Sophomore quarterback Chris Brown will be elevated back to the starter for the Cal Poly football team’s season finale at Northern Colorado on Saturday, but Mustangs head coach Tim Walsh said the battle for the position will continue into the spring.
Brown rallied the team for three fourth-quarter touchdowns in Saturday’s 35-22 loss to No. 3 Eastern Washington in relief of sophomore Dano Graves, who started the game but threw three interceptions.
Brown helped lead Cal Poly (5-6, 4-3 Big Sky Conference) to back-to-back victories against UC Davis and Sacramento State before an ankle injury caused him to miss practice leading up to the game against the Eagles.
“Chris would have started last week if he was at practice,” Walsh said after Tuesday’s practice. “He practiced this week. He’ll get the opportunity, and we’ll see how he does. We hope he takes advantage of the opportunity. That’s kind of what we’re looking for from a stability standpoint, someone to take the opportunity and do what we need to have done with it. Hopefully, he’s going to have a big football game, but if he’s not, I’m sure Dano will be ready as well.”
The position has been one of instability nearly all season after a wide-open, four-man battle raged throughout preseason training camp.
Vince Moraga won the job coming into the season opener, but in the second half at Fresno State the second week of the season, the junior suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Brown started the next three games before being sidelined by a hip injury. If not for the injury and concern about Brown’s ball security following a 24-10 loss to Yale, coaches still might have turned to Graves, which they did for the next two games.
An upper leg injury to Graves opened the door for Brown’s return, and it appears among the three players to record meaningful playing time this season, Brown has emerged as the leading option.
Redshirt freshman Tanner Trosin has played in three games but mainly as a late-game substitution.
Brown leads the trio with a passing efficency rating of 137.7. Despite having the lower completion percentage at 55.4, Brown has passed for a team-high 707 yards and nine touchdowns —- including a four-touchdown effort in a 42-7 win over Sacramento State — and just three interceptions.
Including a 34-16 victory at UC Davis where he set the program all-time single-game rushing mark for quarterbacks with 195 yards and three touchdowns, Brown has a team-high seven scores on the ground and is averaging 83.4 rushing yards per game. That’s only 10.1 fewer yards than the Mustangs’ leading rusher, junior slotback Kristaan Ivory.
Graves has completed 60 percent of his passes for 416 yards and three touchdowns and has been intercepted five times. He’s averaging 61.2 rushing yards per game.
In his limited action, Moraga was 21-of-33 passing for a team-high completion percentage of 63.6 and totaled 286 yards. On the ground, he ran 17 times for 44 yards, which at 2.6 yards ranks lower than the other two.
Walsh would not commit to Brown as the starter going into the offseason.
“All the quarterbacks need to improve in the spring,” Walsh said. “Vince Moraga will be back in the spring, and really, if you really want to say who should start, he was the guy who won the position, and he really didn’t lose it because of his play. He lost it because of injury.
“But in reality, all four of them are going to have to compete again, and all four of them are going to have to play well. I would expect all of them to make big jumps, especially Chris and
Dano because of all the experiences that they’ve had. We’ll see how big of a jump they make in the spring and then we’ll make decisions.”
IVORY BREAKS 1,000
With 88 yards on 14 carries against Eastern Washington, Ivory upped his season total to 1,028 yards, becoming the 16th player in program history to top 1,000 yards.
“It felt great,” Ivory said Tuesday. “That was a goal of mine to get 1,000. It’s the first time I’ve been over a thousand in my career in any level of football. So, it’s a great honor. I couldn’t do it without my line and my receivers and other backs blocking for me. They just helped make it easy for me.”
Ivory sits fifth in the Big Sky and 30th in the FCS in rushing yards, and he might have ranked even higher if not for a midseason ankle injury that severely limited his playing time over a two-game stretch.
Ivory suffered the sprain while rushing 22 times for 121 yards in a 21-14 overtime loss at Montana on Oct. 19. To that point, he was the leading rusher in the conference and ranked among the best in the country having already rushed for 185 yards in the season opener against San Diego and another 184 with a career-high 32 carries in a win at Portland State.
But in the week following the Montana loss, Ivory ran once for 3 yards against Northern Arizona and had just three carries for 14 yards in the next game at UC Davis.
Outside of the two games in which he was limited because of the injury, Ivory is averaging 111.8 yards per game and would be on pace for 1,341 yards over a 12-game schedule.
That would have landed him one of the finest seasons in program history.
“I was hoping to get more yards, but injuries,” Ivory said. “But all that’s in the past. I’m just trying to do whatever I can.”