Fresno State Is A Mismatch For UCLA

Fresno State Is A Mismatch For UCLA
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Now that the Pac-12 has an alliance with the Big Ten and the ACC, it is time to get Fresno State off the schedule and replace them with someone, anyone from the other Power Five conferences. Fresno State is a mismatch for UCLA again as the Bulldogs beat the Bruins 40-37 in front of an announced crowd of 50,698 at the Rose Bowl Saturday night. About 3,500 of those were Fresno State who made their way down the I-99 for the game. The Bulldogs scored with 14 seconds left in the game to seal the win, going 75 yards in less than a minute.

We Said Haener Was That Good

We had previewed this week that Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener was leading the country in passing yards and completion percentage. And that he would be facing a UCLA defense that was 115th in the country in passing yards given up per game. Bruins head coach Chip Kelly had told us during the week that the defensive stat was a byproduct of UCLA shutting down opponents’ rushing games and forcing them throw. That just was not close to the case Saturday. Fresno State head coach Kalen DeBoer came in with a game plan to throw on demand. Haener came through for him. The senior quarterback finished 39 of 53 for 455 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. At halftime he had more completions, 21, then UCLA had offensive plays, 16. He was aided by huge cushions from the UCLA defensive backs on the Bulldogs receivers throughout much of the night.

Conversely Fresno State defensive coordinator William Inge had a plan to take away UCLA’s vaunted running game and put force quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson to put the UCLA offense on his shoulders. He had not had to do that in the first two games. Thompson-Robinson started very slowly, going two for five for 43 yards in the first half. But he had a second half that should have been good enough for the win. He finished 14 of 24 for 278 yards and three touchdowns. He had one pretty horrendous fumble, but no interceptions. And Fresno State’s plan to have seven defenders up in the box worked. UCLA’s Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown failed to produce the big yards they had in the previous games.

The Two Halves

It is one of the laziest bromides for a sportswriter to use the phrase, “It was a tale of two halves.” Yet here we go doing it.

Haener had his way with the UCLA defense in the first half. Fresno State’s second drive of the game went 55 yards for the score. Running back Ronnie Rivers took the direct snap from a yard out and ran it in for Fresno State to take the 6-0 lead, when the two-point conversion failed. Haener had gone five for five on the drive and was just getting started.

Thompson-Robinson led UCLA back. He connected with Kam Brown for the first time this season, for 38 yards. Thompson-Robinson added another 21 on the ground with designed runs. Charbonnet finished the drive with a six-yard touchdown run and the Bruins were up 7-6.

Fresno State receiver Jalen Cropper answered with a one-yard jet sweep for a score. The Bulldogs had gone 7 yards and burned more than seven minutes doing it to take the 13-7 lead.

UCLA’s Nicholas Barr-Mira added a 39-yard field goal to narrow the Fresno State lead to 13-10.

Midway through the second quarter Rivers sprinted along the right sideline, out running UCLA’s defensive backs in the process for a 32-yard touchdown and the 20-10 Fresno State lead. Fresno State’s Abraham Montano kicked a 23-yard field goal just before halftime for the 23-10 lead. It very much felt like previous years in the series.

The UCLA Comeback

And then came that aforementioned other half.

Brown caught a 39-yard touchdown pass from Thompson-Robinson. The Fresno State lead was down to six points and Thompson-Robinson had a new pep in his step. He said at halftime, UCLA made the adjustment to use the receivers inside more. In particular he was connecting with Kyle Philips who finished the game with seven catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns.

Fresno State got another fid goal from Montano to extend the lead to 26-17, but that lead was not even close to safe in this game.

Halfway through the third quarter, Thompson-Robinson connected with Philips on a 42-yard touchdown pass. Philips made a lunging over-the shoulder grab, juggling the ball, but getting possession as he went down. The Fresno State lead was down to two points at 26-24.

UCLA took the lead just a minute later, with Thompson-Robinson again using his legs. He ran another designed keeper for 15 yards to the Fresno State three-yard line. Charbonnet ran it from there for the 30-26 UCLA lead. Thompson-Robinson ran more designed plays than in either of the two previous games. He finished with 67 yards on 13 carries. “We had some read zone in the playbook this week so that’s just going of my reads and taking what the defense is giving me. They made me pull the ball a lot tonight,” Thompson-Robinson said after the game.

Fresno State Had Too Much Haener

This was far from over. With 2:55 left, Haener found Erik Brooks in the corner of the end zone for 1 yard touchdown pass. Fresno State was back out front, 33-30.

Thompson-Robinson had one more answer. He scrambled to his left and found a wide-open Philips at the six-yard line. Philips ran it in from there for the touchdown, and the Bruins were back up 37-33 with only :54 seconds left in the game.

It should have been enough. Haener was hobbling, and certainly by this point, the defense could keep him in check. He needed 75 yards in :54 seconds for the win. Did we mention how good he is? And the cushions he got for receivers in the secondary was eye opening. Cropper went down to the ground in the front corner of the end zone along the right sideline to haul in a 13-yard touchdown pass with just :14 seconds left to give Fresno State the win.

Time To Regroup

Kelly talked about Haener’s performance. “You’ve got to tip your hat to Jake. That is as good of a performance as I’ve seen a quarterback make in my career. I’m not sure if he ever threw a bad ball. He had great command of everything we were doing. He did a good job, looking at some of the disguises, the protections, knowing to get the ball off. I saw him after the game just to congratulate him, and he was really banged up, but that is a heck of a competitor and a heck of a football player, so you’ve got to tip your cap to him.”

The Bruins are 2-1 headed into conference play next week at Stanford. Prior to the start of the season, this would have been an agreeable record for most UCLA fans. But after starting 2-0, the hopes got ahead of the reality. Kelly talked about the regrouping that has to go on starting Monday. “It’s about going to work on Monday and having a really good week of preparation as we go into league play, and not letting this game define us just like we should have not let the first two games define us.”

Thompson-Robinson talked about what he told his team in the locker room after such a tough-to-swallow defeat. “I told the older guys to pick these younger guys up. It’s not the end of the world. And then again, to the younger guys, it’s not the end of the world. This loss isn’t going to define us. We’re starting next week of Pac-12 play at 0-0, and we’ll move on from there and keeping our heads high.”

Next Saturday will be UCLA’s first road game of the season, as we hit the four week mark.