Through three games, the Cal Poly defense is putting up much improved numbers from what it had a year ago, when the Mustangs ranked in the bottom two in the FCS in passing yards allowed.
Cal Poly is in the top 27 in rushing defense (18th), scoring defense (27th) and interceptions (18th).
Those numbers are even better against the pass. The Mustangs rank 13th out of 121 FCS schools in pass efficiency defense and 13th in total defense, a figure that leads the Big Sky Conference.
Though those numbers don’t accompany huge sack totals — the Mustangs are averaging one per game — a remade defensive line has been a strength for Cal Poly, anchoring the run defense and forcing rushed throws, the first ingredient of many interceptions.
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After losing enough seniors to fill two starting lineups, the defensive line has shown resiliency.
“Coming in,” Cal Poly defensive line coach Jamar Cain said, “we lost nine guys. We lost crucial guys, and now you bring all these new guys in, and it took a while for them all to jell together, but it was good having some leadership in Sullivan Grosz. Sullivan has been a good backbone for us.”
Grosz, a junior defensive tackle from Fresno, is sixth on the team with 12 tackles. He has 2.5 for lost yardage, including one-half sack.
The group has also been bolstered by FBS transfer defensive ends Jake Irwin (Wisconsin) and Wesley Flowers (UCLA) as well as homegrown starters Chris Lawrence and Andy Alcaraz.
Flowers, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound sophomore also from Fresno, joined the program just before the start of training camp but has seen his playing time and impact increase with each game.
Flowers has flashed good length and athleticism, Cain said.
“He’s probably one of the the most athletic guys we’ve had here since Gavin Cooper, when Cooper was healthy in 2010,” Cain said. “He’s just got to keep developing. He came in so late that he was so out of shape. So there’s all this catch-up with him. He’s got to get his legs underneath him. He’s still got a long way to go to get back in shape, but he’s going to be a good strength for us for years to come.”