The Kalen DeBoer era got off to an ugly start on Saturday night for the Fresno State Bulldogs.
After months of uncertainty with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Bulldogs hosted their first game of the 2020 shortened season against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, losing 34-19.
This was the ideal opening game for Fresno State as Hawai’i also had issues getting its players on campus and participating in workout activities.
But the Bulldogs couldn’t get things rolling their way.
Jake Haener’s debut:
Many people were looking forward to Haener’s first game with the Bulldogs, but his three interceptions thrown in the game may have overshadowed some of the bright spots he had.
When DeBoer announced Haener as the starter this past Monday, he also mentioned that there will be high expectations from the former Pac-12 quarterback.
After all, when a Bulldog legend like Kevin Sweeney allows you to wear his retired number, there will be some big shoes to fill.
The junior quarterback tossed for 289 yards and one touchdown when he connected with Juan Rodriguez in the second quarter. Haener made some questionable throws early in the game, but adapting to a new system under DeBoer in a month is a daunting task.
Haener was under pressure throughout the night as he would often roll out of the pocket when there was little pressure. But when his offensive line gave him some time in the pocket he showed off what he can do throwing the ball deep — his longest being a 51-yard pass.
Normally there would be plenty of time to settle in, but in an eight-game season, Haener needs to get in a rhythm sooner than later, especially with an eager Ben Wooldridge waiting for his chance on the sideline.
Defense struggled in new formation:
It wasn’t a good debut for the new 4-2-5 Fresno State defense that was incorporated by defensive coordinator William Inge this season.
While Kwami Jones recorded three of the team’s four sacks in the first quarter, the defense struggled and failed to control Hawai’i’s run-pass option (RPO).
This was more present in the second half compared to the first. Fresno State’s defense only allowed 61 rushing yards in the first half, however in the second half that total rose to 262.
Hawai’i ended the night with 323 rushing yards with quarterback Chevan Cordeiro accounting for 133 yards and two of the four rushing touchdowns.
The Bulldogs also struggled with getting off the field on third down as the Rainbow Warriors went 11-for-16 on third-down conversions.
With only two linebackers and a quarterback like Cordeiro with some mobility, the RPO made it difficult for Fresno’s offense to contain.
Bralyn Lux asserts his spot:
The walk-on redshirt freshman surprised some people by earning a starting spot at cornerback, but his teammates raved about him during training camp.
He made a good first impression on special teams by forcing a fumble in the opening kickoff. Later, in the second quarter, he broke up a deep pass by Cordeiro on 3rd and 10, which could have derailed the Bulldogs much earlier in the game. He also had eight solo tackles Saturday night.
The redshirt walk-on freshman backed up his role as a starter with a strong performance. If he continues to produce at this rate, he can potentially end up as one of the many scholarship players on the team.
Overall Kalen Deboer debut:
His offense relied heavily on Haener, as the run game seemingly vanished in the second half, with only 36 yards on 12 attempts.
Another interesting note was that sophomore Jalen Cropper — who had 124 yards and one touchdown in last season’s game against Hawai’i — didn’t get his first catch until the third quarter.
It’s the first game of the season, but DeBoer receives a free pass this time when it comes to the team’s performance.
Unlike most new head coaches, DeBoer has a solid sense of familiarity with his players since he served as the offensive coordinator under Jeff Tedford in 2017-2018.
But, with just a month of training camp and Fresno State struggling to get its student-athletes on campus, it made it hard for the Bulldogs to catch up with everyone else. Additionally, the Bulldogs only had one team scrimmage to run through in training camp.