CHENEY, Wash. — Facing arguably its toughest challenge through the first six weeks of the season, Cal Poly’s secondary turned in one of its strongest all-around efforts Saturday afternoon at Roos Field.
With junior quarterback Jordan West leading the Big Sky Conference and FCS in passing yards per game and a string of explosive receivers, the Mustangs’ back line showed technical discipline that lacked in previous losses.
West did throw four touchdowns on 35 attempts, but his 224 yards through the air were a season-low by nearly 70 yards. His favorite target, junior wide receiver Cooper Kupp, never seemed to find a rhythm and finished the game with season lows in receptions (four) and receiving yards (21).
Senior safety Kaulin Blair led the group with six tackles, cornerback Karlton Dennis added five and safety B.J. Nard and cornerback Fernando Cabico made three stops apiece during the 42-41 overtime loss.
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Three of West’s four touchdown passes came in the fourth quarter and overtime, however, including two that landed in the hands of Kendrick Bourne.
“That’s on me that we couldn’t finish the deal,” seventh-year head coach Tim Walsh said.
Linebackers piling up tackles
Before the season began, Walsh said the Mustangs weren’t overly experienced at linebacker but he liked the group’s depth.
Through six games that depth has helped Cal Poly rely somewhat heavily on its 3-4 defensive front, a noticeable change from the usual 4-3 scheme the team has used in previous seasons.
During Saturday’s loss, sophomore R.J. Mazolewski and junior Joseph Gigantino each made a career-high 12 tackles, including three combined for lost yardage. Middle linebacker Tu’uta Inoke, the team’s leading tackler, made 10 stops and Burton De Koning added five.
That unit helped limit Eastern Washington to 146 rushing yards on 34 attempts, an average of 4.3 yards per rush.
Mustangs enter bye week
Despite what could be considered one of its best efforts of the season, Cal Poly enters its bye week on a difficult note.
At 2-4 overall and 1-2 in conference play, the Mustangs have five games left to play their way back into a potential playoff scenario.
With so much parity in the Big Sky this season, that seems like a reachable goal.
Getting there starts at home Oct. 24 against a Portland State team that routed FBS-opponent North Texas 66-7 Saturday afternoon.
Cal Poly plays three of its final five games at Alex G. Spanos Stadium, where the team is 1-1 so far in 2015.
“The good news is we need a break,” Walsh said. “We’ll come back and get ready for Portland State and spend three or four hard days on them next week and have three or four days off depending on how we do it.”