Cal Poly redshirt freshman quarterback Jake Jeffrey was thrust into a difficult spot Saturday, making his first-career college start against Southern Utah in place of injured starter Khaleel Jenkins, who was lost this week for the season with a knee injury.
Jeffrey had two fumbles and struggled to get the Cal Poly offense rolling — and Southern Utah took advantage. He still had a chance to lead Cal Poly on a game-winning drive with two minutes left in the fourth quarter, but a sack on fourth down at the Southern Utah 44-yard line with 14 seconds left ended another comeback attempt.
Led by senior quarterback Patrick Tyler, Southern Utah held on for the 20-14 win and handed Cal Poly its sixth-straight loss to start the season. It’s Cal Poly’s first six-game losing streak in a season since the 1965 squad dropped its final six games.
Defense Holds Its Own
Southern Utah did most of the damage in the first half — first on a 55-yard touchdown run from Jay Green to make it 10-7 in the first quarter and later in the second quarter on a 26-yard touchdown pass from Tyler to Terrance Beasley to give the Thunderbirds a 17-7 lead with 12:37 left in the second quarter. Southern Utah didn’t score after that until its final points — on a 38-yard field goal with 7:41 left in the fourth quarter.
The Cal Poly defense did well to give the team a chance to win after playing poorly, especially in the pass defense department, in the last couple of games. B.J. Nard led the way two sacks and six total tackles. Darren Adjei had the hit of the night when he leveled the Southern Utah running back at the 2-yard line to cause a fumble and save what would have been at least three points right before halftime.
Cal Poly sophomore Mark Reza had an interception in the third quarter to stop another drive, but the offense offered no help. Tyler finished with 23 of 30 for 223 yards passing.
Walsh raved about the defensive effort and
“If we could get both sides of the ball to play well at the same time we would win some games,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said. “Unfortunately that hasn’t happened yet.”
The struggles of the Cal Poly offense is best seen in its third down conversion percentage: just 4 of 15 for the game.
The first touchdown came when senior Kyle Lewis broke free on an outside run and sprinted down the sideline for a 73-yard touchdown in the first quarter. The second came on a Broc Mortensen 5-yard touchdown run with 4:46 left in the game to make it 20-14 and give Cal Poly a chance.
Senior fullback Jared Mohamed was the only consistent offensive threat. He finished the game with 29 carries for 135 yards.
Cal Poly penalties — 11 for 103 yards — didn’t help matters on either side of the ball.
Jitters for Jeffrey
Through three-and-a-half quarters, Jeffrey was mostly held in check and failed to pick up key first downs in throwing situations. He also failed to establish himself as a legitimate running threat, a problem in the Mustangs’ spread triple option. Jeffrey finished the game with 23 yards rushing on eight attempts. His two fumbles gives Cal Poly 10 lost fumbles on the season.
Jeffrey did get hot at the end of the game, but it was too little too late. He finished his first start 11 of 21 for 129 yards and no interceptions through the air.
“He didn’t play well but he played about as hard as you can play. He took some real shots down the stretch,” Walsh said.
All of the injuries to key players, including Jenkins and All-American fullback Joe Protheroe, and losses in the first six games have all but eliminated Cal Poly from a shot at the postseason. With five games left on the schedule, Cal Poly will have a chance to regroup during its second bye of the season next week before coming back to play a home game against Weber State on Oct. 21.
“You got two choices you can fold it up or you can go battle, man, and we are going to battle,” Walsh said. “I just think that the camaraderie and the teamsmanship of the game of football has got to be important if you’re 6-0 or 0-6. Right now we are 0-6. And I get it, it’s absolutely no fun for anybody, but that doesn’t mean we will stop working.”