Sept. 7 NCAA Football Picks and Preview — San Diego State (1-0) at UCLA (0-1)

(Demetric Felton photo courtesy Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY Sports)

This is the full preview(s) as seen on the Winners and Whiners and Stat Salt websites. The confidence rating for all picks on a scale from 1 to 5 is in parentheses.

Note: The 5/5 does NOT represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick(s) from each individual game.

When and Where: Saturday, Sept. 7, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif., 4:15 p.m. EDT.

After getting a vote of confidence from his coach, quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and UCLA look to regroup from a season-opening loss Saturday in a tricky home opener versus San Diego State.

Aztecs seeking improvements after ugly win over FCS foe

There is nowhere to go but up offensively for San Diego State after laboring to a 6-0 victory over FCS opponent Weber State last weekend. Kicker Matt Ariaza was the sole source of offense, booting a 34-yard field goal in the second quarter and a 29-yarder in the fourth as the Aztecs offense bogged down repeatedly and averaged just 3.3 yards per play.

The outcome was in question until Tariq Thompson intercepted a pass and batted down a fourth-down pass on Weber State’s final two possessions, capping a dominant day for the defense in which it conceded just 154 yards.

Offensively, running back Juwan Washington was hampered by an ankle sprain that limited him to 55 yards on 22 carries, but Aztecs coach Rocky Long is concerned that the speed of UCLA’s defense will lead to a second straight week of overall struggles on that side of the ball San Diego State continues to transition to a spread offense he insists will still have a run-first mentality.

“I see personnel groups out there that line up certain ways and shift all over the place in order to try to get a numbers advantage, so they’re hard to prepare for. Especially on defense because they are all over the place,” Long noted about the Bruins in his weekly press conference. “They end up in some unusual formations and they end up in different places than they start in, so your team has to really be sharp mentally. If you’re thinking too much, then you don’t play quite as fast. And if you don’t play quite as fast and the other team is faster than you, you’re in trouble.”

Ryan Agnew completed 16 of 30 passes for just 108 yards, and his longest completion was a 12-yard gain. A positive for San Diego State was eight different players had at least one reception, while Jordan Byrd had some positive plays in the backfield, including a 23-yard run as part of a 50-yard effort on five carries.

“He’s done a great job all offseason and all through camp to just hold us together,” offensive lineman Keith Ismael said of Agnew. “He’s a key figure to our offense, he’s the quarterback, he runs the whole thing. He’s really stepped up and owned that role for himself and brought all those younger players who are starting to play more with him and with us. He’s one of the key figures on our team and our offense.”

Kelly defends DTR after turnovers plague Bruins in loss

Year Two of Chip Kelly’s tenure in Westwood began the same way Year One ended — with turnovers contributing to a loss. UCLA had four miscues overall in last weekend’s 24-14 defeat at Cincinnati, with his quarterback Thompson-Robinson responsible for all four with two interceptions and two lost fumbles.

Kelly, though, would have no part of hanging the sophomore signal-caller out to dry by his lonesome, defending his quarterback while placing the blame on the offense collectively during his media availability.

“We had four turnovers,” Kelly told the Los Angeles Times, putting extra emphasis on the first word. “So that’s how we look at it, it’s a team. It’s not a one-man show by any stretch of the imagination. I think the whole offense as a group, we need to do a better job clicking/ We had some new guys up front, obviously [Cincinnati’s defensive] front presented some problems and issues for us, but we’ve got to protect [Thompson-Robinson] better.

“We have to be able to be a little cleaner in the pocket and give him a little more time because I thought our receivers did a decent job of getting open, but there were times where we just didn’t have enough time to get them the football, so overall offensively we were not very good.”

Thompson-Robinson completed just 8 of 26 passes for 156 yards but did have a pair of scoring tosses — including a 75-yarder to converted running back Demetric Felton. The Bruins were without a slew of players on the offensive side of the ball, most notably running back and 1,200-yard rusher Joshua Kelley, leading returning receiver Theo Howard, and offensive linemen Michael Alves and Alec Anderson all absent due to injury.

Their availability for this game is uncertain, though all four were are practice Monday. Without specifying any of their injuries, Kelly did not he would have held them out of the game if it were a conference clash.

Felton accounted for 162 of UCLA’s 213 total yards, rushing for 71 in Kelley’s absence and finishing with 91 receiving. The junior had just 15 carries in his first two seasons with the Bruins and had 20 receptions last year before switching to running back.

Winning the turnover battle has been pivotal in the Bruins getting victories since Kelly took over. UCLA has a plus-8 turnover margin in its three victories and a minus-9 in its 10 defeats.

The Bruins have never lost to the Aztecs, going 21-0-1 in a series that dates back to 1922, and have won the last 19 games between the teams. This is the first meeting since UCLA recorded a 33-14 home win in 2009.

Notable Trends

UCLA is:

  • 2-11 ATS in its last 13 non-conference games.
  • 2-6-1 ATS in its last nine home games.
  • 1-6 in its last seven September games.

San Diego State is:

  • 16-5 ATS in its last 21 games vs. sub-.500 teams.

*****5-Star Pick*****

UNDER 45.5 points (-110)

Between San Diego State’s struggles in transitioning to the spread offense, and Thompson-Robinson’s struggles valuing the ball, the under is a clear play here, especially with the hook on the high side of a number that can be a clean touchdown and field goal combination.

The under is 5-1 in San Diego State’s last six non-conference games and 5-2 in its last seven versus Pac-12 opponents. The under has hit in UCLA’s last four games following a contest it failed to reach 100 rushing yards, and if Kelley is unavailable again, there is a chance that could happen in this contest.

This line ticked down one-half point to 45, which is a flat TD+FG combination. Still, the struggles both teams had offensively offer plenty of confidence in the under delivering.

****4-Star Pick****

UCLA UNDER 26 points (-105)

After watching the Bruins need to grind their way to 14 points and commit four turnovers, coupled with a solid Aztecs defense coming off a shutout, it is hard to see a path to 20 points for UCLA — especially if Howard and Kelley are unavailable. San Diego State’s over/under is a more challenging 18.5 points, which makes the Bruins and the under a much better play.

UNDER 22.5 points 1st half (-110)

The teams combined to score 10 first-half points in their season opener, and it may be the case where the first team to 10 leads at halftime here. Neither team has shown enough offensively to believe they will create separation in what should be a low-scoring 30 minutes with under 20 points.

***3-Star Picks***

San Diego State +7.5 (-110)

If the Bruins are without Kelley and Howard, it will be tough sledding for them offensively, especially if Thompson-Robinson struggles valuing the ball. Neither team showed much in the way of offense, but the Aztecs defense should be able to keep this game competitive and within a one-score range.

UCLA -4.5 1st half (-105)

This is more an anti-Aztecs offense pick than a pro-Bruins one given how awful their transition was to the spread offense against an FCS foe. UCLA’s defense was on the field far too long last week at Cincinnati, but with San Diego State still trying to solve its issues on that side of the ball, the Bruins giving less than a touchdown is worth a play.

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