FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE) — After seeing both quarterbacks get playing time in the last two games, Fresno State head coach Kalen DeBoer said Monday junior Jake Haener is still the clear No. 1 quarterback, but he also wants to continue to mix in sophomore Ben Wooldridge at times.
Haener and Wooldridge battled it out for the job in fall camp, and the Bulldog coaching staff ultimately chose Haener, a transfer from Washington who sat out last year, as the starter, but also said that decision was difficult, because the preseason competition between the two quarterbacks was extremely tight.
Haener struggled in the Bulldogs opener, a 34-19 home loss to Hawai’i, as he turned it over four times. But he bounced back in a big way the next week in a 38-17 home win against Colorado State, not turning it over and going 22-of-32 passing for 311 yards with three passing touchdowns. And then followed that up with a decent performance at UNLV, where he threw for 164 passing yards, and accounted for two touchdowns, including a 54-yard touchdown run.
“It’s Jake’s team right now,” said DeBoer in zoom press conference Monday. “He’s the starting quarterback.”
But in the last two games, Wooldridge has also seen some spot duty at quarterback for the Bulldogs. Against Colorado State, he relieved Haener for one series in the second quarter and led the Bulldogs to a field goal, after going 3-for-4 passing on that drive. And then against UNLV the following week, he saw action in four series, and while he only completed 5-of-12 passes for 80 yards, the Bulldogs did score two touchdowns and a field goal in his four drives, including a 5-play, 73-yard touchdown march when he first entered the game early in the second quarter.
“Initially against Colorado State, it was, ‘we need to get Ben in the game. We need to get him in, get a drive or two under his belt,'” said DeBoer Monday. “We kept it to one drive against Colorado State, and then, we wanted to do the same thing, and maybe even, a couple more drives. And with the success he had, in both the Colorado State game, and the first drive he came in against UNLV, it definitely warranted an opportunity.”
DeBoer says his view on using two quarterbacks has evolved in recent years, in his time as an offensive coordinator at Eastern Michigan (2016), Fresno State (2017-2018), and Indiana (2019).
“In three of the last four years, other than in 2018 (when Marcus McMaryion was the Bulldogs clear-cut starter), I’ve become more comfortable with having a couple different quarterbacks on the field during the course of a game,” said DeBoer. “I don’t like, where you have two quarterbacks that are equal. But I think showing a little bit different type of player, and again, our offense doesn’t really change with play calls, when those guys are in there. But what happens when those plays are called, maybe does. And, that’s even harder for the defense to handle than it is for us.”
Both Haener and Wooldridge have shown they can run the offense efficiently and throw the football well, but Haener might offer a little more mobility, while Wooldridge appears to have the bigger arm.
“They both know that they’re involved, and I don’t want it to feel like there is a controversy or anything like that,” said DeBoer. “It’s just you know, having both of them ready, and I think it makes both of them more sharp knowing they have to be on their game throughout the course of the week.”