I will be the first to admit that I got my score prediction wrong in the Game Preview for Fresno State’s game against UCONN. I said Fresno State would score one more touchdown than they did, that was my bad. I did also expect UCONN to put up a bit more of a fight, since they ended up just crossing the 100 total yard mark, and the only time they spent in the endzone was fielding kickoffs. Let’s look back at a record setting day in Bulldog Stadium, both on and off the field.
On a scaldingly hot day, where contingency plans had to be put in place in case people’s shoes started to melt (no, I’m not making that up), Fresno State got to play their first game in front of fans since 2019, and the UCONN Huskies played their first game period since the close of the 2019 season. In the opening quarter, it was pretty apparent that both teams were rusty, which wasn’t exactly unexpected.
The game started with both teams trading punts, with UCONN’s second drive of 7 plays being the longest of the first quarter. Both teams seemed affected by the intense heat, registering more than 110 degrees on the turf, but it was immediately apparent that Fresno State’s defense may be improved this year.
UCONN’s third drive was where things began to get interesting for the Bulldogs. Husky QB Jack Zergiotis dropped back to pass after a PI penalty gave them a first down, and he never saw Aaron Mosby coming. The DE burst off the edge, hit Zergiotis’ arm as it came back, knocking the ball loose. He scooped it up and dashed 34 yards into the checkerboard endzone for the first Bulldog touchdown of 2021. After all of the talk about the high-flying offense, it was the defense that put the first points on the board.
The defensive score was the switch the Bulldogs would need. They opened the 2nd quarter with a march down the field care of a 37yd Josh Kelly reception and a 17yd Jordan Mims reception, then the former Washington QB Jake Haener hit former Washington WR Ty Jones in the corner of the endzone for Jones’ first TD as a Bulldog.
During the 2nd quarter, UCONN’s offense mustered 29yds of offense. Fresno State’s had 309 to blow the game open to 31-0. The most important score of the game was Fresno State’s 3rd, when Jake Haener hit Ronnie Rivers in stride for a 61yd touchdown reception, giving Ronnie his 45th touchdown and the all-time Fresno State touchdown record. After tying Anthony Daigle’s record at the end of last season, everyone knew it wouldn’t take long for him to cement his name at the top of the record book. And he got to do it with his family in the stands, including his dad Ron, who is No.2 in Fresno State’s all time rushing list.
UCONN’s offense continued to sputter at best, getting 2 first downs during the second quarter. It was pretty apparent that the heat was starting to get to them, as fundamental technique breakdowns began to occur, which led directly to Jalen Cropper’s incredible 86yd touchdown score. He took the ball on a slant route in the middle of the field, surrounded by 5 white jerseys. Somehow, none of the 5 managed to take him down, with Cropper bouncing off 2, as he cut to the home sideline and dashed into the endzone alongside some great blocking from Josh Kelly and Erik Brooks. It’s a play that has to be seen to be believed really-
After the half, every Fresno State fan collectively held their breath as Jake Haener went down awkwardly on a QB run and immediately grabbed at the back of his leg. Thankfully it was revealed after the game to have just been cramps in both legs, but you never want to watch your QB hit the deck in Game 1. Redshirt freshman Logan Fife came in to relieve Haener, as most of the starters went to the sidelines to try to escape the heat. By the 3rd quarter, the temperature on the turf had risen to above 150 degrees, but CBS Sports thought an 11AM kickoff time in Fresno was a smart idea for some reason.
Fife showed that he has decent command of the offense, and did exactly what you want a back-up QB to do in a blowout game like this. Keep the offense moving, limit mistakes, kill time. He did throw his first interception, although that was on a tipped pass, so slightly hard to blame the kid for that one. Fans did get to see Jordan Mims score a touchdown after coming close earlier in the game, and they got a good look at Utah transfer Jordan Wilmore as he led a methodical rushing drive down to the 1yd line. Fife tossed a beautiful shovel pass to Raymond Pauwels Jr. for both of their first touchdowns at Fresno State, bringing the score up to 45-0.
So what do we now know about Fresno State football? Honestly, not a ton more than we knew Friday before the game. The offense ran fine once they shook the rust off, the O-Line did look improved by giving up 0 sacks, and Haener continues to grow and thrive. The defense did look much better in pursuit and pure tackling, but it was pretty clear that UCONN was wildly overmatched in this one. It’s pretty clear why Tyson Maeva was made a captain so quickly, as he showed his skills and leadership qualities all day. Aaron Mosby adjusted very well to his spot at DE with that fumble return. Kicker Cesar Silva made all of his PATs, and went 1⁄2 on field goals, although the one miss was from 51yds, and did doink off the upright about halfway up it, so can’t complain much there.
What I do need to complain about was the scheduling for this game. Who in their right minds at CBS Sports thought that putting this game at 11AM was a smart idea? Yeah, sure, SJSU got first billing because they won the conference last year, they were playing a bad FCS team not in 100+ degree weather. This game was almost to the point of being dangerous for both players and fans, so much so that the trainers on the sidelines were constantly running IV bags for players just to keep them upright. There’s a reason you don’t see day games at Bulldog Stadium in August/September, and hopefully we never deal with this again.
Anyway, looking ahead to next week. Fresno State travels to Eugene to face the Oregon Ducks. Given what we’ve seen from the offense so far, I expect the Dogs to at least put some points up on the board. Do they upset Oregon? I doubt it, but I think they should at least be able to keep it close for the first half or so. As long as they can contain Thibodeoux at DE and give Haener time to throw, they should be okay. Hopefully the defense has vastly improved, as we didn’t just see them against an offense worse than anemic in Week 0. We’ll find out next Saturday.
Thanks everyone for reading this recap, keep it glued to MWCConnection for all of your Mountain West sports news.