After Saturday’s Cal Poly football scrimmage had taken on a decidedly defensive flavor, a few true freshmen finally got the offense in the end zone.
Playing with the fourth-string group, quarterback Chris Brown threw two deep touchdown passes to fellow first-year Mustangs to cap the 42-play scrimmage at the Upper Sports Complex.
Brown — a former Compton Dominguez High standout being groomed to eventually take over the reigns of the offense — connected up the left sideline with Chula Vista Eastlake graduate Jordan Hines, who beat sophomore cornerback Vante Smith-Johnson for a 70-yard catch and run.
On the final play of the scrimmage, San Diego Parker product Roland Jackson Jr. caught a 55-yard bomb from Brown for the only other score.
Though the battles that low on the depth chart likely won’t have much bearing on the upcoming regular season, the big plays gave the offense something to cheer about.
“We were doing real good stopping them at the beginning,” said sophomore linebacker Johnny Millard, part of a first-string defense that held strong in an even matchup with the first-team offense. “But Chris Brown, he showed up at the end. They scored two touchdowns. I’m going to have to go with a tie.”
The freshmen “came in here in July,” Millard said, “and they were working hard. That’s what you want to see. It might be hard to get it mentally all at first, but if you come in here and put in the work, it’s going to come. Jordan is one of those guys, and so is Chris.”
Entering his third season as Cal Poly’s head coach, Tim Walsh took the freshmen performance in stride.
“There were some big plays, but there were some ones that will be a little comical tonight when we turn on the film, too,” Walsh said.
“It’s great that they showed they have the physical ability to make the plays that we’re going to want them to make, but they have to catch up in the mental game, too. I’m sure they’re excited to catch their first touchdown and throw their first touchdown passes in a college setting, but they’ve got a lot to learn.”
Aside from Brown’s 6-for-6 performance for 142 yards, there wasn’t much vertical passing, despite the offense showing more of its new shotgun spread formation rather than its traditional triple-option package.
Starting quarterback Andre Broadous was 3 of 6 for 19 yards, and backup Doug Shumway was 5 of 6 for 11 yards.
The offense did rack up 82 rushing yards on 25 carries — with a 20-yard run by sophomore fullback Akaninyene Umoh and a 12-yard run around the right end by senior running back Mark Rodgers — and totaled 11 first downs.
But the defense recovered a fumble, had seven tackles for loss and made sure the offense could only scatter its first downs.
“I don’t think there’s any question our defense is ahead of the offense,” Walsh said. “Ones versus ones is probably a pretty good matchup. When we go twos versus twos, there’s a lot of guys on our twos defense that played a lot last year.
“I was real happy with both the first groups, the ones on both sides of the ball. The ones on defense stepped it up. The ones on offense did some good things. I think we’re going to have to become a little more consistent.”
After going 1 for 5 on field goals last season, sophomore kicker James Langford was the picture of consistency. Walsh said Langford was 7 for 7 on field-goal attempts and nailed a 52-yarder.
Redshirt freshman running back K.J. Cusack, a former St. Joseph High star, was one of few standouts for the offensive backups.
Cusack caught five passes out of the backfield for 30 yards.
Sierra College transfer running back Deonte Williams got five touches for the first and second-team offense.
Williams spent time in the backfield with Rodgers, forming a potentially dangerous running duo.
Walsh said he would use the two together depending on how well the dynamic progresses throughout the rest of the training camp.
Williams said the biggest transition for him is learning all of the details of the triple option, having never played in the offense before. Rodgers had a similar learning curve after transferring in from West Virginia last season.
“My focus honestly is really just to get the playbook down pat and really to develop a real tight bond with my slots and our whole offense,” said Williams, a former Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year who rushed for 950 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman at Northern Arizona in 2008.
“Mark is a big help for me. I really love the fact that he’s here. He’s not a selfish player. He helps me all the time, and it’s real easy having Mark on the offense helping me.”