Fresno State Football

Bulldogs’ offensive line, down one key player, will face some challenges at UCLA

UCLA freshman Kazmeir Allen a focus for Fresno State defense

Fresno State defensive coordinator Bert Watts breaks down the Bulldogs' prep for a game at UCLA and against the speedy freshman Kazmeir Allen, a Tulare product they expect will see the football quite a bit.
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Fresno State defensive coordinator Bert Watts breaks down the Bulldogs' prep for a game at UCLA and against the speedy freshman Kazmeir Allen, a Tulare product they expect will see the football quite a bit.

Fresno State fared well against some good defensive ends and pass-rushing linebackers last season with Christian Cronk at left tackle, which takes at least some of the sting out of losing Netane Muti for the season with an Achilles’ tendon injury.

Wyoming defensive end Carl Granderson: three total tackles, no TFLs. Nevada defensive end Malik Reed: three total tackles, no TFLs. Boise State linebacker Curtis Weaver: one tackle the first time around, four the next, and just one TFL.

All three were first-team All-Mountain West selections.

Fresno State defensive coordinator Bert Watts breaks down the Bulldogs' prep for a game at UCLA and against the speedy freshman Kazmeir Allen, a Tulare product they expect will see the football quite a bit.

Cronk started all 14 games at left tackle last season and 26 in a row before moving in to left guard this season, with Muti moving out to left tackle.

Cronk was back at left tackle after Muti went down in the third quarter at Minnesota — “It’s like riding a bike to him,” offensive line coach Ryan Grubb said. “He’s good to go.”

But Cronk and right tackle Syrus Tuitele will be taking on large challenges against UCLA on Saturday when they run into Jaelan Phillips and Keisean Lucier-South. Both are off to fairly slow starts, but last season they were among the Bruins’ top defensive playmakers with 7.0 and 5.5 tackles for loss.

“Big athletic guys,” Grubb said. “They’re different in terms of guys we see here in practice. We see real powerful guys like Emeka (Ndoh). These guys, space is their friend. They’re 6-4 and 240, 6-5 and 250 guys and very, very good athletes. ... That’s one thing that we have to be ready for, just the athletic ability on the outside.

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Line ‘em up

UCLA has had some issues moving the football, particularly on the ground. The Bruins are averaging only 3.4 yards per rush, 108th in the nation. That starts up front with an offensive line that together has logged only 45 career starts headed into the game against the Bulldogs, and 10 of those starts have come this season.

UCLA Oklahoma Football(2)
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (7) looks for an open receiver in the Bruins 49-21 loss at Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. Oklahoma is on California’s travel ban list, but the team traveled there because state funds were not expended. Sue Ogrocki ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Bruins start a true freshman at center in Chrisaphany Murray and there are three other true or redshirt freshmen among the 10 offensive linemen on the two-deep.

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On a roll?

UCLA has struggled to get much of anything going on offense in its first two games, working behind that inexperienced offensive line. But the Bulldogs should to some degree be leery of the Bruins’ fourth quarter last week in a 49-21 loss at No. 5 Oklahoma.

UCLA had only 213 yards of total offense through three quarters, but freshman quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson led the Bruins on a six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive capped by a 2-yard run by Bolu Olorunfunmi and a 13-play, 85-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 9-yard pass to Michael Ezeike.

The Bruins ran 21 plays in the quarter, averaging 8.0 yards per play. They also converted two of three third-down plays and one fourth-down play into first downs.

This is kind of comical

In the first three quarters of that loss to Oklahoma, UCLA ran 11 third-down plays. The average distance to move the sticks: 12.1 yards. That’s hard to do.

Moving up

The Bulldogs’ KeeSean Johnson will move into the top five on the Fresno State career receptions list with eight more catches.

Johnson, who has at least one reception in 38 consecutive games and is averaging 6.0 catches per game this season despite sitting most of the second half in that rout of Idaho, starts the game in sixth place with 192 receptions.

Bernard Berrian is fifth with 199.

Fresno State senior KeeSean Johnson had a big game last season against Nevada, catching seven passes for 104 yards and three touchdowns. The Bulldogs open Mountain West Conference play against the Wolf Pack at Mackay Stadium in Reno on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA

The all-time leader is Davante Adams, who caught 233 passes in just two seasons, 2012 and ‘13 when the Bulldogs won back-to-back conference championships.

Fresno State wideout KeeSean Johnson discusses his summer working with quarterback Marcus McMaryion, and the biggest difference in the Bulldogs' program now and five years ago when he was a freshman.

No change … yet

Coach Jeff Tedford said that the Bulldogs would stick with their No. 1 kickoff return tandem with Dejonte O’Neal and Brian Burt back deep on kickoffs.

Fresno State has averaged only 13.8 yards on four kickoff returns and with 58 seconds to go in the first half last week at Minnesota, Burt mishandled a kickoff in the end zone that bounced into the field of play. O’Neal got on it and got what he could before getting clobbered, advancing to the Fresno State 7-yard line.

The Bulldogs retained possession but without field position they didn’t get a chance to get into a two-minute offense to try to put some points on the scoreboard. Fresno State trailed the Golden Gophers 10-0 at halftime.

Bullet points

  • UCLA has not started a season 0-3 since 1983.

  • The Bulldogs have allowed only four explosive plays from scrimmage, fewest in the Mountain West and tied for 14th in the nation.

  • Fresno State’s Blake Cusick has put seven of his nine punts down inside an opponent’s 20-yard line.

  • Receiver Johnson is averaging 105.0 all-purpose yards per game (rushing, receiving, kickoff, punt and interception returns), which is almost double every other Bulldog. Only running back Jordan Mims is inside that, and barely, averaging 53.5 yards per game.

  • Tedford is 0-4 against Chip Kelly-coached teams

  • Fresno State is plus-45 in scoring points off turnovers. The defense has not allowed a point following the two interceptions the Bulldogs have thrown.

  • The Bulldogs are 7-0 under Tedford and 1-0 this season when generating 400 yards of offense. UCLA has allowed at least 400 yards of offense in 15 of its past 17 games, the average over all of those games coming out to 476.5 yards.

  • UCLA has allowed seven rushing touchdowns in two games. There are only two teams in the FBS that have allowed more: Western Michigan with eight and New Mexico State with nine, and the Aggies have played three games.

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
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