Know Wyoming’s foe: Fresno State Bulldogs
LARAMIE -- Is there another team in the Mountain West Conference that relies on one player more than Fresno State does?
With quarterback Jake Haener in the lineup, the Bulldogs are 5-2. Without the senior, that mark sits at just 2-2.
That's not a crazy disparity, but hear me out.
One of those setbacks came at UConn in early October. That was the Huskies first win over an FBS opponent in more than 1,000 days, snapping an 18-game losing skid. Wyoming also flirted with the UConn trap in 2021, escaping New England with a 24-22 win thanks to a batted down 2-point conversion.
Logan Fife, who was filling in for Haener that day in East Hartford, threw for just 157 yards and added a pair of picks in the 19-14 loss. Fresno State chalked up 187 yards of total offense, nearly 231 less than its season average. That offensive scoring output missed the mark by 17 points.
Haener suffered an ankle injury in a 45-17 loss to No. 7 USC inside the LA Coliseum in late September. Former Wyoming defensive end Solomon Byrd did that damage. Since his return under center Oct. 29 against San Diego State, Haener has yet to throw for less than 313 yards in a game. He has tossed at least two touchdowns in each of those five wins. Oh, by the way, he's also completing nearly 75% of his throws.
Fresno State is the hottest team in the league, currently on a six-game winning streak and awaiting a meeting with Boise State in the conference title game Dec. 3 inside Albertsons Stadium.
It's no secret why. Haener is that good.
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In his lone meeting against the Cowboys in 2021, the Washington transfer had one of his rare "off days" in a 17-0 win in Laramie. Haener connected on just 15-of-28 passes for a career-low 96 yards. Still, he tossed two touchdown passes in the victory.
Back to this current version.
The 'Dogs feature five receivers who have hauled in at least 200 yards worth of passes, including Haener's top target, Jalen Moreno-Cropper, who leads the team with 72 grabs for 971 yards and five scores.
And who could forget about Jordan Mims?
Quietly, the senior running back has 1,026 rushing yards to go along with 11 touchdowns on the ground. That's an average of 5.1 yards per carry. He's the second-leading rusher in the Mountain West behind only Air Force's Brad Roberts, who currently has 1,425 yards to his credit.
Fresno State has 23 team sacks this fall. That sits in the middle of the pack in the league. The same can't be said for David Perales, who has tallied a conference-best 10.5 quarterback takedowns in 11 games. The next closest in the sack department is San Diego State's Jonah Tavai, who has nine.
If there's one perceived weakness on this Bulldogs team, it would be its run defense. They are allowing more than 166 yards on the ground per game. That's good news for a UW squad that runs the ball for nearly 200 yards a night.
Here are some other things you need to know about the Bulldogs:
* Head coach: Jeff Tedford (1st year of second stint at Fresno State, 4th total) 33-18 overall record
* Offensive coordinator: Kirby Moore (6th year); Defensive coordinator: Kevin Coyle (1st year)
* Record in 2021: 10-3 overall, 6-2 in Mountain West play
* Offense in 2022: Average 31 ppg, 417.6 ypg (132.1 rush, 285.5 pass)
* Defense in 2022: Allow 22.7 ppg, 369.4 ypg (166.3 rush, 203.1 pass)
* Key Returners - Offense: Jake Haener (QB - 190-255, 2,249 yds, 16 TD, 3 INT), Jordan Mims (RB - 202 rush, 1,026 yds, 11 TD; 15 catch, 87 yds, TD), Malik Sherrod (RB - 61 rush, 350 yds, 2 TD), Jalen Moreno-Cropper (WR - 72 catch, 971 yds, 5 TD), Nikko Remigio (WR - 59 catch, 661 yds, 4 TD), Zane Pope (WR - 36 catch, 427 yds, 2 TD), Erik Brooks (WR - 33 catch, 345 yds, 3 TD), Josh Kelly (WR - 12 catch, 207 yds), Raymond Pauwels (TE - 16 catch, 158 yds, 2 TD)
* Key Returners - Defense: Lavelle Bailey (LB - 74 tackles, 5 PBU, FF), Malachi Langley (LB - 50 tackles, sack, 2 PBU, INT), Evan Williams (DB - 49 tackles, 4 PBU), David Perales (DE - 44 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 3 PBU, INT, 2 FF), Morice Norris (DB - 41 tackles, 6 PBU), Bralyn Lux (DB - 35 tackles, 2 sacks, 6 PBU, INT, FF), Cam Lockridge (DB - 30 tackles, 7 PBU, 2 INT, TD)
* Overview: Fresno State isn't in the Mountain West title game by accident. This team has the best all-around quarterback in the conference and balances that out with one of the top running backs. A healthy Heaner has been on target since his return to the field in late October. That has been very bad news for his division, who saw the door cracked when he went down against the Trojans. That door is now officially slammed shut. During the 'Dogs six-game winning streak, the defense has been doing its part, too. That unit has allowed just 17.3 points per game, 5.4 below its season average. Eight of Perales' 10.5 sacks have come during this streak, too. A big question coming into the regular-season finale is will Fresno State rest its starters with the championship game just around the corner? As much as this team relies on Haener, is it willing to watch him drop back to pass 30 times -- his average over the last five outings -- with the second-ranked pass rush in the MW coming at him? I guess we will all find out together.
* Thoughts on Fresno State: "Moving on to Fresno, they won the West and they deserve to be playing in the championship, as well. You know, you really want to start with the quarterback. Haener is unbelievable. I mean, he makes all the throws, he's got a really strong arm, he must have an off-the-chart-football IQ with 255 attempts throwing the ball and he's thrown three interceptions. I mean, sometimes you throw three interceptions in one game. Coach Tedford, you know, is an old, old hand at working with quarterbacks and he enjoys a great national reputation. He's one of my closer friends in our league, you know, maybe because our age is about the same. We pull out our AARP cards. Maybe he'll take offense to that, but it's true. But they've got a great group of receivers, and they spread the ball around. Mims, the running back, is over 1,000 yards. So you've got a one-two punch, that makes it really tough. They're aggressive on defense and they run really well. They play well and they've gotten better. You know, it's no surprise that we're playing two divisional champions right at the tail end of the year. We've got a lot to play for." - Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl
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