Cal Poly

Idaho State’s passing attack could hurt Cal Poly

Idaho State head football coach Mike Kramer hasn’t seemed shy at all about his desire to make his own offense one-dimensional. 

Kramer isn’t too far off on his own expressed desire to see his team throw on every down.

And even though a pass-heavy attack hasn’t led to many victories in his first year with the Bengals (1-8, 0-6 Big Sky Conference), that one dimension happens to be an area of concern for No. 19 Cal Poly (7-2, 5-1 Big Sky), which welcomes Kramer and Idaho State to Alex G. Spanos Stadium tonight at 6. 

“I know Mike Kramer. I’ve coached against him a long time,” Mustangs head coach Tim Walsh said. “He’s not going to be your standard status-quo type of a coach. He’s always going to do things that aren’t conventional.

“On the other hand, five years from now, he might be the type of coach who’s going to say he wants to run the ball every down. That’s what makes him successful, too, over the years.”

When Walsh was head coach at Portland State, he faced off against the former three-time Big Sky Coach of the Year during Kramer’s successful stints at Eastern Washington in the late 1990s and Montana State in the mid-2000s.

Kramer led the Eagles to their first Big Sky title and the Bobcats to their first eight-win season since the mid-’80s.

Perhaps more recently known nationally for reports of him shoving a receiver to the ground last month, Kramer has schooled his program in a passing attack that could hit Cal Poly where it hurts. 

The Mustangs have had trouble defending teams that move the ball consistently with short passes. 

Though it came into the game 0-6, Weber State had a 13-0 lead on an undefeated Cal Poly team utilizing a ball control passing game before the Mustangs came back to win. 

Sacramento State ended Cal Poly’s dream of an unbeaten season when quarterback Garrett Safron completed 31 of 38 passes for 303 yards and four touchdowns in a 35-29 Hornets victory two weeks ago. 

Last week, Eastern Washington’s Vernon Adams passed for 288 yards and three touchdowns as the Eagles looked nearly unstoppable against the Mustangs’ pass defense, which now ranks 94th out of 121 FCS teams in passing yards allowed per game (246.7).

And whereas Cal Poly was giving up mostly short gains in the loss against Sacramento State, the Mustangs let Adams go deep on a regular basis. Eastern Washington averaged better than 15 yards per completion. 

“It was mostly just some technique stuff,” Cal Poly junior safety Matt Reza said. “That happens sometimes, especially when teams are really shooting for the outside corners. We looked over the film, we saw some of the technique flaws, and we’ve really been working on that this week.”

Though only rushing for 50.2 yards per game, Idaho State ranks sixth in the FCS with 358.4 yards per game through the air. Quarterback Kevin Yost has passed for 3,049 yards and 20 touchdowns as the Bengals average 54 pass attempts per game.

“And they run a lot of different routes,” Walsh said. “When you’re throwing the ball 60 times a game, you see a lot of screens, you see a lot of inside routes, a lot of routes down the field, double-breaking routes. You get it all. Sprint, play-action, they do a little bit of everything.

“The most important thing for us is the ball thrown over our head. We’ve got to keep the ball in front of us and not get frustrated when they get completions. When they throw it as much as they do, they’re going to get completions, but we can’t allow them to get completions over our head.”

For Cal Poly, the best defense might be a good offense. 

Idaho State’s lone win this season came 38-5 over Black Hills State, a transitional Division II team from Spearfish, S.D., that has gone 2-8 itself this year. 

In the Bengals’ eight defeats, they’ve lost by an average of 35 points and have allowed 70 or more points three times. 

Idaho State ranks last in the FCS in rushing defense, total defense and scoring defense. The Bengals are giving up 340.9 rushing yards per game, 567.1 total yards and 53.6 points per game. 

Cal Poly on the other hand ranks third in the FCS in rushing with 315.3 yards per game, and the Mustangs are 16th in the country and second in the Big Sky with 34.7 points per game.