The Cal Poly football team just hasn’t been able to get all the phases of the game to work in harmony this season. The result has been an 0-5 (0-2 Big Sky) record, the Mustangs’ worst start to a season in 15 years.
The good news for Mustangs fans is — evoking the old adage of history repeating itself — Cal Poly ended that five-game losing streak in 2002 with a win on the road against Southern Utah, the same team they play on Saturday.
So how does Cal Poly repeat the past and pick up its first win of the season in Cedar City? Let’s look at three keys to the game.
Hold on to the ball
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Last week’s heartbreaking loss to Idaho State was the first game of the season in which Cal Poly didn’t have a lost fumble. Despite that, Cal Poly is still tied for last out of 124 FCS teams for the most fumbles this season with eight. It’s cost the Mustangs wins. Against Northern Iowa, a fumble returned for a touchdown was the difference in a 45-38 overtime loss.
Southern Utah is averaging one fumble recovery per game this season and ranks in the Top 30 in the category for all of FCS.
After a decent start to the season, the Cal Poly secondary has really struggled to stop the pass in the past three games. Against Northern Iowa, Northern Arizona and Idaho State, Cal Poly gave up an average of 357 yards passing. This week, they will have to try to slow down Southern Utah senior quarterback and Compton native Patrick Tyler and a passing attack that is ranked No. 17 in FCS. SUU freshman Landen Measom is one of the top wide receivers in the Big Sky and Tyler’s favorite target.
The key for Cal Poly will be forcing Southern Utah (2-2, 0-1 Big Sky) to become a running team, where they are far less effective.
Run the rock
Cal Poly is finally starting to look like the rushing juggernaut that many have come expect over the past few seasons — and the key last week was diversity.
The Mustangs had 463 rushing yards and ran with success inside and outside. Three ball carriers had more than 50 yards, including junior quarterback Khaleel Jenkins, who picked up 202 rushing yards in the game, the second most for a quarterback in school history.
Cal Poly now ranks No. 12 in FCS in rushing with a 256.6 yards-per-game average, still well below the 343.5 average from last season. SUU is not great against the run, giving up 175 yards per game (80th in FCS) this season, meaning it could be another big day on the ground for Cal Poly.
CAL POLY (0-4, 0-2 BIG SKY) VS. SOUTHERN UTAH (2-2, 0-1 BIG SKY)
When: 5:05 p.m. Saturday
Where: Eccles Coliseum (8,500), Cedar City, Utah
On the air: 1280 AM (4:30 p.m.), Pluto.TV