Trying to maintain a spotless home record and preserve a possible post-season berth, the No. 15 Cal Poly football team will play Big West conference foe Southern Utah in Mustang Stadium at 6 p.m.
The Mustangs (6-3, 3-1 Great West) broke a two-game loosing streak with their 40-35 home win against No. 22 Eastern Washington. The win bumped the Mustangs up in the national poles, but it also gave starting redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Brennan his first win as Cal Poly’s starting quarterback.
Against Eastern Washington, Brennan completed eight of 21 passes for 175 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. On the season, Brennan (23-52-253-3) has played in five games and is making his third consecutive start after a season-ending knee injury to senior quarterback Anthony Garnett.
Southern Utah (1-7, 1-3) is coming off of a 55-7 loss to South Dakota State, a team Cal Poly beat earlier in the season 24-16. Southern Utah’s quarterback combo of sophomore Wes Marshall and senior Zac Connors accumulated 179 total passing yards with one touchdown and four interceptions.
Marshall (59-151-612-6) and Connors (89-177-974-10) have combined to average 200 yards per game, but they also have 16 interceptions to 10 touchdowns this year.
A look into the Mustangs and Thunderbirds’ past match-ups, reveals a 12-6 series edge favoring Cal Poly.
The Mustangs have won the last four meetings and have not lost a home game to the Thunderbirds since the team’s initial meeting in 1986. The most recent Cal Poly win, 24-17, took place in Cedar City last year.
This season, the Cal Poly offense has hit the ground running, carried by the legs of redshirt freshman running back James Noble who has rushed for 939 yards. In five of Noble’s seven career starts he has recorded over 100 yards, including last week’s game where he ran for 221 yards.
The Thunderbird’s running game does not carry a similar dominance compared to the Mustangs as they have only 856 yards this season, an average of 75 yards per game. However, one similarity Southern Utah has with Cal Poly is it also carried at running back by a redshirt freshman, Lamar Lee, who leads the team in rushing yards with 192. He also has one touchdown.
South Dakota also relies on Marshall’s legs as he has the second highest rushing total with 116 yards. He also has scored a team leading two touchdowns.
A weak Thunderbirds offense will be playing into Cal Poly’s strength, a defense which only gives up an average of 20 points per game and overall yardage per game of 329.
Defensive leaders for the Mustangs are senior strong safety Aaron Williams, senior defensive end Chris Gocong and junior linebacker Kyle Shotwell.
Williams, a four-year starter, has been a staple of the Mustang’s defense as he has played 39 of 42 games during his tenure in the defensive backfield. Williams has 10 career sacks, five career interceptions and 44 tackles this season.
Gocong and Shotwell are ball hawks who flock anywhere on the field to stop a defender in his tracks. Combined they have 167 tackles and 16.5 sacks but individually Gocong is second in the nation with 2.11 tackles for loss per game. Shotwell holds No. 2 and No. 10 rankings for total tackles (102) and solo tackles per game (6.22) respectively.
Cal Poly wraps up its season a week from Saturday with a home game against Idaho State at 6 p.m. in Mustang Stadium.