On a day where Oregon proved their credentials by upsetting Ohio State in Columbus, Fresno State showed that they are not a team to be forgotten about either, as they demolished the Cal Poly Mustangs by a score of 63-10, and the game was not as close as that score.
The team came out in special uniforms last night to commemorate the 20th anniversary of September 11th, featuring flag motifs on the script helmets, with special honor given to former Bulldog Otis Tolbert, who passed away at the Pentagon on 9/11.
Like the first two games, it did take the Fresno State offense a bit of time to get rolling. But once they began to roll, there was no stopping them in this game. Jake Haener’s play in this one could only be called elite, as he went 17/22 for 380yds and 4TDs, while also running for 2 more touchdowns. 10 different Bulldogs caught passes, and star receiver Jalen Cropper even threw a 50yd touchdown pass to Josh Kelly in the 2nd quarter as Fresno State had a lot of fun on the night.
Fresno State’s first score came on a Jake Haener in the last minute of the first quarter, ending an 8 play, 80 yard drive down the field with that 2 yard Haener run. Cal Poly started out the 2nd quarter with an interception thrown directly to Levelle Bailey, setting up a single play touchdown drive with Haener hitting Jalen Cropper for a 24yd strike to go up 14-0. The Dogs wouldn’t pitch their second shutout of the season, as Cal Poly would answer with a field goal on their next drive, but the game was already out of reach for the Mustangs.
The second quarter would be owned by the Dogs, as they put up 4 touchdowns in the frame. Starting with that first score from Haener to Cropper, the rout was on. There was a scary moment for Bulldog fans as Josh Kelly went down very awkwardly on a deep completion, and went straight into the medical tent. Whatever it was though, seemed to be minor, as Kelly was in on the next drive, catching a beautiful trick play pass from Jalen Cropper from 51yds out. Kelly would then catch Haener’s next touchdown pass to go up 35-7 with 2 minutes to go.
I spoke in my game preview about the need to avoid turnovers, but sadly, that didn’t happen in this game. A rare special teams miscue due to a Ronnie Rivers fumbled punt gave Cal Poly possession within the 5 yard line, and they cashed in for their only touchdown of the game. It was a very rare mistake for the very sure-handed Rivers, which I don’t think we’ll see repeated as the season goes on. Although I’m still not sure about using your starting running back for punt duties, but I’m not a coach.
After the break, the game was all about Fresno State’s offense and the incredibly stingy defense. After an offseason’s worth of questions, this defense truly does look vastly improved over the 2020 unit. Cal Poly began the half with the ball, but only made it 3 plays before fumbling and handing Fresno State the ball deep in Cal Poly territory. This time, it was Ronnie Rivers’ chance to shine and atone for the fumbled punt earlier. He punched the ball in from 6 yards out to extend his touchdown record, and make it 42-7.
I’d be remiss at this point if I forgot about how great Abraham Montano has been over the last two weeks. After Cesar Silva experienced a groin strain in practice, Montano was thrust into duty against Oregon in his first D1 kicking game, and was perfect against Oregon, and went a perfect 9/9 on PATs this week. He has looked completely unfazed by the moment, and really looks like he’ll be a reliable kicker into the future.
In the second half, Cal Poly had 6 consecutive punts after the fumble, and the only thing to stop them from 7 in a row was the game ending. They could not get any traction at all against the Bulldog defense. While we have not quite seen the explosive plays from David Perales that we did last year, the entire defense seems far more solid fundamentally, and the sack numbers are being spread around the front 7.
Back on offense, Jake Haener was given most of the third quarter, as he hit Zane Pope and Keric Wheatfall on two deep touchdown passes to go up 56-10 in the third quarter before finally handing over the reins to Jaylen Henderson. Henderson’s debut has been the one that Fresno State fans have been eagerly waiting for, and the true freshman showed that the hype was warranted. He used a mix of his legs and his arm to drive the team down the field, eventually handing off to Jordan Wilmore for the final touchdown of the night to bring us to the final score of 63-10. Things were relatively quiet the rest of the way, as the coaches wanted to give Henderson time to acclimate to the game plan in a low-stakes situation. He performed admirably, and the future certainly looks bright whenever Haener’s time is done under center.
Yes, this was a game against a clearly over-matched FCS opponent. But, Fresno State teams in the past would have either struggled against Cal Poly, or let their foot off the gas very early. The fact that they continued their game plan, and kept scoring shows that DeBoer does have that killer instinct that the team needs in the era of style points. This game was also a great confidence builder for the team as they prep for a tough trip to the Rose Bowl next Saturday. After showing what they could do against Oregon, I think this team really could make it a very good game against UCLA. We’ll have to wait and see, but for now, Fresno State moves to 2-1 on the year.