The first win of the Kalen DeBoer era came in dominant fashion Thursday night, as senior running back Ronnie Rivers rumbled for 172 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns in Fresno State’s 38-17 rout of Colorado State.
“All he’s done is continue to deliver,” DeBoer said on Rivers postgame. “He is a quiet leader, he has quiet confidence, but when you see him on the field, you better watch out.”
Fresno State scored on its opening series, a 12-play, 86-yard drive that ended in a scrambling Jake Haener finding Rivers in the back of the endzone.
Colorado State answered with a 24-yard field goal by Robert Liss, followed by a 15-yard touchdown rush from senior Marcus McElroy on the next drive to push the Rams ahead 10-7.
That’s when DeBoer put Ben Wooldridge in at quarterback for the next Bulldog drive. The sophomore passer completed three-of-four passes for 37 yards in his first drive of 2020, and completed what was originally called a touchdown pass to receiver Keric Wheatfall.
Wheatfall made a diving one-handed grab in the endzone, but a replay showed his foot stepped out-of-bounds prior to his catch, wiithout re-establishing himself in bounds. The touchdown call was overturned, and the Bulldogs settled for a 24-yard Cesar Silva field goal to tie the game.
Wooldridge did not return after his single series of action. DeBoer said postgame he planned for Wooldridge to make an appearance at some point in Thursday’s game.
After its defense forced another three-and-out, Fresno State scored on Rivers’ second touchdown of the evening – a 32-yard touchdown run on a toss play where Rivers trucked a Rams defender and broke another tackle.
Following another forced punt on the defensive side, Jake Haener marched the Bulldogs down the field for 91 yards, aided by a big 33-yard catch and run from Rivers. It was Fresno State’s other talented running back, Jordan Mims, who scored on a 15-yard touchdown catch out of the backfield.
It was Mims’ first touchdown since the 2018 season, marking a milestone in his return from a foot injury.
Fresno State’s defense, a week after allowing large rushing totals and a high third-down conversion rate, limited the Rams to 32 total yards of offense in the second quarter.
It was a big change from a week ago when Fresno State surrendered 552 total yards of offense against Hawaii.
“We took it personally, and took it upon ourselves to make a change,” said safety Evan Williams, who had a team-high eight tackles. “We loved playing for the offense and giving the offense the football back when they’re hot.”
The firepower on offense and firmness on defense added up to a 24-10 Bulldog halftime lead.
The Rams approached Fresno State territory again halfway through the third quarter. Yet Levelle Bailey snuffed out Colorado State’s attempt to go for it on fourth down, delivering a big hit on Rams quarterback Todd Centeio to force an incomplete pass.
Fresno State delivered the dagger when they turned around to score on Ronnie Rivers’ third touchdown of the night, a one-yard rush up the middle out of the WIldcat formation.
For good measure, the ‘Dogs forced a fumble and added Haener’s last touchdown pass of the evening – a six-yard pass to Buchanan grad Jalen Cropper.
Quarterback Jake Haener completed 22-of-32 passes for 311 yards and three touchdowns in his first victory as a Bulldog. It was a nice bounceback from Haener’s four-turnover debut.
“I tried to do too much last week, and let the game come to me and do my thing,” said Haener. “I thought we did a much better job tonight riding our emotions. It was nice to show fans what we are capable of doing.”
Haener’s most successful target proved to be Keric Wheatfall, who led all Bulldog receivers with five catches for 87 yards.
Fresno State generated 432 yards of total offense Thursday, and the defense settled in to nearly shut out the Rams in the second half.
It was an overall team victory – and Evan Williams believes there could be more in store for the future.
“When we play team ball and play together, we are unstoppable,” said Williams postgame. “As we come later into the season, we are going to ride this wave.”
Fresno State (1-1) will next travel to Las Vegas to take on the UNLV Rebels (0-1) at the brand new Allegiant Stadium. It will be a 12:30 p.m. kickoff on CBS Sports Network.