When Cal Poly head football coach Tim Walsh took over in 2009, the mostly new coaching staff inherited a triple-option offense that former coach Rich Ellerson ran and recruited to for two years.
Now in their third spring season under Walsh, Mustangs coaches are comfortable enough to tweak the option to a vision all their own.
Through two days of spring practice in helmets and shorts Wednesday, players were drilling for supplemental formations that could give their passing game a boost behind an offensive line that’s for now populated by healthy-but-green backups.
“In this offense, the challenge is always ‘How do you throw the ball without getting off schedule?’ ” co-offensive coordinator Bryan Cook said. “We like first-and-10, we like second-and-6, we like third-and-4, but we don’t like second-and-10 as much.
“So, we want to throw the ball on first-and-10, but we don’t want to do it at the risk of being in second-and-10. We want to do it at a high enough rate that we’re 70 percent efficiency throwing the ball so we can stay on schedule.”
To accomplish the goal, Cal Poly coaches finished their 7-4 season and went to work comparing their option to a handful of successful college football programs around the country.
How do other teams run the Mustangs’ plays? What can Cal Poly take from another scheme and apply toward its own personnel?
The plans to vary their offensive attack certainly enticed Mustangs recruits, including Oak Ridge High’s Willie Tucker, who will arrive in the fall.
“They run the triple option,” said Tucker, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound receiver who led the CIF-Sac-Joaquin Section with 114.3 receiving yards per game, before he signed, “but what they said they’re going to try to start to do is change it up a little bit, study Oregon, the no-huddle and how their spread works.”
It’s not all about passing. The point of the new schemes is to specifically get the Mustangs’ best playmakers the ball using different looks. In the triple option, the defense largely determines where the ball goes.
The threat of multiple attacks will only enhance the running ability of quarterback Andre Broadous, fullback Jake Romanelli and running backs Mark Rodgers and transfer Deonte Williams.
“Teams, when they play us, spend a lot of time on the triple option because not a lot of teams do it,” Cook said. “So, if we’re able to grow in our efficiency throwing the ball, that makes us a two-headed animal that’s difficult to defend.”
One challenge for Cal Poly this spring is the team’s relative inexperience at offensive line.
The Mustangs figure to return at least six offensive linemen with starting experience in the fall, but since many are coming off injuries, their participation in the spring will be limited if not cut altogether.
To co-offensive coordinator Saga Tuietele, the offensive line coach, that means his depth chart is populated by backups, redshirt freshmen and scout team players from last season.
But the veterans who sit won’t be missing out on the installation of new blocking schemes to go along with some of the new packages. “It’s still blocking,” Tuitele said. “It’s get in front of your guy. Blocking is blocking. Stay in front of your guy, and if you’re not blocking a defensive lineman, you better be blocking a linebacker. So it’s really no different from last year. It’s as simple as that.”
The real test will come Saturday when players put on full pads for the first time this spring for a practice scheduled to start at 9 a.m. at the Upper Sports Complex.
Walsh said at least a portion of the practice will be dedicated to scrimmaging 11-on-11, and that should be dominated by defense.
Still, Jarred Houston, a receiver who returns to his position after one season as a running back, was able to snare two deep balls in a competitive drill Wednesday.
The team ran some no-huddle from the shotgun for the first time last season and even had Rodgers in a wildcat formation late in the year, but Houston said things are much more advanced.
“I’m really excited,” Houston said. “At first, they told us that they were going to incorporate some new things into the offense. I wasn’t quite sure because last year, we did, too, but we weren’t able to grasp it all the way we wanted to.
“The way coaches have it now, they’ve got us running through it full speed ahead.”