GRAND FORKS, N.D. — In the first half of Cal Poly’s 31-17 loss to North Dakota on Saturday, there was a big role reversal as far as how the Mustangs chewed up yardage, and that only carried over in the second.
Uncharacteristic of this season’s edition of the triple option, Cal Poly did most of its damage through the air offensively. Mustangs quarterback Tony Smith completed six passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns as Cal Poly passed 13 times.
The Mustangs were averaging just eight completions per game coming in and ranked 112th in the Football Championship Subdivision in passing.
Dominique Johnson had three catches for 91 yards, and Jon Hall had two receptions for 40 yards and had both touchdowns.
Similarly against the trend, Cal Poly had just 42 yards rushing on 17 attempts.
The Mustangs came into the game ranked 10th in the FCS with more than 206 yards per game on the ground.
Jono Grayson led the way with 20 yards on just two carries, but the rest of the team combined to average just 1.71 yards per carry, and fullback Jordan Yocum had his first negative rush of the year.
Cal Poly opponents have also had more luck passing against the Mustangs, but the Fighting Sioux had their best gains on the ground. Quarterback Jake Landry did most of the damage. He had 72 yards on 12 carries, including a 28-yard scoring run.
Trick or streak
In a Halloween game that had some appropriately eerie coincidences, Cal Poly’s loss kept alive some weird streaks.
North Dakota is 10-4 all-time on Oct. 31, and the Fighting Sioux are quite successful at home on Halloween. The last time North Dakota lost at home on Halloween was 1925.
The Mustangs hadn’t played on Oct. 31 in more than a decade, and the last time they did, Larry Welsh’s Cal Poly team lost 41-34 to Portland State in 1998. The Vikings coach in that game was current Mustangs head coach Tim Walsh.
Coincidence No. 2: 1998 was also the last time the Fighting Sioux played on Halloween.
Cal Poly’s loss also lengthened their misfortune in a couple other aspects.
The Mustangs still have not won on the road this season and are also winless on artificial turf. Whether correlation implies causality, Cal Poly came into the game 0-3 on the road and 0-3 on artificial turf.
There were five fumbles by both teams combined, all in the first half.
Whether that had anything to do with North Dakota’s old-school Astroturf — the single piece of carpet as opposed to the chewed up recycled shoe rubber used for Fieldturf — is up for debate.
But it is clear how Cal Poly was able to keep its slim 17-14 halftime advantage. Of the three fumbles by the Mustangs, only one resulted in a turnover. The Fighting Sioux lost both of their fumbles.
And therein lies one of Cal Poly’s secrets to success this season.
The Mustangs came into the game among the nation’s best at being on the right side of the turnover battle.
With 22 turnovers caused, Cal Poly was tied for fourth in the FCS, and turning the ball over just 10 times themselves, the Mustangs stood fifth with a plus 1.71 turnover margin.