Rather than sulk over losing his starting spot, Chris Brown realized he needed to work harder.
That’s why, as of the morning breakfast before Saturday’s 34-16 victory over UC Davis, the sophomore quarterback was studying game film between bites.
“I still was watching film,” said Brown, who ran for 195 yards and three touchdowns against the Aggies that night, “studying opponents, seeing what their safeties were doing, seeing what their linebackers were doing, watching their tendencies from second down to third down.”
Including a 72-yard run that set up a 1-yard scoring plunge by Chris Nicholls one play later, Brown’s rushing total was the most by a Cal Poly quarterback in the 95-year history of the program and is the 10th-highest single-season total in the Mustangs’ 19 seasons at the Division I level.
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It was a return to glory for Brown, a former starter who was thrust back into the lineup after sophomore Air Force transfer Dano Graves was ruled out with a leg injury.
Brown burst on the scene in relief of injured starter Vince Moraga in the second half of the second game of the season, but he was sidelined after just three starts. Brown injured his hip in a miserable 24-10 loss to Yale, but Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh also made it clear he was opening the position up for grabs and that Graves would have taken the first-team reps in practice for the Mustangs (4-5, 3-2 Big Sky Conference) regardless.
Instead of feeling sorry for himself, Brown analyzed his own habits.
“I just felt like the whole point of sitting out was to get myself mentally prepared for the next chance I had to get back in there,” Brown said. “I had a chance to sit back and really focus on what I had to do to get better physically and mentally.
“I just felt like I had to do more. There was something that I was missing, and I didn’t really figure it out until I started doing more and I noticed it as I came out there to practice.”
What was missing, Brown said, was the deeper level of preparation, something he’s committed to going forward.
As for Saturday’s home game against Sacramento State (4-5, 3-2 Big Sky Conference), the competition is back on, Walsh said. Graves is healthy enough to practice again after sitting out last week and was seen taking snaps with the second team at the end of Tuesday’s session at the Sports Complex.
Brown and Graves will battle it out through Thursday, Walsh said, before a starter will be named.
“We haven’t decided who’s going to start,” Walsh said. “They’re both going to practice. We feel like right now, they have both played really well at times. It’s going to be a tough decision, but the most important thing is we’re going to do whatever we can to beat Sacramento State with whatever quarterback we have.”
Senior guard might return to the lineup
Initially feared to be lost to a season-ending knee injury, senior guard Lefi Letuligasenoa is hoping to return for Saturday’s game.
Letuligasenoa spent the second half of a 17-13 loss to Northern Arizona on the sidelines in street clothes two weeks ago after he was thought to have torn his ACL.
It would have been the first major injury for Letuligasenoa, but before the MRI results were in, he was somewhat questioning the severity. Jokes with Walsh about being ready to play in the days following the loss to the Lumberjacks turned into a possibility of a return.
“I thought it didn’t feel too bad,” Letuligasenoa said. “The next day I was going up to all the people with ACLs, and I was like, ‘Were you able to walk afterwards?’
“In my mind, I was always going to come back no matter what, even if it was torn. I was thinking, I only have three games left in my career here, might as well make the best of it. Whatever happens happens.”
What happened was that tests confirmed his hope: There are no tears to any of his knee ligaments.
Letuligasenoa did not practice Tuesday but said he was planning to wear pads for today’s session to test out his knee. He will try to participate in Thursday’s full-contact practice in hopes of being activated Saturday.
Even if he is not cleared this weekend, it might not be long before he is back on the field.
“They got the MRI, and it was just a contusion, a pretty bad contusion,” Letuligasenoa said. “It was pretty good news when I heard it, but it was a punch to my pride when I found out it was just a bruise, basically. So, I took a lot of heat from the other players about that, but I am glad it was nothing serious.”
Interception isn’t overlooked
It might not have carried the same weight as senior safety Alex Hubbard’s game-clinching interception against UC Davis, but senior cornerback Bijon Samoodi’s acrobatic first-quarter interception helped him earn conference defensive player of the week.
Playing zone coverage, Samoodi jumped a rout on a pass intended for an Aggies tight end, batted the ball up in the air, spun around and made a diving grab to give Cal Poly possession at the UC Davis 40-yard line and set up a 29-yard touchdown run by Brown.
“For a quick second, I just saw something brown fly in the air,” Samoodi said. “I looked up, and the whole time I was just hoping the ball wouldn’t hit me in the head because I didn’t want to be embarrassed. So, the ball just happened to fall right in my hands.”
Samoodi added six tackles and a fourth-quarter fumble recovery that allowed the Mustangs to run out the clock.
It was an effort that beat out teammates Nick Dzubnar, Sullivan Grosz and Hubbard for the conference award. Dzubnar had 13 tackles, Hubbard had eight and the interception, and Grosz had four tackles, his fifth sack of the season and forced the fumble that Samoodi recovered.
“I feel like it could have gone to anybody on our defense,” Samoodi said. “We play great as a unit, and I wasn’t the only one standing out. For me, it was a great accomplishment, but I feel like our defense is playing well as a unit.”