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UCLA football hopes to extend nonconference win streak with Fresno State victory

Senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and No. 13 UCLA football will take on Fresno State on Saturday at the Rose Bowl. The Bruins have lost three straight games to the Bulldogs entering the contest. (Anika Chakrabarti/Assistant Photo editor)


Fresno State
Saturday, 7:45 p.m.

Rose Bowl
Pac-12 Networks

By Jon Christon

Sept. 18, 2021 1:51 p.m.

The last time the Bulldogs made the trip to Pasadena, Dorian Thompson-Robinson was making his first career start at the Rose Bowl for the Bruins.

The quarterback said after Monday’s practice that he remembers the team didn’t play well that day, as the then-freshman racked up only 151 passing yards and had two interceptions on 10-of-24 throwing while losing 38-14 on Sept. 15, 2018.

Now in his senior year, Thompson-Robinson will get the chance to rewrite history.

“It’s a new team, it’s a new season,” Thompson-Robinson said. “We’re excited for the task at hand.”

After a bye week, No. 13 UCLA football (2-0) will match up against Fresno State (2-1) on Saturday at the Rose Bowl, giving it the opportunity to start the season 3-0 for the first time since 2015. The Bruins, however, have dropped three straight to the Bulldogs dating back to 2003,

“Fresno is a really good team, (a) well-coached team – very disciplined,” Thompson-Robinson said. “We know what’s coming in. We’re going to prepare as such and take it day by day as we always do.”

(Daily Bruin file photo)
Thompson-Robinson (right) last played against Fresno State in 2018, a game in which he made his first career start at the Rose Bowl. The then-freshman finished the game on 10-of-24 throwing with 151 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. (Daily Bruin file photo)

After winning the Mountain West Conference in 2018, the Bulldogs finished at or below .500 in 2019 and 2020 before starting off this season with a winning record. The team is fresh off a 63-10 victory over Cal Poly two weeks after shutting out UConn in a 45-0 win to open its season.

Fresno State’s lone loss of the season came in week one on the road against then-No. 11 Oregon, a team that beat then-No. 3 Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio, the following week. The Bulldogs led the Ducks in the fourth quarter of the game before giving up 10 unanswered to lose 31-24.

“I don’t care about who won what, who did what, the transitive process of this game was close, that game equals that thing – we don’t talk about that,” said coach Chip Kelly. “Regardless of if they won at Oregon or didn’t win at Oregon or whatever that is, it’s a really good football team.”

Despite falling short in the final score, Fresno State won the yardage battle over Oregon, gaining 375 yards to the Ducks’ 372. Despite being out-rushed by 123 yards, the Bulldogs made up the difference with 298 yards through the air from quarterback Jake Haener.

Haener – a former Pac-12 quarterback who spent his first two seasons with Washington – currently leads the NCAA with 1,009 passing yards through three games, giving him 336.3 passing yards per game, just under his 336.8 mark that ranked fourth in the nation a season ago.

But even with the chart-topping passing numbers, junior linebacker Carl Jones Jr. said after Wednesday’s practice that UCLA’s defense is preparing for Haener as they would any other quarterback.

“He’s just another quarterback to us,” Jones said. “We don’t think of him any higher or any lower – he’s just another opponent that we got to face and we just got to do our job.”

The recipient of Haener’s passing yards, Fresno State’s receiving corps, has eight receivers with at least four receptions and three with double-digit catches. In comparison, UCLA has no receiver with more than four catches through two games.

Senior defensive back Mo Osling III, who is part of a UCLA secondary that ranks 115th out of 130 qualified teams in the nation in passing yards allowed per game, said after Tuesday’s practice that the Bulldogs have a number of “finesse” receivers who have the potential to wreak havoc on the Bruins’ zone defense.

“Their receivers are really good at sitting in zone – they’ll set their routes down early and sit in the zone (and) they don’t really run full speed,” Osling said. “Their offensive coordinator is really good at scripting plays up. … (We have to be) alert for crossing routes and stuff like that.”

Like Thompson-Robinson, Osling is one of a handful of Bruins still on the team who played in the 2018 game versus the Bulldogs, recording one tackle in the loss.

The fifth-year cornerback said he remembers the contest well, but added that he’s confident this year’s squad will change UCLA’s fortunes.

“You never forget about previous games, but you got to move forward,” Osling said. “We’re a different team now. I feel very confident playing with this group of guys I’ve been playing with for the last four years.”

Kickoff on Saturday at the Rose Bowl is scheduled for 7:45 p.m. – the latest start to a UCLA game in nearly six years.

“It’s a primetime game in the Philippines, so let’s put on a good show for the people in Manila,” Kelly said.

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Jon Christon | Sports editor
Christon is currently the Sports editor and a reporter on the men's basketball and football beats. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats and a reporter on the women's basketball and softball beats.
Christon is currently the Sports editor and a reporter on the men's basketball and football beats. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats and a reporter on the women's basketball and softball beats.
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