In the seven years Tim Walsh has been head football coach at Cal Poly, he’s noticed a trend around this time each season.
Following a monthlong and relatively uninterrupted training camp in August, the Mustangs slip into a lull at the start of the fall quarter. The academic and social demands pull attention from what could already be considered a full-time job as a member of the football team.
“I hate to say it, and this is a fact, in our past, after two weeks of school and getting settled into things and a routine, we usually play better,” Walsh said.
That was the case last fall, when the Mustangs started the season 1-3. They responded by winning five consecutive games to get back into Big Sky Conference title contention.
With Idaho State (1-3) set to visit Alex G. Spanos Stadium at 6:05 p.m. Saturday, there’s certainly a sense of urgency among players and coaches as the midway point of the season approaches.
Walsh said the slow starts that have hindered Cal Poly in recent weeks — both on offense and defense — could be traced back to the end of last year.
Idaho State raced out to a 14-0 lead last November in Pocatello, Idaho, and held on in the second half to end the Mustangs’ winning streak. The following week against a one-win UC Davis team, Cal Poly fell behind 31-14 at halftime and never fully recovered.
Even a lopsided win over eventual playoff team San Diego in the season finale couldn’t salvage the Mustangs’ outside chances of making the playoffs.
“It’s very similar starting out a little down and just knowing that we were able to turn it around midseason,” fifth-year senior offensive tackle Weston Walker said. “Obviously we didn’t finish the way we’d like to last year, but knowing that we can and we do have the power to turn it around is good for our morale.”
Walker, an Atascadero High graduate, has helped Cal Poly maintain its status as one of the top rushing teams in the country again this season.
The starting group of Walker, guard Nick Enriquez, center Stephen Sippel, guard Joey Kuperman and tackle Matthew Fisher has paved the way to 330 rushing yards per game, the third-highest total in the FCS.
Only James Madison (356.3 yards) and The Citadel (343.8) average more rushing yards per game than the Mustangs.
Cal Poly could raise that total this week against a Bengals team that ranks 12th in the Big Sky in rushing defense. During last week’s 80-8 loss at UNLV, Idaho State allowed 517 yards on the ground in what head coach Mike Kramer called a “woeful, inadequate effort.”
“Regardless of who we play,” Kramer said. “If we don’t fight off blocks, run to the ball with 11 guys with a bee in our butt, we’re not going to stop anybody running the ball.
“Let alone the best rushing team in the nation.”