Offseason growth has been a true testament to the improvement of the Cal Poly football team as it prepares for its entrance into the Big Sky Conference and home opener against University of San Diego on Sept. 1. The Mustangs are looking to contend in their first season in the Big Sky and improve upon their 6-5 record overall and 3-1 in the Great West Conference.
“We’ve got some growth out of the young guys,” co-offensive coordinator Bryan Cook said. “Offensive line was a focus for us. Coming into spring ball we had to make sure the younger guys were ready to play. We had some growth out of some redshirt freshmen.”
Those redshirt freshmen are offensive linemen Kyle Zottneck and Stephen Sippel who both are looking to earn starting positions on the Mustangs’ offensive line.
“They got comfortable within the skill set that they need to perform,” Cook said. “Their knowledge of the offensive as well as how we complement our offensive schemes improved. They understand how to execute the techniques we need them to.”
The Mustangs return senior Karl Winkelman and junior Mike Freeman, who both have had prior in-game experience and will start alongside Zotneck and Sippel.
A concern for the Mustangs, however, is the health of senior Giovanni Sani, though, who is expected to start at left tackle. Sani started in the first two games of his sophomore season in 2010 before an injury sidelined him through 2011.
Behind the support of the offensive line, dual-threat quarterback Andre Broadous looks to add another quality season to his career at Cal Poly. In 2011, Broadous rushed for a school record 18 touchdowns, while throwing for nine with a passer efficiency rating of 136.7, along with 1,235 overall yards.
“He’s really developed in his leadership presence and all the intangibles in that role,” Cook said. “I think he is very confident in what we are asking him to do. He knows what it takes to score a bunch of points and win games. He sees things quicker; he sees defenses pre-snap.”
Cal Poly began to implement a sped-up version of the triple-option offensive scheme during the 2011 season, and it looks to build upon last year’s successes and failures.
Cal Poly’s version of the triple option is a fast-paced offensive scheme based off of the defenses reaction to the ball being snapped. Instead of blocking defensive players at the point of attack, the Mustangs try to read the players and move the ball into the defense on three different angles. The three options are allotted between three players who all have the opportunity to run the ball.
The ball can be moved with: the dive component, which basically goes directly into the defense; the off-tackle component, which allows the quarterback to run the ball; or the pitch component, which uses a quick, skilled running back to move the ball to the edge.
Defensively, the Cal Poly secondary hopes to remain one of the strongest in their conference despite the loss of cornerback Asa Jackson.
Jackson, a four-time all conference selection and an All-American, was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the fifth round and will battle for reps on one of the NFL’s strongest defenses. He signed a four-year contract on May 8.
“It’s a dream come true for him,” Smith-Johnson said. “Watching a friend and teammate do something like that makes us all know that it’s possible at a school like Cal Poly to have something like that happen to us.”
In place of Jackson, Vante Smith-Johnson and Bijon Samoodi look to defend the pass as the two are slotted to start at cornerback. Samoodi totaled 35 solo and 27 assisted tackles during the 2011 season.
“We look very fast,” Smith-Johnson said. “Everyone is enjoying the new changes and everyone is fitting in. Our defense is a lot simpler, so we play at one speed. The changes are subtle, our coaches aren’t worried about us being perfect but just about us playing hard and creating turnovers.”
Cal Poly will also return a strong linebacker core made up of Johnny Millard, Nick Dzubnar and Kennith Jackson. The three combined for 190 total tackles last season. Behind Millard, Dzubnar and Jackson the Mustangs expect to keep Xavier Ramos in the mix after a strong series of spring practices.
“There are two main goals for us,” Millard said. “We have to beat Davis, we haven’t beat them in three years, and we want that horse shoe trophy. They’re our first conference game and we’re coming for them. And then we want to win the Big Sky.”