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Fresno State vs. UCLA Football Prediction and Preview

Zach Charbonnet, UCLA Bruins Football

Zach Charbonnet and the Bruins look to keep things rolling against a dangerous Bulldogs team from the Mountain West

Another week, another opportunity for a Mountain West Conference team to make a statement against a Power 5 opponent — and this one is a biggie.

UCLA became the talk of the college football world following its dominant showing Week 1 against LSU. Coming on the heels of a Week 0 blowout of Hawaii, the Bruins showed clear indications of the vision Chip Kelly sought when he was hired before the 2018 season.

Playing a style that melds physicality on the lines with explosive playmakers, UCLA may well be positioned for its best season since 1998. But as the Bruins return from a bye, they welcome into the Rose Bowl a program that's historically adept at slaying giants and killing dreams.

The Bulldogs darn near did so in Week 1, outplaying Oregon in many facets of a one-score contest. All the Ducks did the next week was go into Ohio State and push around the Buckeyes in a 35-28 win.

Fresno State pounded UCLA in Kelly's first season, as well. It's two different teams, but nonetheless indicative of the Bulldogs' fearlessness in such contests.

Fresno State at No. 13 UCLA

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 18 at 10:45 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: UCLA -11

When Fresno State Has the Ball

Kelly compared Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener to Russell Wilson during the coach's weekly media availability. That's certainly high praise and well-deserved, given his electric start.

Haener is completing 73.6 percent of his pass attempts with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. What's more, he's eighth in the nation at 336.3 passing yards per game.

Kelly cited Haener's mobility out of the pocket when under duress for his efficiency. Haener isn't a dual-threat quarterback in a traditional sense of the word, but adds enough mobility to complement the running-back tandem of Ronnie Rivers and Jordan Mims.

Establishing Mims and Rivers is part of Fresno State's intent, but not so easily done against a UCLA defense that's held its first two opponents to 74 combined yards on the gone. The aggressiveness of the Bruins' front seven may be the most impressive part of UCLA's strong beginning to the season.

When UCLA Has the Ball

On average, every time running back Zach Charbonnet touches the football, UCLA converts a first down. At least.

Charbonnet's combination of strength and speed has him poised to be a possible Heisman Trophy contender, if the trend continues on its current trajectory this season. But Brittain Brown, the starting running back, is explosive in his own right. Together, they might be the best rushing tandem in the nation.

Operating behind an offensive line that's much bigger and stronger than front fives in years past has made the effectiveness of the UCLA rushing attack possible. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson has not had to shoulder too much of the burden in either the run game or passing as a result.

Yet, while Fresno State might lack the star power LSU boasted, the Bulldogs might be the better front seven in terms of execution. Fresno State wore down Oregon's multifaceted attack, which just a week later ran all over Ohio State.

In three games, the Bulldogs are holding opponents below 94 yards per game. Their containment of UCLA's potent one-two attack in the first half will dictate the tone Saturday, as DTR has not yet been forced to throw the Bruins to victory like at times in 2019 when Joshua Kelley was injured.

Final Analysis

Fresno State is an experienced, talented and well-coached team that might be the best the Mountain West has to offer. UCLA will have its hands full against the Bulldogs, particularly two weeks removed from the high of such an emphatic win over LSU.

The performance of the respective run defenses in the early going will tell the story. UCLA's size up front can wear down the Bulldogs up front, however.

Prediction: UCLA 35, Fresno State 20 

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— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45