Fresno State struggled with a slow start to begin the game. It’s an issue that quarterback Jake Haener wants to fix.
“I want to challenge the guys… we got to start faster,” Haener said. “I like to see us start faster, and kind of go from there.”
Fresno State’s rocky start began with a quick three-and-out. Their next offensive drive was also short-lived with seven plays and 24 yards.
But when the offense finds its rhythm just like it did in its third drive of the game, Fresno State turns into a dominant force. The Bulldogs produced 569 offensive yards in their 63-10 victory over the Cal Poly Mustangs Saturday night at Bulldog Stadium.
Haener – who is averaging 336 passing yards per game – was the key component in orchestrating a smooth offense. The senior quarterback finished the night with 380 passing yards and six total touchdowns.
“Jake’s an extremely competitive person, extremely competitive,” Fresno State Head Coach Kalen DeBoer said. “[Haener] taking ownership… being critical of himself. I mean, I think that just says a lot about the type of leadership we have on this team.”
With 3:42 left in the first quarter, the Bulldogs’ offense ignited for a flurry of attacks, gaining 66 yards in three plays. Haener kicked it off with a 23-yard pass to tight end Juan Rodriguez, then running back Ronnie Rivers rushed for 13 yards the following play and Haener capped it off with a long pass to Zane Pope for 30 yards.
In a flash, the Bulldogs were now 5 -yards away from the end zone.
However, they were stopped just short of the end zone. The Mustangs defense stuffed Rivers 2 yards away.
But the Bulldogs chose to go for it on fourth down. Haener escaped the defense and rushed inside for the first touchdown of the game with 37 seconds left in the first.
“Good team effort all around,” DeBoer said. “You know the offense. When it gets rolling, it’s pretty tough to stop. And you can see there’s a lot of front playmakers making plays.”
After a good PAT by kicker Abraham Montaño, the Bulldogs went into the second quarter leading the Mustangs 7-0.
Any stiffness and slowness the Bulldogs had was shaken off, and they took control for the rest of the game.
Haener made use of his receiving core, and it utilized every opportunity to score.
The Bulldogs — who amassed a total of 71 passing yards with only one touchdown in the first — had new life in the second, passing for 187 yards with four touchdowns.
Wide receiver Jalen Cropper caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from Haener with 14:31 left in the second quarter.
The next drive, Cal Poly kicker Jaden Ohlsen nailed a 47-yard field goal to cut the Mustangs’ deficit to 14-3 with 11:13 left.
Haener followed up with his second rushing touchdown of the game after a four play, 69-yard drive.
The Bulldogs got another passing touchdown, but it wasn’t from Haener. In a double-pass play, Haener threw it to Cropper, who then heaved a 51-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Josh Kelly. The Bulldogs then led 28-3.
Cropper is no stranger to tossing the pigskin. During his tenure at Sanger High School, he saw quite a bit of time at quarterback.
“I mean, that’s pretty impressive,” DeBoer said. “He went from one read to the next and back to where he started with us and pressure in his face… it’s what Jalen does.”
Kelly caught another touchdown, this time thrown by Haener from 14-yards out to extend Fresno State’s lead to 35-3 with 2:25 left in the second quarter.
Mustangs quarterback Spencer Brasch completed a 5five-yard pass to Chris Coleman to make it 35-10 heading into halftime.
Fresno State’s dominance carried over to the second half. Running back Ronnie Rivers rushed for a 6-yard touchdown with 11:24 left in the third quarter.
In their next possession, Haener threw a 62-yard touchdown pass to Pope just two minutes later.
In his final play of the game, Haener threw a 53-yard touchdown pass to Keric Wheatfall before subbing out. Freshman quarterback Jaylen Henderson took his place as Fresno State led 56-10 heading into the fourth quarter.
Haener finished his start with 380 yards. Kelly led with 127 receiving yards, followed by Zane Pope with 95 and Cropper with 70. The wide receivers combined for six touchdowns.
“Yeah, they make me look good and make my job a lot easier,” Haener said. “So grateful to have those studs outside running routes for me.”
The last touchdown of the game was Jordan Wilmore’s first as a Bulldog, as he rushed down the field for a 10-yard touchdown to cap the game’s score at 63-10.
The Bulldogs will head to the historic Rose Bowl next week to take on the No. 16 UCLA Bruins, a game that can have a long-term outcome for Fresno State’s season.
No. 11 Oregon – who the Bulldogs lost to last week 31-24 – beat No. 3 Ohio State this morning. A win next week against UCLA can potentially put the Bulldogs in consideration for the top 25 rankings.
“There’s a physical toughness that we are trying to continue to have,” DeBoer said. “It’s just going to continue to carry us through the season. We got to always improve.”