For the seventh consecutive week, the Cal Poly football team is preparing to play a top-25 team.
The Mustangs are coming off a welcome bye week following their 42-41 overtime loss at then-No. 7-ranked Eastern Washington. Cal Poly (2-4, 1-2 Big Sky Conference) returns to Alex G. Spanos Stadium at 6:05 p.m. Saturday to resume the second of its schedule against a resurgent Portland State team.
The 14th-ranked Vikings are 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the Big Sky, having defeated FBS-level opponents Washington State and North Texas on the road this season. Portland State has experienced a major turnaround under new head coach Bruce Barnum, whose interim tag was removed earlier this month in favor of a five-year contract.
Mustangs head coach Tim Walsh, who spent 14 seasons at Portland State from 1993 to 2006, said he’s happy for Barnum and the entire Vikings athletic department.
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“That program needed to have the season that they’re having,” Walsh said. “With where they were and the criticisms they’ve had the last couple years, I think they needed some positive things to happen.”
More than half of the Cal Poly coaching staff has ties to Portland State.
Offensive coordinator Saga Tuitele was an All-American offensive lineman for the Vikings before graduating in 2002. He spent four seasons coaching at Portland State and eventually left with Walsh to coach at Army in 2007.
Wide receivers coach Jim Craft, a 1998 Portland State graduate, spent nearly a decade on the Vikings’ coaching staff. Quarterbacks coach Juston Wood was a first-team all-Big Sky performer during his playing career under Walsh and graduated as the sixth-leading passer in Portland State history with more than 5,600 yards and 37 touchdowns.
Running backs coach Aristotle Thompson did not play or coach for the Vikings, but he graduated from Portland’s Jesuit High in 1996 and later coached at Portland’s Grant High.
“Like I said before, I had 14 years of my life there and these coaches played there,” Walsh said. “But starting last Monday they were the enemy. That kindness only goes so far. Now it’s time to play football.”
Key Mustangs nursing injuries
A week of rest is always welcomed seven weeks into the college football season.
Cal Poly practiced for three days during the bye week and took the weekend off, with hopes to regroup physically and mentally before hosting Portland State.
Asked to gauge the team’s overall health to this point, Walsh said “we’ve got some guys that are going to have to play banged up, but most teams do at this point in the season.”
Ten days removed from losing at Eastern Washington, senior quarterback Chris Brown still was not practicing Tuesday morning at the Upper Sports Complex. He watched closely from the sideline in sweats and his practice jersey, while Andrew Barna and Kahleel Jenkins split the practice reps.
Brown leads the Big Sky in rushing with 117 yards per game and nine touchdowns. His 127 carries rank third in the conference, trailing North Dakota’s John Santiago (132) and teammate Joe Protheroe (128).
Brown ran the ball a season-high 31 times against the Eagles, 10 more attempts than his season average. He’s on pace to finish the season with fewer carries than 2014, when he ran the ball 249 times and was physically worn down by the end of November.
“I think the break coming at week six helps a little bit,” Walsh said. “But he’s going to get nicked up, he’s going to be sore and I think he realizes that. I think that’s the other thing. I think last year prepared him for this year.”
Protheore also carried the ball 30 times at Eastern Washington, marking the fourth time in five games he’s accounted for at least 27 rushing attempts. The sophomore fullback was practicing Tuesday after dealing with ankle and hamstring injuries against the Eagles.
“My ankle’s 100 now, I’m just a little sore in my hamstring which is why I was limping, too,” said Protheroe, who missed the Idaho State game Oct. 3 with a concussion.
“But I’ll be good though.”
Cal Poly Mustangs football
Who: Cal Poly vs. Portland State
What: Big Sky Conference football, Week 4
When: 6:05 p.m. Saturday
Where: Alex G. Spanos Stadium