FRESNO — Coming into Saturday night’s 41-25 loss to Fresno State, the Cal Poly football team expected to be outclassed athletically to a certain degree by their FBS opponents.
Nobody exemplified that step up in class like Bulldogs receiver Isaiah Burse.
The senior had the first punt return for a touchdown against the Mustangs in the Tim Walsh era. Then he added the second before the first half was up.
Burse, who finished with four catches for 43 yards, also had a 15-yard TD catch before the break.
On Burse’s first punt return, a wall of Cal Poly defenders met him near the Fresno State 40-yard line, but Burse turned perpendicular to the Mustangs sideline and left the wall in the dust.
Once he turned the corner, Fresno State had plenty of blocking set up and Burse easily reversed field and raced to the end zone comfortably for a 61-yard score that gave the Bulldogs a 10-0 lead late in the first quarter.
Cal Poly hadn’t allowed a punt return for a touchdown since 2007. Walsh became the head coach in 2009.
A Mustangs fumble gave the ball right back, and Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr made quick work of the short field, finding Burse on a slant in the middle of the field beating man-to-man coverage by linebacker Johnny Millard less than 30 seconds into the second quarter.
Then, with less than a minute left before the half, the Bulldogs called a timeout on fourth down to get one more chance to score.
Burse fielded the ball, cut between a tiny sliver of space between a pair of Fresno State blockers and outraced punter Paul Hundley to the sideline for a 59-yard touchdown return.
Hundley showed no fear trying to cut off Burse, but the 6-foot, 187-pound receiver turned on the jets and blew past him.
Burse is no stranger to big plays against Cal Poly. As a freshman in the 2010 matchup against the Mustangs, he had a 58-yard touchdown catch and run in a 38-17 victory.
Cal Poly adjusts defensive alignment
From the beginning, Cal Poly moved away from a base 4-3 defensive alignment the Mustangs normally line up in.
To combat Fresno State’s four-wide receiver spread offense, Cal Poly ran a nickel package with three down linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs.
Millard moved on and off the line while middle linebacker Nick Dzubnar and outside linebacker Cameron Ontko, making his first career start, patrolled the middle.
Fresno native and former UCLA transfer Wesley Flowers made his first career start at defensive end, and senior cornerback Bijon Samoodi joined the other regulars in the defensive backfield.
The Bulldogs marched down the field, picking up four first downs along the way against the look, but Cal Poly eventually buckled down.
The 12-play, 57-yard drive ended with a field goal with a big third-down stop by Tu’uta Inoke, who entered the game when Dzubnar left with a minor injury.