NCAA Football: Fresno State Bulldogs vs. UCLA Bruins Preview, Prediction & Odds -- Sept. 18, 2021

by Chuck Sommers

Game time: 10:45 p.m. ET, Sept.18, 2021
Venue: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA
Where to watch: PAC-12 Network

Opening Odds at USA Sportsbooks

DraftKings: UCLA -11.5; O/U 62.5; UCLA -435, Fresno State +330
BetMGM: UCLA -11; O/U 62.5; UCLA -417, Fresno State +325
Caesars: UCLA -11; O/U 63; UCLA -440, Fresno State +340

Season record
Fresno State: 2-1
No. 13 UCLA: 2-0

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Fresno State - UCLA preview and analysis

Recent form
Fresno State: won 63-10 vs. Cal Poly on Sept. 11
UCLA: won 38-27 vs. LSU on Sept. 4

Well, if there was a game to see if the UCLA Bruins were for real, this would be the one.

The No. 13 Bruins, after a week off from celebrating its biggest win in the Chip Kelly era, will welcome the Fresno State Bulldogs to the Rose Bowl on Saturday.

In what’s become the most meteoric rise in the AP Top 25 one can think of in recent memory, the Bruins are finally living up to the potential of what Kelly was supposed to bring to UCLA. Through two games, the Bruins are averaging 431 yards per game while only allowing 324.

UCLA leaped from unranked to the 13th best team in the country following a 38-27 win over the then-No. 16 LSU Tigers at home. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson threw for 260 yards and three touchdowns on only nine completions. Greg Dulcich had 117 yards on three receptions, including a 75-yard touchdown.

Even during this impressive start for red-hot UCLA, what’s even more mind-boggling is the run defense giving up only 37.5 YPG on the ground. Both the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors and LSU had at least 20 carries in their games, but were held to 1.2 and 2.0 yards per carry, respectively. Stats aren’t meant to be that scary.

Fortunately for Fresno State, the Bulldogs won’t be running the ball so much with how their passing attack has clicked through three games. Bulldogs quarterback Jake Haener is coming off a 380-yard, four-touchdown performance in a 63-10 win over the Cal Poly Mustangs last week.

Just imagine if Fresno State pulled off that upset against the Oregon Ducks. At least, for what it’s worth, the Bulldogs have not only taken care of business against the inferior Mustangs and Connecticut Huskies and come into this game more than prepared to handle a top-tier opponent. Cal Poly and UConn weren’t able to get to Haener like Oregon did (four sacks), so the onus is on UCLA’s defense to ramp up the pressure and make life tough on the Fresno State quarterback.


The fact UCLA is two-score favorites says a lot for how much respect the books have for Fresno State. The Bruins’ pass defense is going to be tested more than it has to this point, and because of that, we expect the Bulldogs to keep it close. The over is certainly a play to consider, as well. Ultimately, UCLA pulls it out, but Fresno will keep it close. UCLA by 10

Betting trends

Fresno State is 5-3 against the spread in its last eight as an underdog, and 1-7 straight up.

The over is 6-1 in Fresno State’s last seven games when they’re an underdog between 10.5 and 14 points.

UCLA is 6-6 against the spread in its last 12 home games.

Players to watch

Fresno State: While Josh Kelly leads the teams in receiving yards, Jalen Cropper is also becoming a top target for Haener. Cropper leads the Bulldogs with three touchdowns and 15 receptions, while also having 206 yards.

UCLA: Zach Charbonnet has gotten the attention with his 13.1 yards per carry, but don’t forget about Bruins running back Brittain Brown. He’s been the workhorse in the backfield with 5.8 yards per carry on 13 more carries than Charbonnet. They’ve turned into a lethal 1-2 combo while taking the pressure off DTR.

Statistical leaders

Fresno State:
Passing: Jake Haener -- 1,009 yards, 8 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Ronnie Rivers -- 162 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: Josh Kelly -- 253 yards, 2 TD
Defense: Arron Mosby -- 2 sacks

Passing: Dorian Thompson-Robinson -- 390 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Zach Charbonnet -- 223 yards, 4 TD
Receiving: Greg Dulcich -- 132 yards, 1 TD
Defense: Mitchell Agude -- 10 tackles, 1 sack

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Chuck Sommers

About the Author:

Chuck Sommers has camped outside of sportsbooks since he can remember, learning the tricks and nuances of the trade. He still has nightmares of betting $5,000 on the Raiders in the Tuck Rule game but has since turned that to 25 years of veteran handicapping greatness. You can find him mostly in the shadows at the Red Rock or Aliante casinos wondering if the over is cashing on any given Sunday.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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