There was no shortage of disappointment in the Cal Poly football team’s 24-10 home loss to Yale on Saturday.
Most concerning might have been the offensive performance in the second half, when the Bulldogs (3-0) limited the Mustangs (2-3) to a measly amount of yardage.
Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh made it no secret that his team played poorly, but could Yale have provided a blueprint on how to attack a Mustangs offense that had been ranked 13th in the FCS racking up an average of 449.3 yards per game?
“The biggest thing every week,” Bulldogs head coach Tony Reno said, “we try and take away the run. We made this team throw the football. You make a triple-option team throw the football, you’re doing your job on defense. They moved the ball pretty well the first couple of drives. But once we got the pace of it, we did a nice job of stopping the run.”
Cal Poly averaged a mere 2.05 yards per play the entire second half, accumulating just 37 total yards.
Some of that had to do with the loss of leading receiver Willie Tucker, who left with a knee injury with six minutes left in the first half and never returned.
Even as the running game faltered and left the Mustangs in long down-and-distance situations, quarterback Chris Brown completed seven second-half passes, but those, too, were short-yardage gainers that averaged just 3.4 yards per reception.
With just eight second-half first downs, Cal Poly ran only 18 plays.
“We ran what we thought we could run at halftime,” Walsh said, “and we came out and ran it, but we didn’t have the ball, largely because our defense kept giving them the ball back with penalties, and then we had bad field position, got stuck and had no rhythm.”
On Yale’s first two drives of the second half, the Mustangs defense came up with drive-killing third-down stops in Yale territory.
But each time, personal-foul penalties kept the drives alive, and each time, the Bulldogs scored points.
Senior defensive end Andrew Alcaraz stuffed Yale quarterback Henry Furman for no gain on third-and-9 from the Yale 45-yard line but then shoved Furman as he was getting off the pile, prompting a flag.
The Bulldogs scored the tying field goal nine plays later.
On the next drive, Cal Poly forced an incomplete pass by Furman on third-and-5 at the 40, but on the other end of the field from the intended receiver and well downfield from the first-down marker, senior cornerback Vante Smith-Johnson was called for a personal foul.
Five plays later, the Bulldogs scored the go-ahead touchdown.
“You see penalty to stop a third down,” senior defensive tackle Sullivan Grosz said. “You have to just be like, ‘OK, let’s get back on the field and stop them again.’ You kind of have to keep momentum on the defense going, and you can’t put your head down.
“But when you see it happen on two different series, and they put up 17 points after bad penalties, it’s kind of hard, but you have to keep your head up.”
A week after Cal Poly’s offensive play-calling seemed to have the Midas touch while scoring four touchdowns and a field goal in the second half of a 38-34 comeback win at Portland State, the contrast Saturday was stark.
Walsh did not second-guess the offensive calls after the game despite the low yardage yield.
“It gets down to execution,” Walsh said. “People can look at play selection and all that, but bottom-line thing is, all of our plays work if we execute. We didn’t execute tonight at a lot of different positions.”