No. 22 Fresno State an overwhelming favorite vs. UNLV

NCAA Football

Fresno State has turned out its fair share of NFL quarterbacks in recent years, but Jake Haener’s performance Saturday night at then-No. 13 UCLA might just be unmatched in terms of its scope and importance.

All he did was throw for 455 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner with 14 seconds left in a 40-37 upset win, propelling the Bulldogs into the rankings at No. 22 and earning praise nationally for a gritty effort that saw him overcome a painful hip injury.

Haener’s encore performance seems easy enough on paper. Fresno State (3-1) opens its Mountain West Conference schedule Friday night against visiting UNLV (0-3) as a 30 1/2-point favorite.

The Bulldogs are getting mentioned by some as a contender for the Group of Five’s spot in the New Year’s Day bowl lineup. Their one loss wasn’t exactly a disgrace, as they led then-No. 11 Oregon in the fourth quarter before falling 31-24 in Eugene.

Had Fresno State been able to finish out that game, it might be a Top 10 team with two road wins over Pac-12 foes. However, coach Kalen DeBoer’s squad didn’t let the Oregon defeat enter its mind in Pasadena.

“The biggest thing was the belief that we would win,” he said. “There was never a question coming into this game. We know what we are capable of. The best thing about this game is there aren’t any regrets.”

The only regrets in the Rose Bowl might have been from opposing coaches who wished they had Haener leading their huddle. He marched the Bulldogs 75 yards on six plays in just 40 seconds, connecting with Jalen Cropper on a 13-yard scoring strike for the decisive points.

It was the capper of a huge game for Cropper, who caught 14 passes for 141 yards. But Fresno State isn’t a one-dimensional offense, as proven by Ronnie Rivers’ season-high 136 yards rushing and two touchdowns at UCLA. Rivers, a fifth-year senior, has 2,927 yards and 38 scores in his career.

The Bulldogs’ average of 541.5 yards per game ranks ninth nationally and their 402.5 passing yards per game ranks fourth. Logic dictates both averages could go up against a Rebels team that is off to a rocky start.

A 48-3 home loss to No. 14 Iowa State last weekend kept UNLV winless under second-year coach Marcus Arroyo. The Rebels, who finished 0-6 in 2020, have allowed at least 35 points in each game this year. They have scored just 13 points total in their two games against FBS opponents.

Arroyo, whose team opened the season with a double-overtime home loss to FCS power Eastern Washington, inherited a program with a recent history of failure. He also inherited a brutal early schedule with three straight Top 25 foes, including Fresno State.

“The growth in our program will come from challenges like this, back-to-back Top 25 teams and seeing how we stand up against them and continue to find some good football in there,” Arroyo said after the Iowa State loss. “Particularly with a young group and with depth that’s different than some of those teams.”

The Rebels have started different quarterbacks in each of their first three games, none named Tate Martell. The former Ohio State and Miami backup relieved last week’s starter, Cameron Friel, and went 2 of 6 for 27 yards. It’s believed that Doug Brumfield, who missed the Iowa State game with an injury, will get the call in Fresno.

–Field Level Media

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