Head coach Tim Walsh walked around the field after his team’s victory against St. Francis (Pa.) Saturday night with a straight look on his face. When asked about how his team performed against the Red Flash, his facial expression didn’t change.
His team may have won, but he was extremely disappointed.
“Defensively, (this was) our worst performance of the year,” Walsh said.
The Mustangs combined for 421 yards of total offense, but Cal Poly (6-3) escaped with 41-33 win over St. Francis (1-7) in Alex G. Spanos Stadium — partly because the Mustangs gave up 373 yards of total offense. The Red Flash — which have tasted victory just once this season — was averaging 219 yards per game and 15 points per game, but scored on five of its 11 drives in the game against the Mustangs.
“I don’t think we played with a tremendous amount of passion on the defensive side,” Walsh said. “I think we were somewhat flat.”
At times, defense was the Mustangs’ strong point this year. What seemed to be the reason for that success was the depth of the defensive line. With names like James Chen, Gavin Cooper, Erich Klemme and Baylor transfer Matt Singletary in the trenches, the Mustangs were expected to be a force up front. But to this point, Walsh isn’t convinced they have performed as well as the force some saw them to be, he said.
“Defensive line-wise, I think we got to live up to the (expectations) we are giving those guys,” Walsh said.
Not everybody on the Cal Poly roster saw the defensive lapses as a fault. For wide receiver Dominique Johnson and the rest of the Cal Poly offense, struggles on defense just meant more chances to score — which it did often against St. Francis.
“We look at it more as an opportunity,” Johnson said. “Things happen through the course of the game where sometimes other teams make good plays. Sometimes it comes down to the offense answering back. Everything is not always going to be perfect.”
The Mustangs offense boasted 40 points or more for the third time this season Saturday night. Fullbacks Jake Romanelli and Jordan Yocum led the charge, combining for five total touchdowns. Yocum scored the three and Romanelli added the other two.
“We were definitely jawing back and forth to see who could score more,” Romanelli said. “But it is all in good fun. I want to see Jordan excel and he wants to see me excel so we come off and help each other out.”
All around, the Mustangs’ offense was clicking on all cylinders. With the success of the rushing game, the passing game chimed in with a few big plays as well. Quarterback Tony Smith led the team under center, throwing for a season-high 231 yards. Smith went 19 for 24 passing with a touchdown in his second-straight start since a shoulder injury sidelined quarterback Andre Broadous.
“I thought (Smith) played well tonight,” Johnson said. “There were some plays where he made mistakes, I made mistakes, our offense made mistakes, but I felt he, along with our entire offense, kept bouncing back.”
Johnson had a big day as well; he caught a season-high eight passes for 115 yards and a score. To date, he has caught a pass in every game he has played in a Mustang uniform.
“It felt great tonight,” Johnson said. “It was fun. It felt good to come out and throw the ball more than we usually do. For me, I think that is great.”
But not even Johnson’s or Smith’s numbers could hide the fact the Mustangs surrendered as many points and yards that they did. To add to those problems, cornerback Asa Jackson left the game with a hip injury. It makes what Walsh said was already a young secondary even younger.
There wasn’t a complicated formula to rallying his defense from its performance. At this point, no matter whether it’s the offense or defense, the Mustangs just need to focus on one thing, Walsh said.
“We have to go to South Dakota and we have to win,” Walsh said. “I have said all along we have to win each week. We have no room for error and we have to win each week. That is what we are going to try to do.”