The Cal Poly football team faces yet another major test on Saturday when they travel to Montana looking for redemption against the No. 3 Grizzlies (4-0).
Head coach Tim Walsh said that he wasn’t worried about the team’s travel schedule saying that there have been much more difficult travel plans in the past.
“As a coach it’s always a good thing when your players laugh when you say you have a difficult travel plan,” he said.
Walsh did sound worried about the Montana crowd which he gave credit for beating his old team, the Vikings, when he was the head coach of Portland State University.
“To be honest with you I’ve lost a game because of their crowd,” he admitted.
Walsh said that he didn’t want to have his team worrying about the homecoming crowd, which is likely to be near capacity at the 25,200-seat Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
“If we are thinking we are gonna go beat their crowd; we’re beating the wrong team,” he said. “So, we’re gonna go play the guys that have the crimson shirts on.”
If No. 14 Cal Poly (2-2) is to get above .500, it’ll do so by stringing together two wins for the first time this season. The Mustangs’ losses came against FBS opponents in back-to-back weeks.
The game may come down to Cal Poly’s ability to run the ball. The Mustangs have the seventh-ranked rush offense in the FCS (219.5 YPG) while the Grizzlies hold the second best rush defense (49.5 YPG).
The Mustangs’ task may be a little more difficult as senior slotback Jono Grayson is returning to the starting lineup from an injury and senior fullback Jon Hall remains out of the lineup. With Grayson and Hall out last week, senior slotback Jaymes Thierry and junior fullback Jordan Yocum stepped up and carried the ball a combined 25 times.
Cal Poly also received significant contributions from previously untested sophomore slotback David Mahr, who scored Cal Poly’s lone offensive touchdown against South Dakota State, and redshirt freshman slotback Kelvin Rutledge who averaged 11 yards per carry, including a 20-yard burst midway through the fourth quarter.
Montana’s dual-threat offense has also passed on opponents averaging 227 yards per game and putting up more than 36 points per game. This could amount to bad news against a Cal Poly offense that has scored just two touchdowns in the past three games.
Walsh said that the lack of points on the offensive end is the result of a lack of concentration.
“We gotta be able to go 14 plays and score a touchdown,” he said, referring to a drive against South Dakota State in which the Mustangs were forced to punt after a 14-play, 48-yard possession.
Cal Poly has the best record against Big Sky Conference opposition in the country. The Mustangs have won 15 of the last 20 games against Big Sky opponents but have struggled against Montana having won only once in 13 games against the Grizzlies.
Last year’s home loss to Montana was marred by poor special teams play including a last minute missed field goal that could have given the Mustangs the lead.
Cal Poly’s special teams have continued to struggle this year and Walsh said that they have made it a point of focus, spending 10 extra minutes each practice working on special teams.
“If there is one area where we need to make a huge improvement (it’s special teams), because they’re good on special teams,” Walsh said. “So we need to play much better on special teams.”
Cal Poly’s offense struggled to score last week but still moved the ball very well. Walsh said that offense’s ability to move the ball helped out the defense by giving them great field position as well as keeping them well rested. The rest paid off, the Mustang defense accounted for two of the three team touchdowns on Saturday.
Cal Poly linebacker Marty Mohamed caused a fumble that resulted in the winning score against South Dakota State after he sacked Thomas O’Brien near the end zone. His spectacular play also resulted in winning his first Great West Defensive Player of the Week award and being named among the College Sporting News National All-Stars on Oct. 5. Mohamed leads the Great West in tackles per game with 9.2 and leads Cal Poly with two sacks.
Mohamed said that watching the game on film was even better than playing in it.
“You feel like you never play as good as you actually do,” he said. “You always walk off the field like you did something wrong but I mean watching film was finally one of the times I actually left the film session completely satisfied with how I played.”