By Bobby Curran.
Fresno State and the University of Hawaii meet for the 54th time on Saturday at the Clarence T.C. Ching Athletics Complex in a series that dates to 1938.
This is the centennial season for the Bulldogs, and thus far it has been cause for celebration. Fresno State comes to Honolulu with a 4-1 record and a No. 18 ranking. They lost 31-24 at Oregon, beat UCLA 40-37 at the Rose Bowl, had big margin wins against Cal Poly and UConn, and last Saturday had a closer-than-expected win against UNLV at home. These Bulldogs are excellent where it matters most, starting with QB Jake Haener. The Washington transfer has completed 73% of his passes and has thrown for more than 300 yards in three straight games. He is the first BCS QB to go over the 1,000-yard passing mark this season.
Tailback Ronnie Rivers became Fresno’s all-time leading touchdown scorer by notching No. 45 against UConn, and WR Jalen Cropper is the reigning MWC Offensive Player of the Week after torching the Rebels last Saturday. The o-line is massive and can both run block and protect Haener in the passing game. Defensively, the Bulldogs are uber aggressive; they have at least 8 TFL in four of their games this year. They are second in the FBS in that category with 41 TFL for the season. The standouts are safeties Evan Williams and Elijah Gates, LB Tyson Maeva and DE Aaron Mosby. Two kickers are a combined team 8-9 on FGs.
The Rainbow Warriors are 2-3 with losses to UCLA, Oregon State and San Jose State, and wins over Portland State and New Mexico State. Last week in Las Cruces, UH opened up the playbook, threw a deep streak on their first play from scrimmage to Nick Mardner for a 74-yard TD They also played both Dae Dae Hunter and Dedrick Parson extensively at RB, and found creative ways to get the ball into Calvin Turner’s hands. Chevan Cordeiro completed 64% of his passes for 277 yards a TD and an INT, although the pick went through Turner’s hands, off his helmet and into the hands of an NMSU defender. The o-line played well, and is getting better by the game.
Nick Mardner looks more like an NFL receiver every time out. He is 6’6, long and has great top-end speed. And yet, UH continues to make silly mistakes on offense, and you won’t survive those against FSU. Hawaii is increasingly more aggressive on defense, and must continue to improve on its tackling. LB Darius Muasau is the steadiest player on the team. He has 35 T, 4 TFL, 2 SK’s, a PBU, QBH, and a forced fumble. Djuan Matthew’s is 5’9 and 275. Think you’re gonna get pad level on him? He has become the third-leading tackler on this team, and makes huge plays. Also, Khoury Bethley at S, and Cortez Davis and Cameron Lockridge at CB are playing at a high level. O’tay Baker and Jonah Laulu are big time off the edge, and if more consistent can be star quality.
The truth about this UH team is that they have a ton of potential and need to eliminate dumb mistakes if they are going to fulfill it. A good start and aggressive, consistent play could produce a surprising result on Saturday! Go Bows!