In a game between a pair of Big Sky Conference cellar dwellers, either Cal Poly or Portland State will come away with its first win of the season Saturday inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
The Mustangs (0-8, 0-5 Big Sky) are in the midst of their longest losing streak since the 1964 team went 0-10, while the Vikings (0-8, 0-5 Big Sky) are in the middle of a 10-game losing streak that dates back to last season.
Here are a three things to watch for at game time:
Walsh Knows PSU
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Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh, who has won at least four games in each of his nine seasons at the school, coached at Portland State from 1993 to 2006. Although a lot has changed since Walsh was there more than 10 years ago, it’s safe to bet he keeps a close eye on his former team, and that has paid off since he became a Mustang. Walsh is 5-2 against the Vikings since taking over at Cal Poly.
The Mustangs exploded on offense for a 55-35 victory when the two teams met last season, but Portland State won the 2015 matchup in San Luis Obispo, 38-35.
“From a record standpoint, both of us have been underachievers this year,” Walsh told The Portland Tribune. “For us, we’ve made just enough mistakes that we can’t win close games. It’s the opposite of the way we’ve been the last six or seven years. We’ve been able to win games in which we’re close in the fourth quarter. This year, we’re finding ways to lose.”
On a team filled with running backs, it’s a bit surprising true freshman Broc Mortensen has seen the field as much as he has this season. But the Ventura High School product has made the most of his increased playing time at slot back after not touching the ball for the first five games.
Mortensen scored his first rushing touchdown Oct. 7 against Southern Utah, followed that up with a solid game (52 rushing yards, 46 receiving yards) two weeks later against Weber State and added an 18-yard touchdown catch against UC Davis last week.
Senior slot back Kyle Lewis is still the go-to pitch man, and redshirt freshman Chuby Dunu also has seen more touches as the season has progressed. But Cal Poly is trying everything it can to get the offense going with the added bonus of seeing what they have as they look ahead to next season.
Cal Poly will look to expose the suspect rushing defense of Portland State, which gives up more than 217 yards per game.
Will defense show up?
Despite Cal Poly’s 0-8 record, the Mustangs defense has been dominant during short stretches this season and ranks fifth in the Big Sky in total defense. With 17 sacks this season, the defense has already surpassed the 15 tallied by last year’s team with three games left to play. But the defense hasn’t been able to stop the pass — especially in key situations — and ranks last in the conference in by giving up an average of 323 yards per game through the air.
With struggling redshirt freshman quarterback Jake Jeffrey again expected to be under center Saturday, and the possibility of rain, the Mustangs defense will need to be stout against a Portland State offense that ranks in the top half of the Big Sky in passing and rushing. Cal Poly won’t be able to win if it has another performance like last week when it surrendered 21 points against UC Davis in the first quarter.
Walsh said the Mustangs played poorly for the first six minutes against the Aggies, but “the rest of the game, we dominated.”
“We’ve been competitive every time,” Walsh said. “We could have won any of our games. Usually in that situation, you’re 5-3 or 4-4. We’ve had opportunities; we just haven’t beaten anybody. It’s just been one of those years. It’s been really frustrating.”