Cal Poly

College Football: Passing a big key for Mustangs against Spartans

Asa Jackson said he has to be more of a leader this year, and to him, part of fulfilling that role is accounting for the Cal Poly football team’s losses.

Willing to be hard on himself, the sophomore cornerback — who burst on the scene as the only true freshman starter for the Mustangs last season — took the blame for last week’s 28-10 loss at Ohio.

“I just didn’t have a good game,” said Jackson, the Great West Football Conference Rookie of the Year in 2008. “Everybody has a game where they don’t play their best, and I personally just didn’t have a good game.

“This week was basically my fault, I feel like, because I didn’t play my game. And when I play my game and the whole team plays their game, we’re a great defense.”

Jackson cited some tentative play leading to the Mustangs (1-1) giving up three touchdowns through the air against the Bobcats, including 42-yard and 63-yard touchdown passes.

The 63-yarder was a jump ball the 5-foot-10 Jackson wasn’t able to knock away from 6-4 receiver Terrence McCrae.

It’s a big-versus-small matchup San Jose State (0-3) may look to exploit today in No. 14 Cal Poly’s second straight road game against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent.

“We need (our cornerbacks) to start getting some confidence that as many plays that are made on them, they will eventually make plays against those guys,” Mustangs head coach Tim Walsh said. “So they’ll get challenged again I’m sure, and hopefully, they’re ready to get challenged. That’s part of playing the position of corner.”

But the outcome doesn’t just rest in the hands of Jackson and fellow cornerback Xavier Gardner. The Mustangs have more to worry about than just the Spartans’ two 6-4 wideouts and 6-1 leading receiver Kevin Jurovich.

For Cal Poly, there are injury concerns and an offense that struggled to get its passing game going because it couldn’t protect its quarterback in Ohio.

The Mustangs did not allow a sack to the Bobcats, but first-year starting quarterback Tony Smith was just 1-for-11 passing while he was harassed on nearly every drop back.

That inability to throw effectively made Cal Poly’s offense painfully one-dimensional as the Mustangs were shut out of the end zone despite junior fullback Jordan Yocum racking up 130 yards on 27 carries.

As well as the Ohio front performed last week against Cal Poly, Walsh said his team will not see a better defensive front all season than the one it faces today in San Jose State.

“That’s the best part of their team and overall,” Walsh said. “Last week’s front four, they were big, but these guys are extremely athletic. Some of these guys will probably play in the NFL.”

Linemen Carl Ihenacho and Adonis Davis, both on the radar of pro scouts, each have a sack this season, and Ihenacho, a 6-3, 256-pound end, is second on the team with 20 tackles.

The loss of two projected opening-game starters on the offensive line won’t help the Mustangs either.

Center Jason Cox, who was entering his third season as a starter, did not play the first two games after having offseason knee surgery, and Walsh confirmed this week that Cox will now miss the entire season.

Right tackle Art Munoz, also a third-year starter, broke his leg in the first quarter at Ohio last week and will not return either. Munoz’s injury was an unexpected psychological jolt.

“It was a blow,” junior guard Will Mitchell said. “It was definitely shocking, and him going down, you knew it was bad.

“Art’s a tough guy. He doesn’t scream for anything. He was screaming, and it was definitely a shock.”

Redshirt freshman Matt Bertole, a reserve offensive lineman, is out for the game with an unspecified injury. So is sophomore reserve linebacker and special teams ace Quentin Greenlaw.

Senior running back Jon Hall is out for two to three weeks after he said he tore his meniscus and will require arthroscopic surgery. Hall was the team’s third leading rusher and second leading receiver.

His absence leaves running backs Jaymes Thierry and Jono Grayson left to share carries. The two have combined for 41 yards on 12 attempts through two games.

San Jose State doesn’t appear ready to afford Cal Poly any slack. The Spartans are coming off consecutive losses to USC, Utah and Stanford, and another loss would jeopardize their hopes of a bowl berth.

“Our backs are against the wall, no doubt about it,” said San Jose State linebacker Travis Jones, a former Atascadero High standout. “At the beginning of the season, you look at your schedule and you don’t want to be 0-3, but you know that’s a possibility.

“Cal Poly is not someone to overlook any year that you play them.”