Cal Poly cornerback Asa Jackson’s 100-yard interception return in Saturday’s 48-14 victory over South Dakota State was straight out of his wildest dreams.
If he could remember them.
“I actually had a dream about two nights ago that I scored a touchdown,” the senior said. “I don’t even remember how, but I’m happy that I was able to make that come true. 100 yards, 105, 103, whatever it is, I was just glad I was able to make a play for the defense.”
There was some dispute as to how many yards Jackson actually returned the ball. A Cal Poly spokesman said by NCAA rule, the maximum yardage that can be awarded is 100.
With the Jackrabbits (1-2) threatening to score back-to-back touchdowns and cut the Mustangs’ lead to 13 points in the third quarter, Jackson stepped in front of a slant pattern to pick off South Dakota State quarterback Thomas O’Brien a few yards deep in the end zone.
Jackson, who broke up a game-high four passes, surged to the right and outraced O’Brien up the sideline to run untouched into the end zone.
It was Jackson’s seventh career interception and second for a touchdown. The first was a 47-yard interception return against O’Brien in Cal Poly’s 21-14 victory over the Jackrabbits at Alex G. Spanos Stadium in 2009.
Jackson’s return was also the longest interception return by a Mustang since 1968, when Ross Bauer also ran 100 yards for a touchdown.
It took three games for Cal Poly to register its first quarterback sack of 2011, but the Mustangs got that distinction out of the way early.
On the first drive of the game, senior defensive end Kyle Murphy took down O’Brien for an 8-yard loss on third-and-11 to force a three-and-out.
Murphy finished with three sacks, sophomore defensive tackle Sullivan Grosz added two more and senior defensive end Matt Singletary deflected a pass at the line that became a 46-yard interception return for a touchdown by Bijon Samoodi in the Mustangs’ most disruptive game of the season up front.
Cal Poly’s undersized line had trouble putting any kind of pressure on opposing quarterbacks in season-opening losses at San Diego State and Montana, but the group made it a priority to force the issue Saturday.
“We shouldered a lot of the blame in the first few games because we didn’t feel like we got enough pressure,” said Murphy, who also batted down a pass at the line. “So, we decided we were going to get after the quarterback this game, and that’s what we did.”
Cal Poly had the unflattering distinction of allowing kickoff returns for touchdowns in each of its first two games of the season. With South Dakota State returner Zach Zenner coming in averaging 25.9 yards per return, kickoff coverage was a definite concern.
But the Mustangs got through the game without giving away any easy points.
On seven kickoff returns, the Jackrabbits averaged only 18.3 yards per return.
Zenner’s longest went for 31 yards, and South Dakota State twice started at or near its own 40-yard line following a kickoff, but Cal Poly’s coverage was solid.
True freshman running back Kristaan Ivory made a difference with three special teams tackles. The biggest error was a kick out of bounds by sophomore kicker James Langford, who is perfect no more on the season.
Langford had made every kick in his first two games, but he missed a PAT after being moved back 5 yards by a false start penalty and watched a 51-yard field goal attempt fall short and wide in the fourth quarter.