In recent years, Cal Poly Football has garnered a reputation among opponents and fans for their ability to consistently run the football. The Mustang’s triple-option style of offense greatly increases running-play capabilities, but at times can make passing-plays few and far in-between. 

Heading into the Mustang’s 2019 season opener against the University of San Diego on August 31, expectations of a stellar passing game were uncertain. An effective passing game not only requires time to develop, but Cal Poly had just lost their two-year starting quarterback Khaleel Jenkins, who graduated in 2018. However, freshman quarterback Jalen Hamler defied expectations throughout the game as he lead Cal Poly to a 52-34 victory.

Hamler received help out of the gate when senior fullback Duy Tran-Sampson rattled off an 87-yard touchdown in the second play of the game. 

“That 90-yard touchdown run gave us momentum and made us excited,” Hamler said. “That’s not common for the Cal Poly offense, it really got us going.”

Hamler took full control of the team’s momentum and began his aerial attack with six completed passes in his first six attempts. The freshman was not looking for dink and dunk passes either, as three of his completions totaled 20 yards or more in the second quarter alone.

The match still appeared even after the conclusion of the first quarter at 14-14. But from there, the flood gates opened for the Mustangs to the tune of 38 straight unanswered points. Of Hamler’s first six passes, three landed for touchdowns. The quarterback added another two touchdowns off a one-yard run and a third-quarter, 38-yard breakaway. The Torerors scored 20 points before the final whistle, but were not able to keep up with Cal Poly, who finished the night with 52 points.

In his debut game, Hamler was just as effective on the ground as he was in the air. The quarterback not only passed for 221-yards, but rushed for 97-yards on 17 attempts.

Quarterback ratings (QBR) can be used to show how effective a quarterback is in one game compared to another. The trio of Jenkins, Jake Jeffrey and Kyle Reid, who all played in last year’s season opener, combined for a QBR of 94.8. University of Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts, who recently had the nation raving about his sensational debut over the University of Houston, recorded a QBR of 96.7.

Hamler finished his debut game with a quarterback rating of 154.3.

San Diego defeated the Mustangs in their last meeting in the 2016 FCS playoffs. Cal Poly Athletics | Courtesy

“I’m trying to be consistent,” Hamler said when asked about his breakout game. “But also, I want to preach consistency to the other guys.”

While Hamler easily dissected the San Diego defense, his path to the starting quarterback position was anything but simple.

After Jenkins graduated at the end of the 2018 season, the starting quarterback position was left wide-open. Alongside Hamler in the battle for the position was Reid and Jeffrey. Until the start of this season, both Reid and Jeffrey had seen significantly more playing time. This allowed the players more time to learn Cal Poly’s elaborate offense as well.

However, Hamler earned the starting nod after demonstrating his talents during the spring and fall camps. In part, the decision was due to a solid starting game where he led the quarterback trio in almost all passing and rushing statistics. 

Hamler does not put much stock in having “won” the quarterback battle and instead said he values the improvements he and the other quarterbacks have made along the way.

“It made me, the other quarterbacks and the team better,” Hamler said. “The competition and competing everyday, it made a great atmosphere.”

Instead of basking in the light of a great debut, Hamler said he is focused on moving forward and making the team better. 

“It’s important for our guys to get their feet wet,” Hamler said. “We’re a young team, we have a lot of guys that haven’t had a lot of experience, but we have a lot of talent.”

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