Poly to pad its stats even more.
UCLA has more talent than those two teams combined, and even though Oregon struggled to pull away in the second half against Fresno State, the Ducks still provided the Bruins a roadmap to victory. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson has a chance to follow in Anthony Brown’s footsteps and put his dual-threat abilities on display, extending drives and using his athleticism to set his team apart.
Pounding the rock will again be an important part of the game plan for the Bruins, as will utilizing the outside recivers to spread the Bulldogs’ defense wide and force them to divert some attention away from tight end Greg Dulcich and slot receiver Kyle Philips over the middle.
There will be a lot of points scored, since the UCLA pass defense still has a lot left to prove as well, but the home team will win the track meet and enter Pac-12 play undefeated for the first time since 2015.
Benjamin Royer, contributing writer
Prediction: UCLA 45, Fresno State 28
The bye week could not have come at a better time for the Bruins. The "improvement week," as labeled by Kelly, allowed for the Bruins to reset instead of being caught on a high after jumping to No. 13 in the nation.
Beating Fresno State is no easy task. It was just three years ago when the Bulldogs hounded the Bruins in their own backyard in a 38-14 trouncing. The Bulldogs will put up a fight Saturday as well, with their one defeat being a 31-24 loss to No. 4 Oregon.
Like my two previous predictions, pass defense is the name of the game. To win against the scrappy Bulldogs, the Bruins will need to be at least average in the secondary. Through the first three games, Fresno State has averaged 385 passing yards per game while UCLA's opponents are averaging 286.5 passing yards per game. Holding the Bulldogs to at most 250 passing yards will give the Bruins enough breathing room to compete on offense.
Safety Quentin Lake, cornerback Mo Osling III and safety Stephan Blaylock need to step up in the secondary. Versus LSU, all three excelled in tackling, but were late in coverage, which could lead to big gains, especially against a pass-heavy team like Fresno State.
Haener has already eclipsed 1,000 passing yards this season and the Bruins will try and match that passing prowess with Thompson-Robinson. That being said, it's the running game that needs to motor the offense once again.
Using the duo of Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown against a Bulldog defense that allowed 186 rushing yards to the Ducks would open the game up for passing options such as Dulcich and receiver Kazmeir Allen downfield. Kelly likes to use play designs to get both pass-catchers in open space, something he's likely confident in after he did it so well against the Tigers.
With the talent and scheme advantage leaning towards UCLA, all facets of its offense should thrive.
Left tackle Sean Rhyan has been getting more and more attention on social media this past month, so look for his stock to continue to rise. The third-year offensive lineman will have a great performance, much to the chagrin of the Bulldogs’ defensive line and top pass-rusher Arron Mosby.
Thompson-Robinson's jersey will stay clean and the running backs will have open lanes, so the Bruins will go up in the rankings yet again heading into conference play.