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Pregame Guesses: UCLA Hosts Fresno State Bulldogs at the Rose Bowl

Can UCLA do better stopping kick and punt returns? Which pass-catcher not named Caleb Wilson will lead the Bruins in receptions? Who will lead UCLA in tackles?

UCLA’s true freshman quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Welcome to Bruins Nation’s Pregame Guesses for week three of UCLA’s football season, with the UCLA Bruins facing the Fresno State Bulldogs. Kickoff is tomorrow at 7:30 pm PT.

Although no one hit the nail on the head with last week’s guesses, I’d like to send a shout out to Tazbruin25, who predicted that Bolu Olorunfunmi would lead UCLA in carries with 15 (spot on) and predicted Oklahoma would gain 305 yards through the air (they gained 306). Nice work, Taz. I’d also like to send a shout out to Bruinette88, who guessed that OU would gain 480 yards, only 5 off from the Sooners’ 485 yards. Nobody predicted the actual number of UCLA sacks—zero—although several guessed one sack.

So, now, UCLA (0-2) faces Fresno State (1-1) at the Rose Bowl. Some fans are calling this a “must win” and others are simply assuming that UCLA will win. History might not be on the Bruins’ side.

UCLA has lost its last two contests against Fresno State. In the 2003 Silicon Valley Bowl during Karl Dorrell’s first season, the Bruins lost 17-9 and in 2008 in Rick Neuheisel’s first season in 2008, UCLA lost 36-31 (more on that one below in the BONUS GUESS section). First-year coaches at UCLA obviously have had trouble with the Bulldogs. And, here we are again, with another first-year coach playing Fresno State.

But those last two games are ancient history, right? After all, they were ten and fifteen years ago. True, but the recent performances of each team in 2017 and 2018 shows that Fresno State might be the better squad. The Bulldogs went 10-4 last season, losing only to Alabama, Washington, UNLV, and Boise State in the Mountain West Championship game (the Bulldogs beat Boise State a week earlier at home). The UNLV loss was bad, but the three other losses were against very good football teams. The Bulldogs beat Houston in their bowl game. By comparison, UCLA’s 2017 season, which Bruin fans can attest to, was far, far inferior.

This season, Fresno State walloped FCS Idaho, 79-13, and barely lost to Minnesota on the road, 21-14. Fresno State had a chance to tie the game on a first and goal situation with 1:24 left in the 4th quarter. Head Coach Jeff Tedford called a halfback option pass, which was picked off in the end zone on a superbly athletic play by Minnesota’s Antonie Winfield, Jr., sealing the game for the Golden Gophers.

The point spread in this game was originally Fresno State minus one, then shifted to UCLA minus one, and as of 6 p.m. ET on September 13th, was Fresno State minus two to two and one half points. Either way, the geniuses in the Vegas casinos are expecting a close game.

On to the music selection. It is high time to pay tribute to readers who consistently read this column and request different types of music than what I typically choose in this piece. Although I consider my music tastes eclectic, there is no doubt that my musical preferences were forged in the 80s and 90s, my formative years. While I was at UCLA, however, I developed a taste for certain “classic rock” bands (I find it somewhat crazy that bands like The Police, Guns and Roses, and Pearl Jam are now played on classic rock type stations—I guess that makes me old).

One of those bands has a connection to UCLA and I fell in love with them while I was at UCLA. Sorry, 77, it’s not Janis Joplin. But close. Same vibe, IMO.

UCLA needs a breakthrough this weekend against Fresno State, so I going with “Break on Through (to the Other Side)” by The Doors:

Didn’t every college kid in the late 80s / early 90s “discover” bands like The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Credence Clearwater Revival, and Steve Miller while a student? It sure seemed that way when I was at UCLA during that time. Or maybe it was just because pop music was super crappy at that time.

Let’s break on through to the PGGs . . .

