The Cal Poly football team’s defense came into Saturday’s 30-24 win at Weber State as beat up as it’s been all season.
Still, the Mustangs (3-3, 2-1 Big Sky Conference) left Ogden, Utah, with one of their finest defensive performances of the year.
With injuries taking their toll, Cal Poly had to leave defensive tackle Chris Lawrence and safety Dave Douglas, two senior starters, back home in San Luis Obispo.
That’s on top of injuries to newcomers like Wake Forest transfer defensive tackle Andrew Hauser and true freshman safety Jonathan LaBonty, who both entered the season as key reserves.
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At this stage of the year, it almost seems like ancient history to mention that cornerbacks Dominique Love and Cortland Fort are two of the five suspended players awaiting trial on charges related to an alleged attempted armed robbery back in August.
In the face of all that adversity, the Cal Poly defense was able to stymie one of the leading passers in the country Saturday.
Weber State sophomore Billy Green, a BYU transfer, came into the game ranked fifth in the FCS by completing 25.8 passes per game and eighth in the country averaging 277.4 passing yards. He threw for 341 in the Wildcats’ previous game, a narrow loss to Southern Utah.
Against Cal Poly, Green was 16 of 23 for just 97 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
“He never looked real comfortable in the pocket,” Mustangs head coach Tim Walsh said.
Defensive coordinator Josh Brown “did a good job of mixing up the coverages, so, I don’t think he even got a beat on us, and the other thing was I think they wanted to run the ball to keep it out of our hands.”
Weber State (0-6, 0-2 Big Sky) did run for 179 yards, but 70 of those came on a touchdown run in the first half where replays showed Wildcats running back Zach Smith’s elbow being down after a much shorter gain.
Karlton Dennis had an interception, his second in as many games, and Marcus Paige-Allen r
ecovered a fumbled snap. Though it came against one of the nation’s most turnover-prone teams — the Wildcats had the third-worst turnover ratio in the FCS coming in — Cal Poly felt well-prepared on defense.
“We spent a lot of time this week in the individual parts of practice working on things they did that would cause us problems,” Walsh said. “Rather than working on techniques, we worked on a lot of formational things and checks. We probably spent 30 minutes a day doing that this week, and I think our players were confident.”
Green faced constant pressure most of the day. The Mustangs only sacked him once, a combo job by Logan Mayes and Chris Judge, but only because Green was able to turn several near sacks into short gains. Green was credited with 10 runs and averaged fewer than 2 yards per rush.
The pressure was a key element on Weber State’s last-gasp attempt at a comeback in the final minute. On fourth-and-4 at the Cal Poly 45-yard line, Brown convinced Walsh during a timeout to let him bring the house on a blitz.
With a last-minute loss to Northern Arizona where the Mustangs defense was perhaps a little too passive on the final drive still fresh in everyone’s mind, the plan to pressure was set in motion, and cornerback Fernando Cabico hurried Green into an incompletion, allowing Cal Poly to take over on downs.
“Josh Brown really deserves a lot of credit,” Walsh said. “We talked a lot during the last timeout whether to bring pressure or not bring pressure. The pressure got there. It didn’t get the sack, but it got there football fast, and that’s a gutsy call.”
Shifting from defensive end to tackle with the loss of Lawrence, Josh Letuligasenoa had 10 tackles for the Mustangs. In his first career start and filling in for Douglas, Trevor Weis had two tackles.
Both Weis and safety Kaulin Blair, who also had two stops playing more as a nickel back, received kudos from Walsh for their play. Walsh said he’s decided to redshirt LaBonty and fellow true freshman Kai Sheffie, and senior cornerback Dylan Mohamed was injured this week in practice, leaving only six active defensive backs on Saturday.
“We played six guys in the secondary, and all six guys contributed,” Walsh said. “I just think, overall, that’s who we have, and that’s who we’re going to go with.”