The start to the 2017 season couldn’t have been much worse for Cal Poly football.
In front of a national television audience and a sizable home crowd at Alex G Spanos Stadium facing a Colgate team from New York making just its second trip to California in program history and first since 1999, the No. 23-ranked Mustangs fell behind 17-0 in the first half before its top rushing offense was able to get going.
Cal Poly made things interesting with two fourth-quarter touchdowns, but a fourth-and-8 try with 47 seconds left in the game came up short and ended the Mustangs’ chance at a dramatic come-from-behind win.
Final score: Colgate 20, Cal Poly 14.
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Strength vs. Strength
Coming into the game, the matchup to watch was the Colgate run defense against the Cal Poly running game. When the game was over, Colgate had the edge.
The Raiders held Cal Poly to 50 rushing yards in the first half. The Mustangs did finish the game with 210 yards after getting things going in the second half, but it was still well short of the 343 yards per game the team averaged last year. Three times early in the game, Cal Poly tried to go for it on fourth-and-short — all three times the Colgate defense stuffed the run to force a turnover. The Mustangs finished 4-for-8 on fourth down conversions.
“If I had to point at anything it was our short-yardage offense that really hurt us,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said. “By not doing well on those we put our defense in some horrible positions.”
Meanwhile, Cal Poly couldn’t stop the Colgate rushing attack.
The Raiders opened the scoring with a field goal. And following a fumble by Cal Poly’s Kyle Lewis, Colgate scored on a 17-yard touchdown run by James Holland Jr., who finished the game with 91 yards on 20 carries. In the second quarter, Alex Matthews ripped off a 57-yard touchdown run to put Colgate up 17-0.
Junior quarterback Khaleel Jenkins struggled in the first half of his debut as Cal Poly’s starter and just the second start of his career. On his first long throw, he overthrew a wide-open receiver. A couple of plays later, Jenkins tossed a perfectly placed long ball, but this time what would have been a sure touchdown went right through the hands of Lewis. Mixed in were a handful of inaccurate passes on intermediate routes. Walsh said Jenkins played ‘Ok’.
“We kind of shot ourselves in the foot a lot in the first three quarters. It’s hard to come back from that type of deficit in this type of offense,” Jenkins said.
In the second half, Jenkins did make a handful of clutch plays, including a run to convert a fourth down and another fourth-down touchdown pass to Lewis to make it 20-14. Lewis finsished with seven carries for 19 yards and two catches for 51 yards and a touchdown.
“I am excited and very encouraged by what we were able to do in the second half,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins finished the game 6 of 17 for 85 yards and a touchdown along with 23 yards rushing.
Cal Poly senior fullback Joe Prothroe finished the game with 139 yards on 39 carries and a touchdown. It was too many carries, according to Walsh.
“That’s my fault,” Walsh said. “(Fullback) Jared Mohamed is a good player. We can give Jared nine or 10 more of those and cut down the hits on Joe.”
Walsh said the team needs to be more explosive in the run game. The longest run against Colgate was 11 yards.
But the defense stood out.
“After the first 17 or 18 minutes, that is as good as we have played on defense in a while,” Walsh said.
Kitu Humphery played well at the free safety spot. He had an interception in the second quarter and a pass break-up in the second half. Defensive linemen Leroy Mealancon had four total tackles, a half sack and a forced fumble.
Cal Poly at San Jose State, 4:30 p.m. Saturday