Cal Poly loses overtime thriller at Northern Iowa

Updated: September 10, 2017

The triple option isn’t designed to come back quickly from big deficits, but that’s just what Cal Poly did on Saturday afternoon. Even two touchdowns in the last three minutes couldn’t keep Northern Iowa from beating the Mustangs 45-38 in overtime. Cal Poly is now 0-3 on the season leading up to their Big Sky Conference opener in two weeks.

The Comeback

Down by 14 points with 7:50 to play, there was still time left, but Cal Poly used over five and a half minutes on a 13 play, 74-yard touchdown drive to cut the lead to 7. With only 2:05 to play, Cal Poly attempted an onside kick and seemed to recover it, but were flagged for an illegal formation penalty on the kickoff. After UNI went three-and-out, Cal Poly got the ball back with 1:05 to play at their own 9 yard line. 

Somehow, they scored. 

Cal Poly’s Kyle Lewis managed three big plays on Saturday in Iowa. By Owen Main

Khaleel Jenkins had a few big rushes, the clock kept stopping, and Jenkins’ second complete pass of the drive was a strike to Kyle Lewis down the left side for a 53 yard touchdown. The UNI safety, who was in position to at least tackle Lewis, looked like he lost the ball in the lights as he glided right by Lewis, who turned upfield and ran into the end zone for the game-tying score.

Revving up the offense

Cal Poly’s offense came to life on Saturday. Finally. The group that had put up 528 total yards combined in the first two weeks of the season posted 543 yards on Saturday against the 23rd ranked team in the country. 

With offensive coordinator Jim Craft in his first season calling plays along with a first-time starting quarterback and untimely turnovers, Cal Poly’s offense hadn’t really given the team a chance over their first two games. 

It looked like the same would be true on Saturday — Jenkins fumbled twice in the first half and one of those was run back for a touchdown. UNI scored 28 points in all in the second quarter en route to a 28-21 halftime lead. 

Hold onto the ball

The Mustangs are now 0-3. One big reason is that they’ve had multiple turnovers in every game they’ve played so far. Two fumbles have been returned for touchdowns and one was inside the opponents’ five yard-line. 

Once in high school we tried to play The Program on a charter bus on the way to an away-game in Los Angeles. We got through most of it. It’s a movie I need to watch again. It’s a great primer to the college football season. So many quotes.

More than any other offense, turnovers absolutely kill the triple option and Cal Poly hasn’t held onto the ball so far this year. The problems have mostly come in the running game, where six fumbles have been committed. Khaleel Jenkins has yet to throw an interception. Could this mean that Cal Poly could be passing more in two weeks at home in their Big Sky opener against Northern Arizona? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Balance and the Bye

Cal Poly’s bye week couldn’t come at a better time. The Mustangs have the upcoming weekend off, just in time to get a little healthier. 

Jared Mohamed was always a really great back-up option at fullback and may be toting the load the rest of the season if Joe Protheroe doesn’t get healthy. By Owen Main

On Saturday, Khaleel Jenkins rushed 37 times for 102 yards. Normally, that kind of punishing imbalance would be a cause for concern (it was after week 1 with Joe Protheroe), but with the bye week, it’s a little less of a concern. There was good reason for Jenkins to call his own number more — Protheroe didn’t play on Saturday. He was in a knee brace after last week’s game and during practice this week and it’s still unclear whether he plays again this year. He’s a senior this year, but has a redshirt season left and with his injury, I would expect some kind of indication over the next two weeks as to whether he might be out for the season. 

In Protheroe’s stead, senior fullback Jared Mohamed carried the ball 23 times for a team-high 112 yards. Nobody else on the team carried it more than 5 times. It’s not great balance, but it’s hard to complain when you have 550 yards of total offense, right?

Koski and KLew break-out

Receiver J.J. Koski made a few big plays. On almost identical over-the-top passes, Jenkins found Koski twice in the second quarter. In all, he had five catches for 104 yards and two touchdowns. Kyle Lewis had a pretty efficient receiving day himself. Lewis caught three balls for a whopping 130 yards. He scored Cal Poly’s first and last touchdowns. 

Northern Arizona looms

Northern Arizona is probably the best team Cal Poly will play in the Big Sky this season, and they face them straight away after the bye. It will be the first game for incoming freshmen. It will be the Mustangs’ first home game since the opening day stinker. 

Despite a mostly crummy 0-3 start, Cal Poly has played better lately. They have a weak conference schedule. They have a bye week. They still have an opportunity to compete in the Big Sky

Even when you’re 0-3, opportunities abound. With school starting, the question is whether the Mustangs can take advantage.