If you’re a fan of Fresno State football long enough, you become mostly numb to the losses. Every year, every spark of hope, you know that it’s only a matter of time before it comes crashing down. Lo and behold, it happened last night. Empty stadium on the islands, backup true freshman QB, super-late arrival due to charter issues, and a ranked Bulldog team. It was a perfect storm for the upset, and Hawaii pulled it off.
Let’s start with the ugly truth right off the top- this was a really bad night for Jake Haener. Sure, he threw for almost 400yds and 3TDs, but he was also responsible for 5 turnovers, including 4INTs. We knew coming in that he was a gunslinger that loved throwing to hyper-tight windows to his star receivers, but a lot of forced throws went straight for the black jerseys instead of the white ones. And it all started to go downhill on the first possession, when Jalen Cropper fumbled the ball trying for extra yards and a first down. Just like last week and against Oregon, those turnovers led to the losing margin. Giving away free points off of turnovers is a recipe for disaster, and both losses so far have been because of double-digit points given away off turnovers. 14 to Hawaii, 17 to Oregon, 10 points total losing margin in both games.
Fresno State had this game in hand at the beginning of the 4th quarter, with a two touchdown lead. The smart decision would have been to just grind it out, run the ball, and get first downs. But the Bulldog coaches thought the better decision would be to keep throwing the ball constantly, setting up Hawaii’s 17 unanswered points and 3 more Fresno State turnovers. Even ESPN had them as easy winners, giving them a 90+% chance of winning in the 4th quarter. Instead of Fresno State with the 4th quarter heroics, it was the true freshman QB on the other side willing his team to victory.
This loss truly stings, we’ll add it to the list of heartbreaking Fresno State losses over the years. First loss in Hawaii since 2007, Hawaii’s first win against a ranked team since 2010, and two straight losses to the Warriors with Haener throwing 3+INTs. This bye week has to include some tough questions for this Bulldog team. Technically, the goal of a Mountain West championship is still ahead of them, but now the margin for error is zero. With games still against Nevada, SDSU, Wyoming, Boise, and SJSU, the Dogs have to play perfectly from here on in. The rush defense has to tighten up, the O-Line has to stop the stupid penalties to go behind the chains, and the turnovers can not continue. Being this deep in the turnover margin is not what winning teams do, and puts us more in line with the 2019 team than the 2018 team that last won the conference.
Coaches DeBoer, Grubb, Inge, and Sapolu really have to look inwards during this next week, and figure out which team we’re going to be the rest of the way. A Pat Hill era team that will implode after an upset loss, or one that will bounce back and come back better? That remains to be seen, but there’s too much star power on this team for them to still make a run at the conference title.