Cal Poly loses to Colgate – What we learned

Updated: August 29, 2017

Well, that wasn’t pretty. Cal Poly football gave up a 17-0 lead in the first half, found themselves down 20-0 going into the fourth quarter, and couldn’t finish a late rally as they fell on Saturday to Colgate 20-14. 

It was a disappointing loss for a team coming off a playoff bid in 2016 and playing on national television in a rare Week Zero home game. There was lots that went wrong. Some things weren’t so bad. What did we really learn from the Mustangs’ opening game loss?

Khaleel Jenkins pitches to Kyle Lewis in what was one of Cal Poly’s only true option plays they ran on Saturday. By Owen Main

Cal Poly’s offense stifled

If you are one of those fans who has been loud and vocal about Cal Poly not throwing the ball more even while they win games, you were probably out of your mind with frustration at the end of the third quarter. At that point, the Mustangs had put the ball in the air just eight times. 

The real story for me, though, was the lack of a balance in touches throughout the game. After the game, Tim Walsh recognized that Joe Protheroe (39 carries) carried it too many times. He pointed to Jared Mohamed as a worthy and reliable senior fullback who can shoulder some of the load more than he did. 

In the end, Cal Poly would probably prefer to have at least three players with probably 10 or more carries throughout the game. After Protheroe’s 39 carries, the Mustangs’ next highest total was Kyle Lewis’ 7. Protheroe had more carries than the rest of the team combined. For all intents and purposes, half of the Cal Poly offense’s snaps ended with a carry by Protheroe — mostly right up the gut. That means that over half their plays were dives to the fullback. Even by Cal Poly’s standards, that’s a pretty predictable number. 

Cal Poly ran 25 of their 79 plays in the fourth quarter. They were stopped on third and fourth down a combined 13 times, including 0/3 on fourth and short yardage to start the game (they converted four times late in the game to go 4/8 on fourth down on the day). 

The Mustangs had their chances. J.J. Koski and Kyle Lewis were both open deep in the second quarter. Koski was overthrown by Khaleel Jenkins and Lewis couldn’t handle a nicely thrown ball. Execution on either play during that second quarter drive would likely have led to much needed first half points in the new season. Big plays are something that Cal Poly’s triple option offense has to hit on at least sometimes to be successful and it seemed like they went 0-fer in their opener.

The final offensive numbers are almost all in Cal Poly’s favor, but to see the team under 300 yards of total offense is a surprising number, even with Colgate’s stout defensive reputation. Colgate took advantage of their opportunities and made a few huge plays.

It is hard to think about in the moment when you’re a fan, but this was a new play caller and a new quarterback. You have to think that both of those guys are going to improve over the course of the season.

Cal Poly dug themselves a hole offensively. The Mustangs tried everything they could late to claw out of the deficit, but were left a few plays short. 

Improved defense

Cal Poly’s defense showed some improvement, giving up just 20 points on Saturday. 

Josh Brown’s group matched turnovers with the Colgate defense when Kitu Humphrey picked-off a tipped pass, and they made some big stops on third down, giving up just a pair of field goals instead of touchdowns. Tim Walsh has harped in past years on the enormous difference between a field goal and a touchdown, and Cal Poly’s defense seemed to get the message, especially when they gave up just three points in the second half. 

For as frustrating as a lot of that game was for Cal Poly fans, the defense played very well. Walsh and co. will gladly take 20 point defensive games each and every week this year. That said, I still haven’t really got a gauge on who is nasty on the Cal Poly defense. BJ Nard has been a nasty player in the past.Augustino Elisaia is a beast up front. Guys made plays up front. Maybe big huge plays aren’t something they’ll need to hold other teams down. 

Or maybe they’ll have even another gear when they play more pass-happy offenses.

Fans showed up

The attendance was listed at 8,428, about 2,000 higher than I predicted. With the Mayweather-McGregor fight happening and school still a few weeks away, Cal Poly did a few things to get butts in seats. 

The game was Youth Day. That means that kids got in free, and there were quite a few youngsters littered throughout the stands. Cal Poly also decided to play a movie on the scoreboard after the game. Rogue One is a fun movie and there were maybe a few hundred people out on the field after the game to check it out. 

The movie is a promotion that Cal Poly hasn’t done before in my memory, but creative stuff like that is exactly what they should be doing. 

One other thing that could impact how many people come to games — they sell beer now at the stadium. I don’t think it made a huge impact on day one, but it can’t hurt the bottom line.

Going to the Valley

Cal Poly goes and plays a state school from the valley this weekend. Well, not THE Valley. A valley. The Silicon Valley. San Jose State is one of the closest road games the Mustangs could possibly play. San Jose State started well against Charlie Strong’s South Florida team last weekend, but were blown away late. As of today, Cal Poly was favored slightly over the Spartans.

The two programs have a lot of history they share. Coaches and strength coaches have moved between the two programs over the past 15 years. There are kids from the greater San Jose area on Cal Poly’s roster and two players on San Jose State — Josh Oliver and Bailey Gaither — are from Paso Robles. 

This is one of the few games that a fan from San Luis Obispo can drive to and back from comfortably in a day. I’ll be making the trip and reporting and posting things on social media all day Saturday, so be on the look-out. 

Photos by Owen Main. For all the photos from the game, click here.