Back in fall camp, one of the biggest areas of emphasis for the Cal Poly football team was special teams.
The Mustangs had felt as if poor performances in the kicking game cost them more than one victory in a 6-6 season last year.
So, team leaders used preseason speeches to encourage everyone to take special teams responsibilities more serious.
The spotlight returns to special teams this week since no game exemplified Cal Poly’s kicking foibles more than a 21-14 overtime loss at Montana last season.
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In that game, the Grizzlies blocked a punt and the potentially game-clinching field-goal attempt, and followed each block with their only touchdowns in regulation.
“We saw exactly what they did, where they came in the right side of our wall,” junior short snapper Weston Walker said.
“In the summer, we obviously saw that at Montana last year. We’ve been working this whole year to fix it. It’s a copycat league. Everyone sees what someone else does. So, if someone sees that they did that, we know someone else in the league is going to try that.”
This season, Cal Poly has not had a kick blocked, a feat only 31 of 119 FCS teams can claim. The Mustangs haven’t had a punt blocked either.
But that streak of success is going to be tested today.
Montana continues to be one of the best teams in the country defending punts and field goals.
The Grizzlies have blocked three kicks this season, which is the most in the Big Sky Conference and ranks 15th in the FCS.
They’ve also blocked two punts, which is only one fewer than the three teams tied for first in the nation.
And when Montana isn’t blocking punts, the Grizzlies are averaging 10.1 yards on their punt returns, which ranks second in the conference.
“You have to match their intensity,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said. “Their intensity in how hard they play in special teams is the best in the conference. There’s no question about it. You have to match that, and if you don’t, you’re going to cause yourself problems.
“Any small mistake you make, whether it’s something that’s a missed assignment, which is bad, or on the other hand something that just happens and you fall down for whatever reason, they’re going to take advantage of it.”