Cal Poly

Three things to watch as Cal Poly football attempts to avoid first 0-5 start since 2002

Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh looks on in his team’s game last Saturday against Northern Arizona.
Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh looks on in his team’s game last Saturday against Northern Arizona. The Tribune

There’s no sugar-coating the season the Cal Poly football team has put together so far. It’s been bad.

The Mustangs are off to the worst start in head coach Tim Walsh’s nine seasons with the team and are 0-4 for the first time since 2002, when they lost their first five games en route to a 2-8 overall record.

After last Saturday’s 28-10 loss to Northern Arizona, Cal Poly’s once vaunted rushing attack ranks 18th in the nation at 222.3 yards per game after leading the FCS ranks in rushing yards the previous four seasons.

It’s a glaring shortcoming, considering the fact that junior quarterback and first-year starter Khaleel Jenkins ranks 87th in the country with 508 passing yards and doesn’t register in the top 116 in passing efficiency.

There’s still time to turn things around with seven games remaining, and Saturday against Idaho State (2-2, 0-1 Big Sky) inside cozy Holt Arena in Pocatello would be a good place to start. Here are three things to keep your eye on:

Back to the run

Two weeks prior to the Northern Arizona loss, Jenkins turned in the best game of his career with 238 yards and four touchdowns on 9-of-16 passing to go along with 102 yards and another touchdown on 37 carries in a 45-38 overtime loss to Northern Iowa.

But first-year offensive coordinator Jim Craft seemingly took the passing game off the table again against the Lumberjacks. Cal Poly started the game with 13 straight running plays before Jenkins’ first passing attempt — on a third down and long.

In the first half, Cal Poly ran the ball 29 times to just six pass attempts — none of which came on first down. The Mustangs ran the ball 55 times total for 178 yards, a 3.2 yards per carry average — hardly a formula for success.

Giving it away

Turnovers continued to haunt the Mustangs last week with two fumbles lost and two interceptions from Jenkins. That’s what shot them in the foot against Northern Arizona with two costly fumbles.

Cal Poly has 10 turnovers on the season, eight from fumbles.

Tough opposition

Idaho State will be a worthy opponent and celebrating homecoming after three straight road games. The Bengals returned 14 starters, an equal number on both sides of the ball — granted, from a team that posted a 2-9 record last year. The Bengals did knock off FBS opponent Nevada with a 30-28 win two weeks ago and took Northern Colorado to the wire last week before falling 43-42.

Returning starting quarterback Tanner Gueller already has thrown for 1,012 yards and nine touchdowns at a 56.8 percent completion rate. And running back James Madison, also a returning starter, has 348 yards and four touchdowns on 54 carries, a 6.4 yards per carry average.

Cal Poly is allowing 404.5 yards per game, 73rd in the nation.

CAL POLY (0-4, 0-1 BIG SKY) VS. IDAHO STATE (2-2, 0-1)

When: 1:35 p.m. Saturday

Where: Holt Arena (12,000), Pocatello, Idaho

On the air: 1280 AM (1 p.m.),