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Fresno needs trap-blocking

Ranked Bulldogs are expected to win, which is about the only thing Bruins have going for them

September 27, 2008

After being outscored, 90-10, the last two weeks, UCLA will try to right itself against Fresno State, one of the nation's best college teams not belonging to a Bowl Championship Series conference. Times staff writer Chris Foster looks at the issues and matchups when the Bruins play the Bulldogs:

Trap shooting

This is a classic trap game -- a nationally ranked team going into a game they are expected to win by the fans and the media.

The twist is, the trap is for Fresno State.

The Bulldogs, No. 25 in the Associated Press media poll, have a season-opening victory over a then-ranked Rutgers team and also played No. 8 Wisconsin tight in a 13-10 loss.

They also have played twice back East, returning home at 5 a.m. both times, and have had three emotion-draining games, including last week's 55-54 double-overtime victory at Toledo.

Fresno State is a seven-point favorite, but one thing people from the Central Valley should know is when something is ripe for the picking.

Getting Crafty

Bruins quarterback Kevin Craft could muster only 81 yards passing in last week's 31-10 loss to Arizona. The defense moved forward, as, for once, did the offensive line. But Craft has appeared to regress since his one quarter of brilliance in the season opener against Tennessee.

Craft completed 12 of 14 passes for 139 yards and one touchdown in the fourth-quarter rally that gave the Bruins a 27-24 overtime victory against the Volunteers. He has completed 49 of 99 for 431 yards in his other 11 quarters this season.

The question may soon (as in now) be asked: How far can the Bruins meander down this path before considering another direction?

Middle ground

There may never be a better moment for UCLA's offensive line to shine. Buggy-whipped since the start of training camp, they showed inch-by-inch progress last week, though UCLA still ranks No. 117 in rushing among 119 major college teams.

Fresno State's defense ranks 95th against the run and the Bulldogs have lost two starting defensive tackles, replacing them with a rotation of one sophomore and two freshmen.

Add to the fact that UCLA tailback Kahlil Bell is expected to play for the first time since the Tennessee game, and the Bruins' "manage the game, manage the score" mantra may have a running game that can do both this week.

On the run

Bell's left ankle remains a question. He may play, but will he finish?

The Bruins lost starting fullback Trevor Theriot (knee) for the season. Chane Moline, who started at tailback the last two games, moves into the fullback spot.

Fresno State's running game has surer footing. The Bulldogs rotate three tailbacks, each of whom has run for more yards than Moline, UCLA's leader, who has 89. Ryan Mathews, who has 304 yards, probably will start, but Lonyae Miller (113 yards) and Anthony Harding (108 yards) will see plenty of time.

"If you can't stop the run, then a team is going to be able to run and pass on you," UCLA linebacker Reggie Carter said. "That makes it kind of hard to win a game."

Red alert

Traffic on the I-5 should be heavier this weekend after UCLA's come-one-come-all marketing campaign. The Rose Bowl may seem more like a neutral site with the large number of Fresno State fans expected to attend.

The last time the Bruins played the Bulldogs at a neutral site was in the 2003 Silicon Valley Bowl. Fresno State won, 17-9.

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By the numbers

*--* UCLA CATEGORY FS 12.3 Scoring 29.7 38.0 Points given up 24.7 190.0 Passing off. 224.0 51.0 Rushing off. 171.0 241.0 Total offense 395.0 249.3 Passing def. 238.0 157.3 Rushing def. 185.7 406.7 Total defense 423.7 *--*

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chris.foster@latimes.com

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UCLA (1-2) VS.

NO. 25 FRESNO ST. (2-1)

Today at the Rose Bowl, 12:30 p.m., Channel 7

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