Offense pushes pace in Cal Poly football spring game as kickers struggle and injuries mount

Offense held out of end zone but racks up 25 first downs in 30-26 victory over defense during 90-minute contest

jscroggin@thetribunenews.comMay 3, 2014 

The Cal Poly offense couldn’t get into the end zone, but the Mustangs will be fortunate if that’s the only lasting memory of Saturday.

A deflating injury could impact the depth chart well into the fall, and the quest to find the next kicker didn’t yield much success.

Cal Poly’s football spring game came and went pretty quietly at Alex G. Spanos Stadium. Compared to the madness of last year’s wide-open, four-way quarterback competition, anything would seem ho-hum.

With the quarterback battle whittled down to two for this camp, the Mustangs were able to move the ball consistently but got just a single field goal Saturday, the culmination of four weeks of offseason camp.

Yet, there seemed to be little concern.

“I wouldn’t say it bothered us, but we realized what the problems were,” said quarterback Chris Brown, who started the first possession. “We wish we would have gotten into the end zone, but we’re glad we didn’t, actually, because we have something to go to the board and look at to get ready for fall.”

Both Brown and fellow junior signal caller Dano Graves have had successful springs, Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said, even if didn’t result in touchdowns in the finale of 15 practice sessions.

Injuries could end up being the bigger storyline.

Graves’ day ended early when he aggravated an abdominal injury, and another potential starter on the defensive line was lost to a knee injury.

Making a tackle near the line of scrimmage early in the game, redshirt freshman Jason Patterson told coaches his knee buckled.

The immediate fears were that Patterson, a candidate to replace all-Big Sky Co-Defensive Player of the Year Sullivan Grosz at defensive tackle, had suffered a torn ACL, which would probably land him on the shelf for next season.

Early indications are that Patterson’s injury might not be so severe. He could be back for fall camp in August.

Patterson was battling with sophomore Marcus Paige-Allen to play alongside senior Chris Lawrence inside. The group will be joined by Wake Forest transfer Andrew Hauser in the fall.

Paige-Allen sacked Brown for an 8-yard loss Saturday.

“Marcus probably had earned an edge, and Marcus played pretty well again today,” Walsh said, “but they’re both going to play a lot.

“They’ve got to be contributors, not necessarily Sullivan Grosz, but they have to match our starter there, Chris Lawrence.”

Not thought to be serious, Graves’ rib injury is the sign of perhaps a larger concern: Cal Poly quarterbacks and their ability to stay healthy.

Last season, Brown and Graves each missed games with injuries, and Vince Moraga, the opening-game starter, is still recovering from a season-ending knee surgery.

Graves was 5-of-5 passing for 54 yards Saturday. He had run four times for 7 yards when he pulled up in the open field trying to cut out of an option keeper.

“I pulled in the ball to keep it, and I felt a pop in my abdomen,” Graves said. “It felt like I got shot in the stomach, and I just immediately went down.”

Graves said he was initially hurt in Wednesday’s practice, and the 5-foot-10, 180-pound quarterback taking hits while on the run is something Walsh has been watching out for.

At 6-2, 198 pounds, Brown ran four times for 61 yards, including a 30-yard scramble to help set up the team’s lone field goal on the third drive of the game. He was also 8-of-13 passing for 52 yards.

“Chris is dynamic with his feet and what he can do with the football,” Walsh said. “He can be a thousand-yard rusher in our offense without a doubt, and we need him to be that guy.

“What we have to get Dano to understand is, he’s not Chris’ size. Do we want him to take some of the pounding Chris would take? Probably not. Some of the times when he leaves his feet and jumps and hurdles guys, we live it, but the reality of it is, ‘Hey, Dano, man, stay healthy.’

“They’ve both played a lot of snaps in real games, and you can see the maturity. So, I feel strongly that we have two legitimate starting quarterbacks. Which one gets the start against New Mexico State, we’ll have to wait and see.”

The competition between the two has remained close and will continue into fall camp. Both have capitalized on playing time received last season, and each is more confident and composed with a better understanding of the offense, Walsh said.

Graves and Brown agreed that splitting snaps fewer ways has also helped each of them get in better rhythm with teammates.

“The best way to get better is just repetition,” Graves said. “So, the fact that we’re splitting the reps 50-50 now, both of us have been able to gain by that and get better.”

In his first two possessions, Brown led 67- and 81-yard drives. Graves moved the ball 43 and 45 yards in his first two. All four set up field goal attempts. A 61-yard drive in the second half set up another kick attempt.

But the four kickers attempting to replace dependable two-year starter Bobby Zalud had trouble connecting.

Junior kicker Stephen Pyle capped the opening drive with a miss from 24 yards. Redshirt freshman walk-on Samuel Boyden missed two from 50-plus yards. St. Joseph product Ben Adam, another redshirt freshman walk-on, missed from 32.

Redshirt freshman walk-on James Foug made the lone connection on a 24-yard field goal.

Only two of the kickers will be invited to fall camp. Walsh has yet to make a decision.

There’s one criterion. The most consistent kicker wins the job, and Pyle has the biggest body of work to draw from.

“It doesn’t help his cause when he missed a 24-yard field goal,” Walsh said, “because if he’s going to be it, he has to be that guy.”

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