During halftime of Cal Poly’s game against Colgate, head coach Tim Walsh was confident in his team’s chances despite a 17-0 deficit.
“This is going to be the greatest thrill of your life,” Walsh told the team in the locker room. “I know we are a better football team than the way we just played, and we are going to find a way to win this football game 21-20.”
But the team couldn’t find a way.
After falling behind 20-0 last Saturday to open the 2017 season, Cal Poly (0-1, 0-0 Big Sky) staged an impressive late rally but couldn’t score the go-ahead touchdown in the final seconds and fell to the Raiders, 20-14.
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This week, the Mustangs travel north to San Jose to play San Jose State (0-1, 0-0 Mountain West) for the first time since 2009. The Spartans’ also lost their season opener, 42-22 to then No. 19 South Florida.
Not immune to the heat wave currently blanketing California, highs in the Bay Area city are expected to hit 107 degrees Saturday. There will also be plenty of heat on the Cal Poly offense, specifically offensive coordinator Jim Craft. Let’s take a look at that and three other things to look out for when Cal Poly kicks off at 4:30 p.m.
After the Colgate loss, Walsh admitted there was some frustration with the sluggish start from the offense and first-year offensive coordinator Jim Craft.
“When things aren’t going well, it’s tough to sit in that box knowing that the head coach is steaming down there about the way you’re playing,” Walsh said of Craft.
It’s easy to see why. Here’s what Cal Poly did in the first half on offense: turnover on downs, fumble, punt, turnover on downs, punt, punt, punt.
The first drive, which included eight runs by senior fullback Joe Protheroe that all went for 5 yards or less, provided a microcosm of the team’s struggle against Colgate. Craft and Cal Poly seemed hell bent on sending Protheroe up the middle despite the play’s lack of success against a team that led the FCS in rush defense last season. He finished the game with a career-high 39 carries (too many according to Walsh) for 139 yards and a touchdown. Cal Poly finished with 210 yards rushing for the game, well below its average of 343.5 yards per game last season.
It wasn’t until Cal Poly started to mix things up a little bit with runs to the outside and pass plays downfield in the second half that the team saw success. It will be interesting to see the play selection against San Jose, particularly early in the game.
Look for the Mustangs to get senior backup fullback Jared Mohamed, who had five carries for 23 yards last week, more involved to keep Protheroe fresh.
First half or 4th Quarter Jenkins?
Junior quarterback Khaleel Jenkins played well under pressure in the second half as he led the team on two scoring drives and a pair of fourth-down conversions, including one for a touchdown. In the fourth quarter, Jenkins was 4-of-9 passing for 74 yards and a touchdown.
But in the first half, Jenkins was 2 of 5 for 11 yards. So which Jenkins will show up against San Jose State?
“I think there is a lot better in him,” Walsh said after the loss. “We expect him to be a great player, and so he needs to play great, and he will.”
Walsh added that Jenkins needs to be more patient and take the check-down routes instead of looking for the deep ball. That might be the case, but one of those deep balls in the first half that would have been a touchdown went right through the hands of senior receiver Kyle Lewis.
Jenkins and both Lewis and J.J. Koski need to play better if the Mustangs want to pull off the upset against the Spartans.
Jenkins said he was excited about the way the defense played against Colgate. Walsh said the defense played better than he’s seen in a long time in the final three quarters — making tackles in space, stopping the Colgate offense on third downs and getting a turnover.
The Mustangs gave up a couple of big plays, but they held Colgate to 250 yards of total offense. Senior linebacker R.J. Mazolewski led the way with eight total tackles and got in on a sack.
Cal Poly might want to take note of the way the South Florida defense forced San Jose State into mistakes. In its 42-22 win last week, USF intercepted Spartans quarterback Josh Love three times.
We’ll see if the Cal Poly defense can keep it going against a more talented offense.
Central Coast Connection
San Jose State gave USF a scare early in last Saturday’s game, jumping out to a 16-0 lead, and a big reason was Paso Robles High School graduate Bailey Gaither. The sophomore and former Tribune County Football Player of the Year scored two touchdowns in the first quarter of the game and blocked a punt as the Spartans took a 16-0 first-quarter lead. He finished with six catches and a game-high 100 receiving yards.
Another Paso Robles grad, junior tight end Josh Oliver, also played well in the loss. He had five catches for 51 yards.
Both players look like they will be a big part of the Spartans’ passing game this season. Look for San Jose State to get both involved as it attacks a Cal Poly secondary that struggled against the pass last season.
Cal Poly (0-1) vs. San Jose State (0-1)
When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: CEFCU Stadium, San Jose
On the air: ESPN Radio, 1280 AM