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September 26, 2008
Fresno State ready to invade Rose Bowl
When Fresno State scheduled a road game against UCLA, the Bulldogs and coach Pat Hill probably didn't figure it would look like a mere tuneup heading into the WAC season.
If UCLA plays anything like it did for the last two games, it would be hard to imagine any other outcome.
The 25th-ranked Bulldogs will hope to beat UCLA at the Rose Bowl for the first time when they meet coach Rick Neuheisel's struggling Bruins on Saturday.
Fresno State (2-1) has been impressive this season, surging into the Top 25 with a season-opening win at Rutgers and staying there after a tough 13-10 loss to then-No. 10 Wisconsin and a 55-54 double-overtime win at Toledo last Saturday.
The Bulldogs are the only ranked team in California aside from No. 1 Southern California - a painful reminder to the Bruins of their rapid demise.
UCLA (1-2) jumped to No. 23 after beating then-No. 18 Tennessee in overtime in Neuheisel's debut with the school on Sept. 1, but it's been a serious struggle for the Bruins since then.
They allowed 42 first-half points and seven passing touchdowns in a 59-0 loss at BYU on Sept. 13, then were blown out 31-10 at home by Arizona in their Pac-10 opener last Saturday.
Kevin Craft attempted 31 passes and threw for just 81 yards against Arizona as the Bruins went without an offensive touchdown for the second straight game. UCLA's defense, meanwhile, is tied for 110th in the Football Bowl Subdivision after allowing 38.0 points per game in the first three contests.
"There is only one way to fix things, and that's to pick up that shovel and work toward that end," Neuheisel said. "There is not a quick-fix solution to this. It's about getting everybody focused and really getting involved with individual improvement that will then show collectively."
Fresno State's reaction to its dramatic win last Saturday took a drastically different tone. Hill, coaching his 143rd game at Fresno State, said he'd never been prouder of his team.
After a solid performance against Wisconsin, the Bulldogs' defense gave up 297 rushing yards and 598 total yards against Toledo, but denied the Rockets' 2-point conversion attempt in the second overtime to seal the victory.
"I'm not about the stats or the score," Hill said. "I said earlier in the week if we came in here and won by one point I'd be happy. It's always about the W with me and always will be. We got a tough road win and we are moving on."
It remains to be seen if UCLA can give Fresno State another tough test on the road. Since Hill took over in 1997, the Bulldogs have lost twice to the Bruins at the Rose Bowl, falling to ranked UCLA teams in 1999 and 2000.
Fresno State had lost the first six games in the series until the most recent meeting, when the Bulldogs held UCLA to 164 total yards in a 17-9 win in the Silicon Valley Bowl on Dec. 30, 2003.
That was one of the program's 18 wins in 39 games against the Pac-10 since 1980, the most of any team outside the league over that span.
After playing the Bruins, the Bulldogs open WAC play on Oct. 4 against defending conference champion Hawaii.