The UCLA kick return coverage and punt return coverage was horrific last weekend against Oklahoma. The Sooners had two punt returns for 63 yards, a 31-12 yard average. With that type of coverage, why punt at all?!?! The kick returns were worse. While OU’s kicker was consistently booming his kickoffs out of the end zone, UCLA allowed two kickoff returns, one for 86 yards and one for 35 yards. That’s a total of 184 return yards, ladies and gentlemen. It put the UCLA defense in a hole a number of times. UCLA has had major kick and punt coverage issues in the past few years. Can the Bruins clean that up at home against the Bulldogs?

PREGAME GUESS #1: Predict the total number of return yards that Fresno State will rack up against UCLA, further breaking down the numbers by punt return yardage and kickoff return yardage.

UCLA tight end Caleb Wilson leads the team in receptions this season with eight, for a total of 128 yards. I expect that Wilson will lead UCLA in receptions on Saturday. But forget about Wilson for a moment. Who else is going to step up and become the number two target? IMO, right now it is a toss up between Theo Howard (7 catches) and highly regarded freshman Chase Cota, who has five receptions. Dymond Lee has chipped in with four catches and Christian Pabico, a former walk-on who played well enough to earn a scholarship, has underwhelmed a bit this year so far with only three catches. Who will complement Caleb Wilson best in UCLA’s passing game against Fresno State? Will it be one of those guys or someone else?

PREGAME GUESS #2: Aside from Wilson, which UCLA pass catcher will lead the Bruins in receptions on Saturday and how many catches will that guy haul in?

Adarius Pickett leads the Bruins with 27 tackles on the season (16 solo). After Pickett, it is Quentin Lake with 15 tackles (10 solo). It’s never a good thing when your safeties are the two leading tacklers on the squad. Can the linebacking core have a better game against Fresno State? Can a guy like Krys Barnes lead the team in tackles on Saturday? What about Jaelan Phillips, who had nine tackles against Cincinnati but only one against Oklahoma? Does anyone expect Tyree Thompson (10 tackles, 4 solo) to step up his game at inside linebacker, a huge position of need for the Bruins?

PREGAME GUESS #3: Who will UCLA’s leading tackler be against Fresno State and how many tackles will he have?

Bonus guess time. School hasn’t started yet and only 54,116 showed up at the Rose Bowl for Chip Kelly’s debut two weeks ago. Fresno State, however, is just a 3-12 hour drive from the Rose Bowl.

Hopefully, the Athletic Department is not be stupid enough to put an ad in the Fresno Bee inviting Fresno fans fans to come to the Rose Bowl to cheer against the Bruins like it did ten years ago. (Seriously, for newer fans or fans that do not recall this debacle, please clink on the link above and read the article from the Fishwrap, including the comments by UCLA’s Director of Marketing, the reaction of the UCLA players, and Dan Guerrero ducking an interview request about the ad. What an embarrassment it was).

Even in the absence of such an ad, I am sure plenty of Bulldog “red wave” will, nevertheless, flood the Rose Bowl on Saturday, likely increasing the numbers significantly and neutralizing UCLA’s home field advantage. If there was ever a game where the UCLA administration needs to turn on the mikes of the yell leaders (another debacle, by the way, click on the link, scroll to the bottom of the round table, and read the last few paragraphs written by Joe if you don’t know what I am talking about), this game might be it.

BONUS GUESS: Predict the total attendance at the Rose Bowl.

That’s it for this week.

For those of you going to the game, I have a few thoughts: (1) be safe and, if you drink, drink responsibly; (2) enjoy being with friends and family, no matter the outcome; (3) when the Bulldogs have the ball on third down, stand up and scream your lungs out; and (4) be gracious hosts to opposing fans, win or lose. Thank them for coming to the game and wish their team luck. Even if the Fresno State fans don’t return the courtesy. In my past trips to places like Lincoln and Knoxville, it was the graciousness of their fans that made a huge impression on me.

Make your guesses in comment section, along with any other thought on my ramblings and, above all....