Scottie Cordier and James Chen have distinctly different memories from the last time they visited San Marcos, Texas, to take on Texas State as redshirt freshmen in 2007.
Cordier kickstarted his career. Chen had his put on hold.
Each senior will be channeling those memories for the Cal Poly football team’s game against the Bobcats (1-1) today — the first of five straight on the road for the No. 17 Mustangs (2-0).
What they’re trying to forget is what happened to the Mustangs on the road last season, when Cal Poly went 0-6 and lost four of those games after leading at halftime.
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“I remember a lot of games we were winning going into halftime,” Cordier said. “It was just losing it in the second half. I don’t know why. The adjustments were always fine by the coaches. We would just get worn out in the fourth quarter.”
One thought was the rigorous travel, and the Mustangs have made a few tweaks to their routine to get more rest coming into this stretch, where sophomore quarterback Doug Shumway will get his first start, Andre Broadous is expected to see time off the bench and starter Tony Smith made the trip and will serve as the third-stringer as he continues to recover from a neck strain.
In its first game running the triple option, Cal Poly lost that 2007 game at Texas State, when a 24-point third-quarter scoring outburst by the Bobcats led to a 38-35 win over then-No. 15-ranked Cal Poly.
The score might not have been as close if not for Cordier’s first career interception, a diving grab off a tipped ball that ended a Texas State drive about 5 yards short of the end zone in the first half.
Cordier was a wide-eyed new addition to a young Mustangs secondary, admitted to being caught up by the storyline that Texas State linebackers coach Terrol Dillon, a former Cal Poly assistant, was spreading all of the Mustangs’ defensive secrets.
It only added to the experience.
“We did lose and that was a bad part, but I thought it was fun,” Cordier said. “It was my first college experience. It was wild that it was even really happening. Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to play college football.”
Chen was also playing in his first college game, and even though he was just a redshirt freshman, then-head coach Rich Ellerson was already projecting him as the best defensive player on the team that had just won three straight Buck Buchanan Awards.
He went through the same adjustment as everyone else, getting used to the colossal jump in speed between the high school and scout-team levels and the Division I college game.
After only one half of play, however, Chen blew out his knee when he was hit from the side by a Texas State player.
“Right when I was getting adjusted, right when I was making plays, that happened,” Chen said. “At least I got a feel for it so I knew when I came back what to expect, and luckily when I came back, I had a good game against San Diego State.”
Chen got off to a strong start in the 2008 opener when he got a sack, forced a fumble and recovered another one against the Football Bowl Subdivision Aztecs, whom Cal Poly knocked off 29-27 on a last-second field goal by Andrew Gardner.
But that first knee injury set off a chain of aches and pains that have plagued him as his body tried to overcompensate each of the past two seasons.
“It was a career-changing, life-changing moment for me,” Chen said. “So, I’ve actually been looking forward to this game for quite some time. It’s another chance to get out there and get after them.
“That little extra excitement is there for me.”
The Mustangs are all energized at this point, especially after last week’s 35-33 upset over Montana, which knocked the Grizzlies out of their No. 1 ranking.
Managing that energy is something head coach Tim Walsh is more conscious about in his second season after going through one full year of traveling in and out of San Luis Obispo.
The Mustangs are doing a few things differently to compensate for the extra leg of travel they usually have to take to get to a major airport.
For example, the team flew to Texas on Thursday night after last season’s flights typically took off Friday mornings. Walsh is even re-evaluating his preference for conducting a practice on the opposing team’s field if it costs the team a few more hours on the team bus. He wants to make sure it’s not his team that’s worn down in the fourth quarters this year.
“We’re a tempo offense,” Walsh said, “and when the tempo on offense gets to where we want it to be, it gets our defense in a rhythm, and it gets our defense excited about being off the field. We want to make sure that we play at a rapid tempo where we wear our opponents out.”