Cal Poly redshirt freshman linebacker Anders Turner ripped the ball out of fullback Austin Denham’s arm and into the eagerly awaiting hands of defensive back Aaryn Bouzos.
Head coach Tim Walsh wasted no time blowing the final whistle; it was as fitting an end as possible to another defense-dominated spring game.
Sure, the Alex G. Spanos Stadium scoreboard read 27-25 in favor of the green-clad offensive players following Saturday afternoon’s 90-minute scrimmage, but if the Mustangs defense — wearing white — allowed only two field goals and no touchdowns, who actually won?
“Sometimes, I have to make an executive decision,” Walsh said. “The defense outplayed the offense. I don’t really care about the scoreboard. So we’re giving the defense the win, which means first meal next year, the defense gets served by the offense.”
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The defense feasted Saturday, holding the offense to 3.9 yards per carry and 10-of-21 passing in keeping the unit out of the end zone for the second straight spring showcase.
“I was really happy,” said senior linebacker Burton De Koning, who made six tackles. “I think assignment-wise everybody did a good job of playing together. We forced the offense into a couple three-and-outs. We should have gotten off the field earlier a few times, but we made plays when we needed to and they didn’t get into the end zone for two spring games in a row.”
The offense was hamstrung by multiple injuries, including being without the two feature backs in quarterback Chris Brown (ankle) and slotback Kori Garcia (foot) from the 2014 team that averaged 483 yards and 34 points per game.
Brown’s backup, fellow senior Dano Graves, also didn’t dress, meaning all of the snaps from center went to either redshirt freshman Kai Ross and junior transfer Andrew Barna.
It was a largely inauspicious day for both signal callers, with Barna completing 6 of 7 passes but neither totaling more than 100 yards of total offense.
“Part of the frustrating thing is how unexplosive we were on offense,” said Walsh, who can opt to redshirt Graves this year and save his final eligible season for 2016. “I think we got conservative because the quarterbacks have got to play a little bit better.
“Andrew Barna did some good things. Kai could have had a better day, but that’s the way it goes. We’ll go back and evaluate the whole spring and not just what happened here.”
In all, the offense ran for 278 yards on 71 carries, led by fullback Jared Mohamed’s 14 rushes for 69 yards. Ross ran 17 times for 50 yards, and freshman slotback Alex Suchesk ran nine times for 46 yards, showing a burst to the edge on a few option pitches.
Senior defensive lineman Tyler Alsey finished with a team-high eight tackles.
Fellow lineman Miles Williams — who converted to offensive tackle last year but switched back — added seven stops, and Arroyo Grande High graduate and sophomore linebacker Grant Alton made six as defense ruled the day.
“It’s not good with the smack talk from the defense,” senior center Stephen Sippel said. “But we’ve had a lot of young guys coming in that are trying to get a feel for the system.
Ultimately, we were too sloppy today with our assignments so it really limited our drives.”
Other notes from the spring game:
• The kicking game appears to be taking shape, although Walsh said he is a few days away from making an official decision on which three of the six hopefuls will make it to fall camp. Freshman walk-on Alex Vega earned praise from the coach for the second time this spring after making a 46-yard field goal attempt with plenty of room to spare and sending his lone punt 46 yards. Zach Schottenfeld missed from 31 yards out and hit an upback to lose yards on a punt, but Walsh said he and fellow returning kicker Stephen Pyle, who made a 24-yard field goal but also fumbled a punt snap, have been consistent throughout the 15 practices.
• There weren’t many to choose from, but the offensive play of the day goes to Barna. On the first play of his second series, he eluded a sack in the backfield, rolled to his left and lofted a touch pass down the sideline to junior wideout Carson McMurtrey for a 37-yard gain.
• Laney College transfer Charlie Davis made his presence felt as the game neared its end. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound linebacker sliced through the line to drop the quarterback for a loss on three separate occasions. “He’s really athletic, and I think being here for the spring and having 15 practices will give him a good jumpstart going into the fall,” Walsh said. “The linebacker positions are extremely competitive, but I also think that we’re extremely deep there which is great for us.”
• The Mustangs break for the summer and enter the weight lifting and conditioning segment of the year. As De Koning put it, “The grind never stops, that’s for sure.”