UCLA Football vs. Fresno State 2018: Three keys to victory

PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 01: Dorian Thompson-Robinson #7 of the UCLA Bruins passes during a 26-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bearcats at Rose Bowl on September 1, 2018 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 01: Dorian Thompson-Robinson #7 of the UCLA Bruins passes during a 26-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bearcats at Rose Bowl on September 1, 2018 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

The UCLA football team looks to bag its first win of the 2018 campaign when the Fresno State Bulldogs visit the Rose Bowl for a 7:30 p.m. tilt. Below are three keys for a Bruin victory.

Give Him Time

Talented up-and-coming duel-threat quarterback? Check. Shifty running backs that can break ankles and make defenders pay with yards after contact? Check. Arguably one of the best tight ends in the nation that is complimented with a group of veteran wide receivers? Check and check!  These are all the necessary ingredients for a successful offense by UCLA football head coach, Chip Kelly…right?

The answer to the above question is, of course, a resounding “yes”. But, we can’t look past a necessary component of the football program: the offensive line.

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It was expected that UCLA would have some growing pains up front as they parted ways with the vast majority of its offensive front from the 2017 campaign. What wasn’t expected, though, was how much the unit would struggle in the first two weeks. So far in this young season, the Bruins have allowed 20 tackles for loss and 11 sacks. To put it in perspective, the Bruins are 128th (of 130) in the nation in sacks allowed.

Thankfully, Fresno State does not have the most intimidating defense in the nation as the Bulldogs have notched 8.0 TFLs and only two sacks.

On the occasions that the line has done their job, the Bruins’ offense has looked promising and provided glimmers of hope of what could be done under Kelly. Should UCLA’s offensive line hold against the Bulldogs, the Bruins could emerge victorious.

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Special Teams Needs Special Attention

The offensive line isn’t UCLA’s only concern as its special teams’ units have been almost as dreadful.

Currently, UCLA is at the bottom of the barrel in terms of kickoff return defense by allowing an average of 50+ yards per return.

In a recent interview, Kelly attributed its special teams’ woes to “…a lack of effort.” To be fair, it is difficult to fully practice special teams and tackling during practices as it can often lead to unnecessary injury. However, it’s clear that time needs to be invested on the special team units as both Cincinnati and Oklahoma were gifted with excellent field position on seemingly every possession.

If the Bruins can find a way to pin the Bulldogs deep in their own territory on a consistent basis, a tremendous amount of pressure could be lifted from their defense and lay the foundation for a successful outing.

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Need More Week 2 Defense, and Less of Week 1

UCLA’s defense has made evident improvements in both execution and tenacity in its two games this season.

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In its 26-17 loss to Cincinnati, UCLA allowed 18 first downs, 304 total yards (110 passing, 194 rushing) and forced one turnover. A week later in its 49-21 loss to No. 6 Oklahoma (a game that no one as really counting on UCLA winning), the Bruins allowed 27 first downs, 485 total yards (306 passing, 179 rushing) and nabbed one interception.

Don’t get me wrong, the defense still has a long way to go, but the increase in the Bruins’ productivity can be seen. Considering that UCLA allowed 20 fewer rushing yards to No. 6 Oklahoma than it did to Cincinnati bodes well for the future.

As for the task at hand, Fresno State’s offense is no slouch. The Bulldogs rolled past the Idaho Vandals with a 79-13 victory in their season opener. Last week, they hung with the Minnesota Golden Gophers until the very end when some questionable play calling ultimately cost the game and a perfect 2-0 start to the season.

The Bulldogs are led by QB Marcus McMaryion who has passed for 200+ yards per game this season (207 yards vs Idaho (19/26), and 205 yards (23/32, 2 TD, 1 INT) against Minnesota). McMaryion likes to work out of the pocket, so if UCLA could at least stick a spy on him throughout Saturday’s contest, the Bruins may be able to shut down the gunslinger from the central valley.

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Bottom Line

In short, UCLA’s line needs to give ample time for (presumably) Dorian Thompson-Robinson to pass the ball and also open up necessary holes for the running game. Special teams need to tighten up and not allow such good field position, and defense needs to pressure McMaryion all night for a victory. Should the Bruins execute these three fundamental aspects, UCLA may very well experience the first win of the season, and more monumentally, the first win of the Chip Kelly era.