Injuries are common in the sport of football and it’s not rare to see one, two or even three players at the same position miss some length of time throughout a season. The regularity of injuries stems in large part from the physicality of the sport and the toll it takes on the players.
The Cal Poly football program is no exception, as the team has dealt with a slew of injuries this season. It’s not shocking to see a handful of players in green jerseys without helmets on the sideline on gameday, but this year has been different than most. The Mustangs have dealt with of three injuries and several shuffles at the game’s premier position: quarterback.
Head coach Beau Baldwin is an experienced coach in the sport, even if he is relatively new to Cal Poly, and he has never dealt with a situation like the quarterback room has gone through over the first eight weeks of the season.
“I had never been a part of [something like that] at that position or at any position, let alone that position, but you grow from it,” Baldwin said. “You learn from it.”
After redshirt sophomore quarterback Spencer Brasch, the opening day starter, injured his wrist in week two, the team was forced to utilize their depth at the position.
This is something the Mustangs could count on, as they had a six-man competition for the starting job during training camp.
He may have been atop the depth chart for this season, but Brasch, who transferred from the University of California – Berkeley, has experience having his number called unexpectedly.
“Same thing happened to me my freshman year when I was at my last school,” Brasch said. “I ended up playing in a game when I was third string quarterback, so no matter who you are you never know what’s going to happen. So you gotta stay locked in and ready no matter what you are on the depth chart in the beginning of the season because that can change drastically as you’ve seen with our team.”
Once Brasch went down it was time for someone else to step up and perform for the team. As a believer of the next man up philosophy, Baldwin said he had a lot of confidence when choosing the next player to handle quarterback duties moving forward.
Baldwin’s belief in his players comes from the trust he has developed with each individual from the recruiting process, to training sessions and into mid-season activities.
“I gained confidence just in recruiting these guys,” Baldwin said of his players. “Knowing what they’re all about, and then just being around them –– you just felt good.”
When Brasch was hurt during the second half of game two against Fresno State, freshman quarterback Kahliq Paulette stepped in to finish the game for the first collegiate action of his career.
After doing what he could as a mid-game replacement in the Fresno State game, Paulette got his opportunity to start the following week against South Dakota. He played deep into the game until he was spelled halfway through the fourth quarter by redshirt junior quarterback Conor Bruce, the oldest player in the quarterback room.
Bruce recorded a touchdown on the final Mustang drive of the game, giving him some momentum into the next week.
The injury bug continued in week four, as both Bruce and Paulette logged playing time and were banged up in the game. Bruce handled most of the first half work and Paulette came in to handle the second half, but neither player was 100% heading into the homecoming game against Weber State.
The Mustang depth was tested once again as this time the torch was passed to redshirt freshman quarterback Jackson Pavitt. Pavitt was the starter heading into the homecoming matchup and handled every snap under center for the Mustangs in the game.
However, the Mustang offense seemed to be hitting a wall, so Baldwin decided to make another move at the quarterback position. Ahead of their week six matchup, he prepared both Pavitt as well as freshman quarterback Jaden Jones for game action. Baldwin’s decision centered around Jones being able to add another dimension to the team –– to try and open up the Mustang run game.
Brasch spoke about how he, as one of the more experienced players on the roster, can help the team even when he isn’t in uniform.
“Just kind of being there for the younger guys, trying to help them out and guide them,” Brasch said. “Just be able to make sure we’re in the best situation we can be in every week.”
However, the constant change at the position can prove to be tough on an offense. Quarterback coach Erik Meyer gave some insight into how the coaches can mold the offensive strategy to fit each player’s strengths.
“Tailoring the offensive game plan that week to what they do best is important,” Meyer said. “Again, still having our base offense, but we need to do some tweaks that will put those quarterbacks in situations where they can succeed.”
Following the loss to Montana State in week six, the Mustangs had their bye week.
On the other side of the bye week, the Mustangs were slated to face off against rival and FCS-ranked top-ten team in the nation, UC Davis.
Just in time for the big game, Brasch was able to get healthy enough to earn the starting nod once again. Despite the loss against the Aggies, there is a noticeable difference in the offensive consistency when Brasch is at the helm. He is averaging 204.8 yards per game through the air, while no other quarterback who has logged game time has more than 73.7.
Brasch kept it simple when discussing the injury topic and relayed the team’s message for this season: stay ready, so you never have to get ready.
“Well it’s football,” Brasch said. “We know that there are injuries, we know that there are people that get banged up. So everyone has to be ready no matter what you are.”
With Brasch back behind center, Cal Poly faces off against Portland State on Halloween weekend as they look to turn their season around with four games remaining.