Oct 24, 2020; Fresno, California, USA; Fresno State Bulldogs quarterback Jake Haener (9) attempts to throw the ball during the second quarter in a game between the Fresno State Bulldogs and Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at Bulldog Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kiel Maddox-USA TODAY Sports

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Returning from a year off, UConn big underdog at Fresno State

Jake Haener looks to build upon an impressive first season with Fresno State on Saturday afternoon when the Bulldogs open the 2021 campaign against visiting UConn.

Upon transferring from Washington last year, Haener threw for 2,021 yards with 14 touchdowns for Fresno State, with just five interceptions. He had four 300-yard performances for the Bulldogs, who posted a 3-3 record in six games against Mountain West opponents.

Haener will have a bevy of familiar targets at his disposal as he attempts to exploit UConn’s secondary. The Bulldogs are listed as much as a four-touchdown favorite over the Huskies in the season opener.

Jalen Cropper led Fresno State receivers last season in catches (37), receiving yards (520) and touchdowns (five). He is joined by Keric Wheatfall (23, 363, one) and Josh Kelly (22, 330, one), among others.

Running back Ronnie Rivers averaged a robust 5.1 yards last season, finishing with 507 yards and seven touchdowns. He said he is inspired to do even better in this, his second senior season.

“My time at Fresno State wasn’t done,” Rivers said last month. “Last year, getting hurt in the Nevada game and then missing out on (the season finale against) New Mexico, I just felt like my time here wasn’t done.

“It kind of left a bad taste in my mouth and I didn’t want to end my time at Fresno State like that. I feel that I have more to accomplish and that was one of the main draws (to coming back to school). We have the potential to be a great team this year.”

The Bulldogs also boast depth in the backfield, with Jordan Mims (5.2 yards per carry in 2020) and Jevon Bigelow (4.1) returning with Rivers, as coach Kalen DeBoer welcomes back his top three rushers.

Last August, UConn became the first FBS program to call off its 2020 football season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Huskies had been preparing to play their first season as an independent after leaving the American Athletic Conference. UConn went 2-10 in its final season as an AAC member in 2019 and is 6-30 in three years since Randy Edsall returned as coach.

“I think they have that mentality that there’s not many people giving us a chance,” Edsall said, per the Hartford Courant. “And they’re the group that has the chip on the shoulder: they have something to prove and they’re just waiting for the opportunity to prove it.”

Kevin Mensah is expected to be the workhorse after rushing for 1,013 yards and nine touchdowns in 2019. He also will play a role in the passing game along with wideout Cameron Ross, who returns after recording team-leading totals in catches (60), receiving yards (723) and touchdown receptions (four).

Edsall has yet to declare a No. 1 quarterback, however. Heading into the opener, Jack Zergiotis, who threw for nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2019, continues to compete with redshirt sophomore Steven Krajewski for the starting role. Both are expected to play against Fresno State.

–Field Level Media

Field Level Media
Sport Writer & Editor
FLM has a North American focus while tying into regional and hyper-local resources – providing the ability to distribute compelling content through the writing of professional journalists. As the U.S. sports content provider to dozens of digital and print media publishers through strategic partnerships with the likes of Reuters and Nielsen Sports, FLM covers the nuts and bolts with a breaking news desk and game event coverage.

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