Cal Poly remains winless this season after a 45-38 overtime defeat against No. 21 Northern Iowa (UNI) Sept. 9.
Despite having an explosive offensive performance totaling 543 yards, the Mustangs gave up 28 points in the second quarter, creating an insurmountable deficit.
Quarterback Khaleel Jenkins led Cal Poly to a touchdown on their opening drive and capped it off with a 44-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Lewis. More opportunities came for the Mustangs early in the form of two UNI turnovers, but the offense could not capitalize on their defense’s early success.
UNI’s successful second quarter was jump-started by a Jenkins fumble returned 48 yards for a touchdown, giving the Panthers a 14-7 lead over the Mustangs early in the second quarter. Jenkins bounced back from two early fumbles quickly, throwing two more touchdown passes to J.J. Koski. The game was tied 21-21 with under a minute left in the first half, but UNI quarterback Eli Dunne picked apart the Mustang secondary to give the Panthers a touchdown lead going into halftime.
Cal Poly opened the second half with a lengthy scoring-drive resulting in a field goal but were unable to score again until the fourth quarter. The defense forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession to give the offense a chance to tie, trailing by a touchdown.
The offense, starting with poor field position, made it out to about midfield. Jenkins then threw a 54-yard touchdown pass to Lewis to send the game into overtime.
However, UNI continued to exploit Cal Poly’s weak pass defense, getting into the endzone against one-on-one outside coverage. The offense turned it over on downs on the ensuing possession without getting a first down, losing the game for the Mustangs.
Cal Poly played without their premier rusher Joe Protheroe, who is likely out for the rest of the season after suffering a knee injury in a game against San Jose State. Jared Mohamed is proving to be a solid replacement, rushing for 112 yards on 23 carries against NAU.
Jenkins is also proving to be a productive running threat. The quarterback finished with more than 100 yards and one touchdown on the ground. Jenkins also added 238 yards and four touchdowns through the air, both career-highs. This provides a positive note for the loss as the Mustangs showed their offense is much more balanced.
The Mustangs will rest on a much-needed bye week before their conference opener Sept. 23 against NAU. Cal Poly coach Tim Walsh had high praise for NAU leading into the season.
“I think they are the best team in the league athletically,” Walsh said.
NAU will also be looking for their first win. The Lumberjacks are currently 0-2 after being selected to finish third in the Big Sky preseason polls. Like Cal Poly, NAU will come into game after resting this week on a bye.
Although Jenkins showed his ability to make big plays in the passing game, Cal Poly may return their focus to their rush attack on offense. In their previous game, the Lumberjacks gave up over 200 yards on the ground in their last game against Western Illinois.
Cal Poly dominated time of possession in their recent loss, which will be a key to success in their next game. If they can minimize turnovers and hold the ball longer with lengthy drives, the Mustangs will give themselves a better chance to win by spending less time on defense.