Hawaii faces challenge of aerial antics by No. 18 Fresno State

NCAA Football

Fresno State had a stellar aerial combo last decade in Derek Carr and Davante Adams, who are both now enjoying standout NFL careers.

Now the No. 18 Bulldogs have another terrific tandem making noise in Jake Haener and Jalen Cropper as they arrive on the Islands to face Hawaii in Mountain West play on Saturday night in Honolulu.

Haener’s 1,842 passing yards are the most in the nation and his 15 touchdown passes are tied for second. Cropper is tied for the national lead with eight scoring catches and with 39 receptions. He also ranks eighth with 455 receiving yards.

The firepower has led Fresno State (4-1, 1-0 Mountain West) to a fast start that includes a 40-37 road win over then-No. 13 UCLA.

Last weekend, the Bulldogs held off UNLV 38-30 as Haener passed for 378 yards and five touchdowns. The scoring passes were the most by a Fresno State quarterback since Carr tossed five or more on four occasions in 2013.

Cropper had 10 catches for 108 yards and matched the school record of four touchdown receptions, joining Adams (twice in 2013), Charlie Jones (1995) and Jim Molich (1942).

“I just feel like there is a lot of trust between me and Jake on and off the field,” Cropper said of the chemistry he has with Haener. “I think going through summer, spring ball and fall camp we had a lot of practices, a lot of time, a lot of chances where we were able to connect on certain plays.

“Getting in the film room and studying a lot of the film on opponents this season, I feel like just everything we do from on and off the field to whatever we do with our relationship, I think that ties in to what we do on the field.”

Haener has moved up the charts in the Heisman race due to his strong start. As of Tuesday, only six players have better odds to win the prestigious award.

Bulldogs coach Kalen DeBoer isn’t surprised that Haener’s candidacy is drawing more support.

“You’ve got to win football games if you’re going to be considered in that realm, in that category,” DeBoer told reporters. “He’s a leader. He’s won football games in big ways. Obviously the stats are something that really draw your attention to what he’s accomplished during this year. It is kind of crazy to think how just consistently week in and week out he’s been overall.”

Fresno State is looking to win in Honolulu for the seventh straight time.

The Rainbow Warriors (2-3, 0-1) also played UCLA this season and were walloped 44-10.

Hawaii recorded a 41-21 road win over New Mexico State last Saturday as standout linebacker Darius Muasau had 11 tackles and two sacks.

Quarterback Chevan Cordeiro ranks fourth nationally with 1,410 passing yards. He has thrown seven touchdowns and six interceptions.

However, the Rainbow Warriors have scored just 50 total points in their three setbacks.

“It’s not a Chevan problem, it’s a team problem,” Hawaii coach Todd Graham said. “I’ve been in this game long enough to know when I’ve got a good product. Everyone out here knows that and our players have a lot of confidence in Chevan.”

Hawaii registered a 34-19 win in Fresno State in last season’s meeting.

–Field Level Media

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