It has been 329 days since the last game day for Fresno State football.
The Bulldogs had members of the family return, some expectations to fill, and debuts to uphold against the visiting Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors. Even with all the excitement surrounding game day, Fresno State dropped its first game of the 2020 season against Hawai’i 34-19.
Head coach Kalen DeBoer and quarterback Jake Haener were ready to debut in their roles.
Players like defensive end Kwami Jones and running back Jordan Mims saw action for the first time since last season due to injury.
And fans were ready to see this new Bulldog team in action.
Fresno State football was back.
Yet things were different, the Bulldogs only had themselves and some cardboard cutouts as immediate support. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s current mandate, the Red Wave were not able to attend the home opener.
The Rainbow Warriors got the ball to start the game. However, on the return, Hawai’i’s Lincoln Victor fumbled the ball on a tackle by cornerback Bralyn Lux.
After the play was reviewed, the Bulldogs offense took the field for the first time on the 26-yard line.
Haener completed his first couple of throws as a Bulldog, then handed the ball off to running back Ronnie Rivers to score the first touchdown of the 2020 season, giving Fresno State a 7-0 lead.
Fresno State’s defense would now come to the spotlight and immediately have its presence felt. The ‘Dogs forced a three-and-out after Jones sacked Hawai’i quarterback Chevan Cordeiro. Jones’ impact continued after totaling three sacks in the first quarter.
After the three-and-out, Haener threw his first turnover in his career — an interception by Hawai’i’s Euguene Ford.
Hawai’i was backed up to its 18-yard line following the interception.
The Rainbow Warriors were not able to capitalize on Haener’s mistake as the following drive would end on a 49-yard missed field goal that fell considerably short.
Hawaii eventually tied the game up, 7-7, on its next drive with a 20-yard read-option touchdown kept by Cordeiro with four minutes left in the first quarter.
The Bulldogs’ following drive continued into the second quarter but ultimately ended in a punt. Hawai’i then followed up on its next drive with a field goal to take the lead, 10-7.
Both teams punted on back-to-back drives but Rivers’ return put the Bulldogs within striking distance inside of Hawaii’s 33-yard line. Mims then subbed in for Rivers and rushed for a big gain of 15 yards.
This run set up Haener to complete a touchdown pass to tight end Juan Rodriguez, giving both players their first touchdowns of their Bulldog career. Fresno State kicker Cesar Silva wasn’t able to kick the PAT as holder Cade Fuller fumbled the snap, giving the Bulldogs a three-point lead,13-10, with just 1:50 left on the clock.
Hawai’i then answered back following a two-minute drill, and Cordeiro scored his second rushing touchdown of the game.
The Bulldogs were set to receive at the start of the second half.
In the second half, Hawaii’s run game got stronger, and Fresno State’s offense made too many mistakes.
Haener opened up the second half by throwing his second interception of the game. It wouldn’t be his last however as he would throw another by the end of the third quarter. He ended the night completing 17 of 31 passes for 289 yards along with one touchdown and four total turnovers.
Fresno State’s defense could not contain the Rainbow Warriors’ run game as they rushed for 262 yards in the second half and scored two more touchdowns. For comparison, the Bulldogs held the run game to a total of 61 rushing yards in the first half.
“We just need to put a whole game together, and we’ll be fine,” Jones said after the game. “The first half was alright, but the second half we didn’t keep it together.”
The Bulldogs also could not get the stops they needed on third down. Hawai’i ended the night converting 11-of-16 third-down chances — a 68% third-down completion percentage.
“We are going to flip on the film, we’re going to watch it and we are going to learn so much from what happened [Saturday]. There were so many scenarios that we just haven’t been in and haven’t been able to learn…” Deboer said following the game Saturday. “We just gotta do what we do. Focus on the fundamentals and focus on finishing. There were no excuses in the locker room.