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Game Day Roundup: Getting Back On Track

First congrats to Fox71, TheTJCummingsEra or any other Floridian Bruins from Tampa area who are soaking up the Rays first ever AL East title.  It should be some party here this Fall as those lonely Rays fans join rest of the majority of BNers who will be following the Blue Crews and Halos, hoping for the first Freeway Fall Classic. Now on to our game notes as the Bruins are looking to pull of an upset this afternoon at the Rose Bowl against the Bulldogs from Fresno State.

For the Bruins to have a chance against Pat Hill’s tough football team, Bruins will have to be patient (more on that below) and put together a legit running attack. Chris Foster from the LA Times reports how the game presents a good opportunity to get that running game going and improve upon the encouraging performance from last week:

There may never be a better moment for UCLA's offensive line to shine. Buggy-whipped since the start of training camp, they showed inch-by-inch progress last week, though UCLA still ranks No. 117 in rushing among 119 major college teams.

Fresno State's defense ranks 95th against the run and the Bulldogs have lost two starting defensive tackles, replacing them with a rotation of one sophomore and two freshmen.

Add to the fact that UCLA tailback Kahlil Bell is expected to play for the first time since the Tennessee game, and the Bruins' "manage the game, manage the score" mantra may have a running game that can do both this week.

We will see how effective Bell is this afternoon as he is coming back from his injury in the first game. It will be interesting to see how does Raymond Carter perform too. I wouldn’t mind a big dose of Derrick Coleman, given what we saw from his last weekend.

These guys will be running behind an OL that will feature true freshman Jeff Baca as the starter at LT:

"There is so much more I have to learn," Baca said. "I have to keep my knee bent. I've got to get lower. I made a lot of freshman mistakes.

"The game showed me that practice is much more important. You have to value each rep and make it into a game situation."

That eagerness must seem like music to offensive line coach Bob Palcic's ears.

"Baca has a long way to go, but I like what I've seen so far," Palcic said.

The key, according to the coach, is "patience."

Uh yes, speaking of the word patience, that leads us to Craft. Dohn’s report today provides some interesting numbers re. Craft via Norm Chow:

Chow, while not comparing Craft to former USC Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer, said Palmer went through the same thing.

In 2001, Palmer was 62 of 104 (59.6

percent) for 821 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions in his first three games Craft completed 63 of 113 (55.8 percent) for 570 yards, one touchdown and five interceptions.

The '01 Trojans scored 38 points in beginning the season 1-2, while UCLA (1-2) scored 37 points, although the Bruins have one special teams and one defensive touchdown.

"I definitely want to improve. I just want to get going. I just want to do it," Craft said. "I think I'm looking at myself and I know I can do it. I know all the throws. I can make all the throws. It's just a matter of doing it consistently. It's really inconsistent."

Well, note … no one is crazy enough to think that Craft will ever match the success of Carson Palmer. It is not going to happen. Period. However, I think we all know what Chow is alluding to. He believes Craft can be lot better and efficient than the horrific outings from last two games. It might be unrealistic to expect Craft to produce the fourth quarter magic against Tennessee every quarter. However, if he can provide a steady and patient performance that allows Chow to manage the game, Bruins will have a shot. More on this from the Daily Bruin:

Craft said that he believes that he has the ability to make the correct throws and decisions on the field during games, he just needs to work on doing it consistently.

Consistency has been one of the downfalls of the Bruins’ offense thus far. When asked what the reason is behind the team’s struggles on offense, Neuheisel pointed to their inability to convert on third down and extend drives. Through three games, the Bruins have converted on just 33 percent of third downs (15 of 46).

“It really comes down to staying on the field longer,” Neuheisel said. “Tennessee, second half, was because we stayed on field; we hit almost every third down, which ended making us over 50 percent for the game on third downs. We haven’t come close to that since, and the more plays you get the more Norm’s able to kind of counter himself and the more you keep the defense at bay rather than teeing off on you. But ultimately it comes down to being able to execute those types of plays and keeping the chains moving.”

As a result of the offense’s troubles extending drives, the Bruin defense has continually been put in short-field situations, placing immense pressure upon the defense to keep the score close.

Speaking of the defense, Bruins are preparing for the Dogs’ running attack:

Fresno State ranks 47 th nationally with 171 rushing yards per game, and rely primarily on 5-11, 215-pound Ryan Mathews. He's averaging 101.3 yards per game, and has three touchdowns and often follows the block of 270-pound fullback Reynard Camp.

"They run a lot of power and they pull the guards," Carter said.

"When (Mathews) hits the hole, he really goes."

In San Joaquin Valley spirit, Fresno State's 4.7 yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust running game is what the offense is built upon. The Bulldogs (2-1) rushed 119 times this season, and quarterback Tom Brandstater has attempted 79 passes (completed 48).

"They show characteristics of BYU and Tennessee," Bruins defensive tackle Brian Price said. "They're big guys, strong. The same kind of game. It's won up front, so we have to take care of our business up front and stop the run. I'm going to stop anything that comes my way."

I think this could be a game in which Walker’s scheme work out really well. Walker has always been a very good DC when it comes to defending convention pro set offenses. Fresno State features more of a tradition WCO offense with a power running game. It could work out as the great matchup for Walker if his secondary steps up with tighter coverage and more sure fire tackling this afternoon. Hopefully the offense and special teams will also help out the defense by not  you guessed it ... managing the game and minimizing mistakes.

For more on this game, especially from the Bulldogs point of view, check out the preview in the Collegian (FSU’s campus paper).

The kick off is scheduled for 12:30 pm PST (ABC’s regional coverage). We will have our game thread up about half an hour before the game. Hopefully our Bruins can get it done today and get back on track.