Week 11 CFB Breakout Performers

Derrik Klassen
·6 min read

Fresno State QB Jake Haener

Midway through last season, QB Jake Haener bailed from the Washington football program. Haener was a modest three-star prospect in the Huskies’ 2017 class, but with Jacob Eason transferring in during 2018 and taking the starting spot in 2019, there was no clear room for Haener to earn a starting job. Eason ended up leaving, but at the time of Haener’s departure, Eason was an underclassman who could have stayed and started for another season.

Anyway, Haener left and traveled south back to his home state of California. After sitting out for 2019, Haener has stepped into the starting role for the Bulldogs. His first few starts were nothing too outrageous. He did have a three-touchdown, 300-yard game against Colorado State, but he also got sacked seven million times in that game and still looked like someone with room for improvement. Haener filled in some of those gaps on Saturday.

For the first time in his career, Haener earned over 400 yards and four scores. He finished with 422 yards and four passing touchdowns while completing just over 75% of his passes, which was also a first for him.

While games like this may not end up the norm for Haener, it seems clear at this point that he is the man at Fresno State and is on his way to being a solid QB for them. Aside from his debut in which he threw three interceptions, he has been mostly good. Including this Saturday, Haener has thrown eight touchdowns and one interception since his rough debut. Fresno State have rattled off three straight wins as a result and they do not look to be slowing down any time soon.

Illinois QB Isaiah Williams

Through the air, Williams did not do a whole lot to impress. He was quite inaccurate, completing just seven of his 18 passing attempts on the day. None of those completions went for a massive gain, either, so it was not like he was playing a game of successful coin-flipping.

On the ground, though, Williams was a menace in his first start. He took 31 carries for 192 yards and a touchdown, stunting all over the Rutgers defense with a nice blend of speed and balance through contact for a quarterback. Seeing as it was his first start, getting production anywhere, even if just on the ground as a QB, is a huge win.

Perhaps more impressive, Williams did not come to Illinois as a full-time QB. He signed with Illinois in the 2019 recruiting cycle as a four-star “athlete,” though he obviously played QB as one of his many positions in high school. Now a redshirt freshman, transitioning full-time to the position could still take another year or two, but it is encouraging that Williams showed something of value in his first real action since joining the Fighting Illini.

Fresno State WR Jalen Cropper

Of course, if Fresno State QB Jake Haener was going to have a breakout performance, all that yardage had to go somewhere. And a lot of it went to sophomore WR Jalen Cropper.

Cropper snagged 10 passes for 202 yards and a stunning three scores. Considering Haener threw four touchdowns on the night, bringing in all but one of them is quite the feat. Cropper’s 202 yards also rank second among all receivers this week. This would be a wonderful performance for any receiver, even a clearly established No.1, but Cropper is far from that right now.

To put things in perspective, through 2019 and all his action in 2020 before Saturday, Cropper had just 273 yards to his name. Previously, his single-game best was 87 yards, which he earned last season. The most yards he had earned in a game this season was just 42 yards.

At 6-foot and 160 pounds, Cropper is still terribly slight for the position and probably does not have the frame to have this kind of performance against all styles and qualities of defense. However, showing this kind of potential at all is promising and bodes well for him down the line. If Haener and Cropper can continue this connection, the Bulldogs offense will be in a great spot for the rest of the year.

Wake Forest WR Donavon Greene

A redshirt freshman for the Demon Deacons, WR Donavon Greene has seen a decent amount of playing time in his two seasons. Two catches here, a couple more there, and another three there — Green has been a solid contributor. Never has he done what he did against UNC on Saturday, though, and it was almost enough to help Wake Forest earn the upset.

Greene snagged eight passes for 170 yards and two scores. Not only did the latter two figures lead the team, but his yardage total was good for top-ten in the country this week. Greene does have one other 100-yard game to his name, but he has never scored twice in a game. In fact, Greene had just two career touchdowns heading into Saturday, both of which he scored last season.

Oddly enough, both of Greene’s scores were from the “high” red zone, which means just getting inside the 20-yard line. He scored from 17 and 18 yards out, once off of a sick play-action concept from a bunch formation that made it easy for him to show off his speed. Seeing as Greene is 6-foot-2 and 198-pounds, any amount of legitimate speed at that size makes him quite a threat.

Greene has been good for some impressive performances every now and then, but this was really another level. If the Demon Deacons want to finish the year with a bang, the connection between him and QB Sam Hartman will need to stay strong.

Liberty WR Kevin Shaa

Liberty’s Kevin Shaa caught two passes for 137 yards.

Please read that again. And maybe another time for good measure.

Sure, Liberty faced off against Western Carolina, so this kind of performance is less impressive than it may be otherwise. Showing off that kind of explosive ability against anyone is outrageous, though, especially considering one of the two receptions went for 83 yards.

Shaa only scored on one of the two receptions, but those two chunk gains alone meant he did his part. Those two receptions alone accounted for about one-third of Liberty’s passing yards, which is absurd seeing as QB Malik Willis completed 14 passes.

At 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds, Shaa has mostly found work as a speed demon down the field in his limited action at Liberty thus far. This game was the absolute peak of his skill set and hopefully Liberty can get more of that out of him as the year goes on.