Three takeaways from Bulldogs blowout victory over the Mustangs

Fresno State defends field goal attempt against Cal Poly on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (Melina Kazanjian/The Collegian).

After losing a close one to Oregon in front of a tough Autzen crowd on Sept. 4, the Fresno State Bulldogs were back at the Bulldog Stadium on Saturday to take on the Cal Poly Mustangs. 

The Bulldogs started slow like other games, but exploded in the second quarter. They dominated the rest of the game to defeat the Mustangs, 63-10.

Here are three key takeaways from the blowout:

Offensive clinic for Haener and Bulldog receivers

As the Bulldogs faced the Mustangs, the offense did not attack fast in the first quarter for the third game in a row. 

Fresno State couldn’t move the ball on their first two drives of the first quarter, resulting in multiple punts. On the third possession, the offense was able to put together an eight-play, 80-yard drive to the two yard line. Then, on a 4th down play, the Bulldogs chose to go for it as quarterback Jake Haener scrambled and ran in for a 2-yard touchdown, with just 37 seconds left in the first quarter.   

Haener created a spark going into the second quarter as the Bulldogs’ aerial attack took off, totaling 187 yards with four touchdowns in the second quarter. 

It was big play after big play for Haener and the Bulldog receivers. Haener threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Cropper to start the second quarter. Then, Haener ran another short rushing touchdown in the middle of the second quarter, the ‘Dogs now leading 21-3 

Then it was receiver Jalen Cropper with a highlight play of the first half. Off a double-pass starting with Haener tossing it over to Cropper who not really getting to set his feet or plant to throw very well before the Mustang defense swarmed him, , threw an absolute dart to Josh Kelly who was running freely down the sideline and Kelly caught and ran it in for a 51-yard touchdown with 7:44 to go in the first quarter. 

Cropper played as a quarterback back in his high school days at Sanger High School.  

Then, getting started after that one. Kelly caught a 14-yard touchdown in the second quarter with 2:25 left in the half. He totaled an efficient 127 yards, receiving two touchdowns all while only having three receptions.

Haener had an all-star performance in the Bulldogs offensive show. 

He completed 17-of-22 pass attempts for 380 yards, and with 11 rushing yards, he had 391 total yards. He also had four passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns

Haener gave all of his starting receivers love, throwing a combined six touchdowns – one to Jalen Cropper, Zane Pope, Keric Wheatfall and two to Josh Kelly. 

Ronnie Rivers got in on the action with 67 rushing yards and 43 receiving yards for a total of 110 yards. Rivers also added a rushing touchdown as well.

The Bulldogs had 671 total yards, the most since 2014. 

Bulldogs Defense continues dominance 

After holding the Mustangs to 10 points in the first half, the Bulldogs had them scoreless in the second half. This is the second time this season where they kept an opponent from scoring for at least 30 minutes.  

Linebacker Levelle Bailey picked off Cal Poly quarterback Spencer Brasch’s pass to grab the first interception of the season for the Bulldogs, Bailey added three pass breakups as well. 

Defensive experience was shown as Fresno State recorded three more sacks against Cal Poly, now with 10 total sacks for the season. That number is good for the fifth-best by a team in the FBS this season.  

Leading the way was defensive tackle Kevin Atkins with two sacks on the night. 

Fresno State’s defense against the pass has been nothing short of excellent. They limited the Mustangs to 221 yards passing. 

The defense did better against the Mustangs’ run game, holding them to 53 total rushing yards. . 

Defensive back Evan Williams led in tackles with five total for the night. Defensive backs Elijah Gates and Bralyn Lux both had four total tackles.

The Bulldogs defense must continue their great defense in their big matchup against UCLA’s high-scoring offense.

Henderson backup QB for the foreseeable future 

The Bulldogs subbed Haener for freshman quarterback Jaylen Henderson with 4:46 left in the third quarter. 

Like Logan Fife’s performance against UConn, this was Henderson’s chance to become the backup quarterback for the Bulldogs, and he utilized a lot of time and reps between the third and fourth quarter.

Differentiating himself from Haener and Fife, Henderson’s quickness and agility were on full display as he gained 34 yards during a short third quarter performance. Then rushed for a 40-yard run in the fourth.

Henderson totaled 78 rushing yards and 44 passing yards on 4-of-6 attempts. Combining for a total of 122 yards with limited minutes. 

His performance against Cal Poly is sufficient to earn him the backup quarterback role.

The Bulldogs next game is in Pasadena against No. 13 UCLA Bruins. In another hostile and noisy environment, the Bulldogs need to quickly fire on all cylinders.

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