With Cal Poly’s offense threatening to score its first touchdown of Saturday’s scrimmage, Jarred Houston ran the ball to the left, hurdling blockers and tacklers before landing on the grass with a thud.
And a scream.
“It’s obviously a bad feeling in your stomach,” Mustangs quarterback Tony Smith said. “You never want to see anybody go down, especially when it’s something like this. It’s just us against us.”
Trainers attended to Houston’s left knee as the rest of the team turned its attention to field goals on the opposite side of the field, and that was as close as the Mustangs offense would get to the end zone at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
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Heralded by coaches as a victory for a swarming and stingy defense, the scrimmage was also notable for the lack of offensive rhythm and the absence of many familiar names.
Houston, who tops the depth chart at one running back spot, feared much worse initially but said early prognoses indicate he only hyperextended his knee.
With him out, the list of injured starters on offense grew even bigger.
“When you have seven players on your first group not playing, that is one of your issues,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said.
“That’s unfortunate, but that’s not an excuse. I don’t know what’s going to happen the next 15 weeks of the year. You have to play with what you have.”
The Mustangs found that out last season when injuries to the offensive and defense lines and running backs created depth concerns all over the field, helping contribute to a late-season swoon.
Locked in a position battle with Smith, Andre Broadous was leading the drive that ended on Houston’s injury.
“Even though we had guys down, we still needed to do what we have to do and play with what we’ve got,” Broadous said. “We just didn’t do it today. We had a lot of good drives. We just didn’t finish them.”
Even when the offense did come up with a big play, it always seemed accompanied by a yellow flag. Fullback Jake Romanelli had a long run that would have put the offense in the red zone called back because of a penalty.
“We just got to stay mentally tough,” Romanelli said. “We do something good, it seems like there was a holding or an illegal procedure. We can’t have that. That kills drives, and you saw it today.”
Not much could be said Saturday about the quarterback duel that’s been going strong since the spring.
With four first-team offensive linemen sitting out, the scrimmage ended up being a wasted opportunity to see what Smith or Broadous would be able to do in a simulated game situation.
“From the naked eye, I wouldn’t make a decision based on how we played because I’m not sure up front that we gave them an opportunity to play,” Walsh said.
So the battle rages on.
“Neither one of them has been consistent enough to say that they earned the right to be named it right now,” Walsh said. “That’s the way I feel today.
“They’ve both been told, too, whoever starts better keep it because they’re both drooling to play.”
Max Schulz, who anticipated an out pattern to intercept Broadous, later added a sack to his afternoon and was one of the heroes of a rowdy defense.
Once thought as a backup to redshirt freshman Johnny Millard at outside linebacker, Schulz is earning consideration to start.
“All week long coach tells us to play fast, hard and aggressive,” Schulz said. “We put all those elements in everybody’s mind, and it came together really well.”
Said Smith: “The defense played fantastic. They played very fast, and they came out aggressive, and we didn’t step up to that level. We need to start finding ways when we get out there to get that energy going and make sure we’re as fired up as they are.”