Cal Poly still looking for identity after 34-13 loss

Updated: September 4, 2017

Cal Poly had opportunity after opportunity. Time after time, the Mustangs were unable to seize momentum or control of the game, and by the second half, the opportunities slipped away in a 34-13 loss to San Jose State. 

Cal Poly’s defense gave the Mustangs a chance to win on Saturday night. By Owen Main

More importantly for the Mustangs, preseason All American and senior fullback Joe Protheroe was on the sidelines in a knee brace for most of the game. Protheroe was apparently hurt sometime in the first half and will be re-evaluated this week. 

The blow left the inconsistent Cal Poly offense without its most potent weapon. 

In a season when both the quarterback and offensive coordinator are new, effective play calling and rhythm are things that have eluded the normally dynamic Mustang ground game. 

“We’re kind of playing without a personality on that side of the ball,” said Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh after the game, when asked about his team’s offensive struggles. “We know what we want to be, but we’ve got to be able to get ourselves there.”

Walsh pointed to ball security as a key factor in Cal Poly’s lack of consistent production. After the Cal Poly defense forced a fumble in the first quarter, the Mustangs took over at the Spartan 23. They went three and out and only managed a field goal. Again, the Cal Poly defense came up big, stopping the Spartans around midfield. Again, the Mustang offense couldn’t finish the drive, kicking a field goal.

Before the first half was over, San Jose State scored a touchdown and led 7-6. The Cal Poly defense came up big again in the second quarter, turning the Spartans over inside the San Jose State 20 yard line. On first and goal from the San Jose State 2 yard line, Cal Poly quarterback Khaleel Jenkins fumbled. Instead of being up 13-7, the Mustangs trailed 7-6 into halftime.

After Cal Poly’s defense forced an early three-and-out, Kyle Lewis fumbled at the Mustang 15 yard line. Three plays later, San Jose State capitalized with a touchdown and led 14-6. They cut the lead back to 8 points once more at 21-13 in the fourth quarter, but the offense could never find its way into a big play. A late fumble by Jared Mohamed was returned for a touchdown to cap the Spartan scoring.

Defense improved

Cal Poly’s defense seems to be much improved so far in 2017. The Mustangs turned the Spartans over twice early on Saturday and because of two Cal Poly turnovers, the final score probably is more lopsided than it should have been.  I wasn’t sure about the linebackers going into the season, but I guess I should know better by now. Mason MontgomeryR.J. Mazolewski and Jayson Lee are a worthy group who played nastier and better in Cal Poly’s second game. 

Scary moment

A scary moment in the game Saturday came when BJ Nard, attempting to make a big tackle on San Jose State tight end Josh Oliver, collided with cornerback Kam Dennis. Dennis laid on the field for a number of minutes while being attended to by the Cal Poly training staff and doctor. Dennis ended up walking off the field and seemed lucid after the game, but Walsh confirmed he’ll go through the concussion protocol.

Bailey Gaither reels in a 49 yard touchdown pass. By Owen Main

Paso Prep stars featured for Spartans

Two former Paso Robles Bearcat football players feature prominently in San Jose State’s offense. Josh Oliver, a tight end, caught four passes for 37 yards.  Bailey Gaither, a receiver, returned two kickoffs for 43 yards and caught three passes for 56, including a 49 yard touchdown reception. 

Lots of little things

There were lots of little things the Mustangs didn’t do on Saturday. A Casey Sublette field goal was short late in the first half after the holder held the ball with the laces in. Multiple penalties made already-tough third down plays five yards longer. 

Big plays missing

Perhaps the most perplexing thing about the way the offense has progressed this year is the lack of big plays. While Cal Poly has been a triple option team for years, a hallmark recently has been big plays down the field. Sweeps or option plays that gain 10-plus yards have been non-existent.

Execution of pass plays down the field for more than 20 yards have been totally missing. Jenkins threw the ball ten times in the game. If Cal Poly is going to come out of their offensive funk, they’ll have to start finding ways to execute some big plays. 

Not any easier

Things don’t get easier for Cal Poly in their third game, as they travel to Northern Iowa. The Panthers dismantled Cal Poly 34-20 at Spanos Stadium in 2015, scoring 21 unanswered points in the first quarter that night. Northern Iowa scored in every quarter in their 42-24 loss to Iowa State last week. They’ll be a tough opponent and the possibility of an 0-3 pre-conference schedule is staring fans in San Luis Obispo in the face after two disappointing weeks. 

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