Sophomore Air Force transfer Dano Graves will be the new starting quarterback when the Cal Poly football team hosts Weber State on Saturday.
Graves, who opened the season as the second-string quarterback behind Vince Moraga, will make his first collegiate start in part because of the coaches’ concerns with the play of sophomore Chris Brown but also because of a hip injury that is keeping Brown out of practice this week.
“Chris hurt his hip, and Chris has been actually trying to play hurt,” Mustangs head coach Tim Walsh said. “We also decided we maybe need to see what Dano Graves can do, too. So, we’ll give Dano an opportunity, and Chris isn’t practicing, which changes the complexity of things, too.
“The combination of those things gives Dano an opportunity, and we’ll see what Dano can do with his opportunity.”
Brown, originally third on the depth chart coming out of training camp, assumed the starting role after Moraga suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second game of the season. Brown starred in the second half against Fresno State, accounting for three touchdowns.
Graves may have gotten that chance to back up Moraga, who won a four-way preseason position battle, but he suffered an injury filling in for Moraga late in the season opener against San Diego.
“Just my luck, I went in for a couple plays, and I had a high ankle sprain,” Graves said. “I was out for about three weeks until I was back at 100 percent. “I just had to keep my head up and stay positive and completely support Chris Brown to his fullest and help him out, and that’s the way it’s always been since day one in spring. The quarterbacks have all supported each other. So, no mater who’s at the helm, we just want to win.”
Brown went 1-1 in back-to-back starts on the road, including a stirring second-half rally to beat Portland State, but in Saturday’s disappointing 24-10 loss to Yale, Brown threw two interceptions and lost a fumble after Cal Poly had gone the first four games with only two turnovers, the lowest total in the country to that point.
Walsh said even if Brown were healthy, Graves would have been given the chance to win the start in practice. There was some thought of making the change against Yale, but Brown was far from the only player having a subpar performance for an offense that gained just 37 yards and one first down in the second half.
“I’m sure it went through our minds,” Walsh said, “but to be honest with you, I don’t think we played well offensively, not just at the quarterback position. I don’t think it was one person in any way shape or form. This change is not an indication that that game made the final decision.
“It was the culmination, but it wasn’t the only part of it.”
In just about 3 1⁄2 games, Brown completed 57 percent of his passes for 539 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. He also rushed 65 times for 269 yards.
Brown “did some really good things and did some things we need to see him do better,” Walsh said.
“With his legs and the way he finished and the way he did some things against Portland State were really good, but even against them he did miss some things, and I think some of those things happened a little bit more regularly this past Saturday, which allowed us to start to consider making a change.”
Graves was 0-for-3 passing and ran three times for minus-1 yard in relief against San Diego, but he had a terrific prep football career, leading Folsom High to a state championship during a record-setting senior season.
Graves was the 2010 MaxPreps.com National Player of the Year and accounted for a state record 85 touchdowns that season. He passed for 3,702 yards and 62 touchdowns and ran for 994 yards and 23 more scores, leading Folsom to a 14-1 record and a CIF Division II state title.
If Brown is unable to play against Weber State, redshirt freshman Tanner Trosin, another record-setting quarterback from Folsom who took second-team snaps Tuesday, would be the second-string option.
“I’m just excited to get out there and be myself again,” Graves said. “To go out there with the mentality of just wanting the ball out, just spread the ball around and have fun.”