With a schedule that has, in a span of four weeks, pitted Cal Poly against two FBS teams, the Mustangs are getting used to playing the underdog role.
Against a Northern Illinois team that is favored by many to win the Mid-American Conference, the Mustangs are, again, fully embracing being the longshot in today’s game.
“With a (FBS) team going against us, the classic thing is that they are going to take us as lesser competition,” Cal Poly cornerback Asa Jackson said. “That’s not the case. If we come out and play our game, we will be just fine.”
Also playing their second team that won an FBS bowl game last year, the Mustangs (1-2) will search for their second win of the season at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, Ill.
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“Obviously, they are a very good football team,” third-year Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said. “They can score a variety of ways and they want you to think they are going to be this wide-open throwing team — which they can be when they want to be — but they can really run the football as well.
“It’s going to take a good effort and a solid effort all the way around for us to slow them down.”
The Mustangs are rolling into their game against the Huskies with a bit of much-needed momentum. After Cal Poly’s defense gave up a combined 86 points to Montana and San Diego State the first two weeks of the season, Jackson and the rest of the Cal Poly defense helped turned the tide with a 48-14 win over South Dakota State a week ago. Jackson’s 100-yard interception return for a touchdown, along with Cal Poly’s two other interceptions and five sacks, are proof the Mustangs are starting to find their rhythm on the defensive side of the ball, Walsh said.
“I think our players are starting to believe in the framework that we are teaching and plays started to happen for us,” Walsh said. “I think earlier in the year, we might have been trying to make plays rather than trying to make the plays come to us.”
Facing an offense returning nine starters from an 11-win team a year ago, the Mustangs are going to need all the big plays they can get.
They’ll be facing a quarterback, Chandler Harnish, who is the single-season and career total offense record-holder after compiling 3,366 total yards and 28 total touchdowns last season. The Huskies also return all five starters on the offensive line from 2010.
That, however, isn’t intimidating to the Cal Poly defense.
“They’re fast, they’re big, it’s great,” linebacker Kennith Jackson said. “We’re not scared. We’re ready to play and were going out there looking for another victory. If we stay in our scheme, if we can make tackles, wrap up and keep them contained, we’ll be fine.”
A loss today will make it tough for the Mustangs to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008. After today, the Mustangs have just six more games against Division I opponents to grab the recommended seven Division I wins to be postseason eligible. Included in that group of games are home games against Southern Utah, which went undefeated in the Great West in 2010, and defending FCS national champion Eastern Washington.
That’s why it is paramount for Cal Poly to come out and make a statement this weekend, quarterback Andre Broadous said.
“It’s a must,” Broadous said. “We want to keep going on the right track in the future. I think that if we come out and show that we can compete with them, we can have confidence in ourselves that we can play with anybody. They are probably, right now, the most physical team, the most athletic team that we’ll play throughout the whole year.”