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Bulldog Bytes Spring Preview: The QB Room

Will Jake Haener be even more improved in Year 2?

NCAA Football: Colorado State at Fresno State Kiel Maddox-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since 2018, Fresno State actually knows who their starting QB will be going into the Fall (frantically knocks on any wooden surface nearby). After sitting out the 2019 season due to transfer rules, and the coaching turnover/truncated off-season in 2020, Jake Haener was QB1 from the first snap in 2020 to the end, minus a few series where Ben Woolridge was tested out. Even though the Dogs only played 6 games this season, they ended up 9th in the country in total offense, with Haener throwing for more than 2,000yds and 14 touchdowns. There was certainly times where he looked like a work in progress, the Hawaii season opener resulted in 3INTs, but he did only have two during the next five games, which is very good. Now we’ll see what he can do with a full off-season of coaching from DeBoer and time with the huge stable of receivers. He also gets X factor Ronnie Rivers back for another season, adding an extra pass-catcher out of the backfield when needed.

The biggest question mark hanging over Haener is if the offensive line will be improved. He was able to evade pressure on multiple occasions, including where he looked like a magician against Nevada late in the season, but a collapsing pocket led to way too many sacks for an offense built on staying ahead of schedule. There was far too many plays where he tried escaping the pocket backwards leading to a big loss instead of stepping up or even dashing forward for yardage. He proved on multiple occasions that like Marcus McMaryion before him, he can run when needed and really fool the defense, but he ended up losing yards more often than not. Coach Roman Sapolu needs to get the O-Line working together this year, even with the loss of both Syrus Tuitele and Quireo Woodley. Another year of regression across the offensive front will cause huge problems for an offense that showed flashes of absolute brilliance last year when they could get in a rhythm.

Behind Haener though, the roster picture is a bit more cloudy. Last year’s QB2, Ben Woolridge, has transferred to Louisiana, and former backup Steven Comstock is now playing safety for the team. 2020 recruit Jalen Early has moved from QB to TE, and Brandon Wingle has left the team. That only leaves untested 2020 recruits Logan Fife and Joseph Campbell, along with incoming 2021 recruit Jaylen Henderson to backup Haener. Henderson is supposed to be the QB of the future for Fresno State, but not even Derek Carr started for the team as a true freshman. Keeping Haener upright and healthy will be of utmost importance for the team this year if they want to improve on last year’s offense.

At least if there’s one thing Haener can be assured of, it’s that he has a plethora of weapons available to him this year. Star back Ronnie Rivers returns for his final year after missing the final game with an injury, meaning almost every rushing record at the school should fall this season, alongside Jordan Mims, Jevon Bigelow, Malik Sherrod, Jonathan Arcenaux, Jordan Hornbeak, and Utah transfer Jordan Wilmore giving them an absurd number of options in the backfield, even with the departure of Saveion Johnson in the off-season. Wilmore may need to sit out the season due to transfer rules, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Arcenaux redshirt, but that’s still a ton of options in the running and passing game. A mix of Rivers, Mims, Bigelow, and Hornbeak though might give Fresno State their best running back group since 2007 or 2004.

If the running back room seems crowded, it’s practically empty compared to the wide receiver group. Chris Coleman and Jamal Glaspie have departed, but everyone else is returning from an electric core. Jalen Cropper continues to grow into the star we all expected when he committed to the Bulldogs, Keric Wheatfall was a dynamic home-run threat, Josh Kelly showed dynamic flashes, and Zane Pope returned at the end of the year to bring back his possession receiving talents. Also worth mentioning Erik Brooks, who worked out of the slot, and played far bigger than his 5’8” frame, and Mac Dalena who played emergency kicker as well as receiver in the last two games of the season. Now they return all of those players, plus Emoriye Edwards from injury, Patrick Elima-Jeune who worked in the return game, and gigantic 6’5” Washington transfer Ty Jones. This may be one of those years where no one receiver or even back has overly flashy stats just because there’s so many targets for Haener.

The Fresno State offense certainly appeared to have all of the hallmarks of DeBoer’s 2017/2018 offenses before he left for Indiana, but the O-Line’s inability to keep Haener upright, and their own injury issues kept the Bulldogs from really competing in the Mountain West. Haener really did take control of the offense in the shortened season, and now he has the game experience and a full off-season to really take the offense to the next level. They will be competing with incredibly dynamic offenses in Nevada and SJSU, along with a visit from Boise, so unless the defense is incredible, we could be seeing a lot of track meets in the Mountain West next year. Keep it glued here to MWConnection for all of your Mountain West news, and the rest of the Fresno State Spring Preview series.