Three takeaways from Fresno State’s near upset versus Oregon

Jake Haener drops back to throw against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium on Saturday, September 4, 2021. (Tyler Van Dyke/The Collegian)

Coming off a 45-0 win versus the UConn Huskies, the Fresno State Bulldogs were back in action on Saturday taking on the No. 11 Oregon Ducks.

With another early 11 a.m. start time in Eugene, the Bulldogs had another slow start eventually working their way back into the game, but were not able to outlast the Ducks losing 31-24, giving them their first loss of the season. 

Here are three major takeaways from the tough loss:

Turnover plagued start for the Offense

In a game where the offense needed to come out and silence the craziness of the crowd in Autzen stadium, they did the exact opposite by coughing up the ball to the Ducks twice in the first quarter.  

On the very first play of the second drive of the game for the Bulldogs, quarterback Jake Haener was sacked for 9 yards all the way back to the Fresno State 21 yard line. Haener was sacked and stripped by potential 2022 first round NFL draft pick and Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux. 

The fumble was then picked up by Ducks outside linebacker Mase Funa and returned all the way down to the Fresno State three yard line, setting up an eventual CJ Verdell rushing touchdown for the Ducks with 8:07 remaining in the first quarter. 

Just when you think it couldn’t get worse for the Bulldogs they had their second turnover of the first half, with running back Ronnie Rivers taking a handoff for two-yards to the Fresno State 27-yard line and then getting hit hard by Ducks inside linebacker Noah Sewell and fumbling the ball into the hands of defensive tackle Keyon Ware-Hudson. Once again setting up for a rushing touchdown by Oregon running back Travis Dye.

Back-to-back drives with costly turnovers on the first play dug the Bulldogs into a tough hole to work themselves out of for the rest of the game, with the Ducks leading at the end of the first quarter 14-0. 

With the offense waking up in the second quarter, the Bulldogs were able to put together a 69-yard drive capping it off with a Abraham Montaño 33-yard field goal, putting the Bulldogs on the board. 

Scoring a field goal on a 68-yard scoring drive on their next possession, the Bulldogs seemed to be back on track in the second quarter.

Shifting all the momentum with a huge 75-yard scoring drive finished off by a 17-yard strike for a touchdown from Haener to receiver Jalen Cropper with 7 seconds left in the second quarter , the Dogs went into the half only down 8 points. The score could’ve been different if they didn’t have those two disastrous fumbles in the first quarter.

Even in tough loss Defense looked promising 

Despite the early offensive struggles putting them in a tough position down in the red zone and giving the Ducks easy opportunities to score, the Bulldogs defense forced the Ducks offense into three drives resulting in punts in the first half and only giving up one scoring drive of 74 yards, with the majority of the yards coming from a 32-yard bomb from quarterback Anthony Brown to wide receiver Johnny Johsnon III.

Coming out of the locker room on the first drive of the second half, the defense made a big stop on fourth down and one yard to go, as they stopped running back CJ Verdell from reaching that one yard he needed for the first down to keep the drive alive. 

At the start of the fourth quarter, reigning Mountain West defensive player of the week, defensive end Arron Mosby sacked Brown for an 8-yard loss forcing Brown to put the ball on the turf. Recovering the fumble was defensive tackle Kevin Atkins. 

For the second consecutive game Mosby forced a turnover and had a career high 3.5 tackles for loss. safe to say Mosby is going to be a defensive force this season.

Holding Oregon to a field goal on their next offensive possession, and seeing the offense take the lead with a field goal of their own, it seemed as though the defense were going to remain stout for the rest of the fourth quarter and give the Bulldogs a chance to win.

That goal looked very promising when they put Ducks offense in a fourth down and two yards to go situation, which is an all or nothing down with just under 3 minutes to go in the game. Duck quarterback Brown broke through the Bulldog defensive line and made a defender miss badly on the way to a 30 yard rushing touchdown with 2:57 left in the fourth quarter, sealing the Ducks win.

Even though the defense had a major breakdown on that fourth down scoring play eventually sealing the win for the Ducks, they still showed a lot of promise in how they handled the intensity and physicality of the Ducks offense throughout the game. Having to deal with a lot of smack talking from both the Ducks team and their noisy crowd. 

Fresno State Bulldogs defends end zone in the first quarter against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium on Saturday, September 4, 2021. (Tyler Van Dyke/The Collegian)

Haener has stellar day, but Rivers not involved enough

Other than the mishaps with the two fumbles on the day, Haener had quite the day statistically. The Bulldogs quarterback threw for 298 yards and one touchdown, he was 30 for 43 on pass attempts which is a 70% completion rate on the day. That is major efficiency in a road game with a hostile environment like Autzen. 

Haener did get hit quite a bit – getting sacked 4 times on the day and two of those led to fumbles, so the offensive line didn’t do the best job trying to protect their quarterback. 

Haener also got his legs moving a little more in this one as he had to scramble when the pocket collapsed on him gaining 34 yards on the ground throughout the game. 

A big question mark for the day is where was Bulldogs running back Ronnie Rivers. Rivers only ran for 40 yards off of 14 carries and added 4 receptions for 19 yards as well. 

Now these would be solid statistics for most running backs in a day with not much of a running game, but not for a running back of Rivers’ caliber. 

He needs to be getting a lot more touches whether it be from handoffs or more dump offs out of the backfield, or possibly wheel routes down the sideline might help with his speed as a receiver.  

In the first half, Rivers seemed to be pretty involved in the offensive game plan, but it also seemed like Oregon came in with a defensive scheme to shut down Rivers and force the Bulldogs to lean on their passing attack. Oregon definitely figured out how to limit Rivers and the running game as his partner in the backfield, Jordan Mims, only rushed for 48 yards while only taking four carries.  

The Bulldogs should involve Rivers and Mims in the offensive attack more as the season progresses, whether it be running or catching the ball out of the backfield.

Next on the schedule for the Bulldogs is Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, going back home to take on the Mustangs. Kickoff set for 7 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium. 

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