Cal Poly football head coach Tim Walsh may understand how to beat Saturday night’s opponent Portland State better than anyone. That’s a perk of being the former Vikings head coach for 14 years.
Walsh, now in his fourth year at the helm of a Cal Poly program (6-0, 4-0 Big Sky) that remains undefeated after a 56-28 rout of Northern Colorado last weekend, knows the challenges Portland State (2-4, 1-2 Big Sky) brings into this weekend’s homecoming football game in Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
“It’s similar to what we do,” Walsh said. “You have to account for three different players at each snap of the ball. They run a lot of formations to run a lot of the same plays, but they can do it extremely well. They can put you in some conflicts of assignments and that’s what they’re really trying to do. They’ve been potent on offense for the last couple of years.”
Walsh, the head coach of the Vikings program from 1993-2006, helped transition Portland State from a Division II school to a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) program in the mid-1990s. Once there, he coached 39 different players to first-team All-Big Sky honors and 51 more to the second team.
But that’s all in the past. With a new coach and what’s being considered a new era for Portland State football, the Vikings will pose new challenges for Cal Poly come Saturday.
According to Walsh, Portland State’s strengths reside in its offensive weapons and its ability to put up big numbers on any given night. In a prime example, the Vikings, coming off a bye last weekend, snapped a four-game losing streak with a runaway 77-10 victory against Idaho State two weeks ago.
For all the years he spent in Portland, Ore., Walsh isn’t the only Mustang to have ties to the Pacific Northwest and knowledge of the Portland State program.
Senior quarterback Andre Broadous, a Portland native, was recruited out of high school by his hometown team. First-year defensive backs coach Neil Fendall played for the Vikings as did co-offensive coordinator Saga Tuitele and wide receivers coach Juston Wood.
“I knew a lot of guys that graduated from Portland State and a lot of guys that go to Portland State,” Broadous said. “That being my hometown and finally getting to play those guys makes this a big game for me and it’s something I’m excited for.”
Broadous admitted Saturday’s game will be a bit more special given his Portland history. But Walsh downplayed the Oregon association following last week’s victory and said his team is focused on its next game no matter the opponent.
“There’s a Portland connection there’s no doubt about it,” Walsh said. “But I’ve had to do this before where you play where you used to coach. This is our players’ 2012 season and it’s all about the players and the opportunity they’ve made for themselves.”
The Mustangs will prepare for the Vikings’ potent pistol offense designed to provide opponent defenses with a headache due to its multiple scoring threats. Quarterback Kieran McDonagh ran for four touchdowns, threw for one and caught another on a trick play in Portland State’s offensive outburst against Idaho State. Running back DJ Adams leads the backfield, averaging 90.7 yards a game on the ground.
Meanwhile, Cal Poly counters with the No. 1 rushing offense in the Big Sky, helped by senior running back Deonte Williams’ 126.2 yards per game. Williams is ninth among all FCS players in yards gained on the ground to go along with his nine touchdowns of the season.
As a unit, the Cal Poly offense is No. 1 in the Big Sky and No. 10 in the FCS in scoring, averaging 38.2 points per game. The Mustangs aided that figure with 56 points against Northern Colorado last week.
In that game, Cal Poly scored 14 points in each quarter to run away with the victory, including five unanswered touchdowns, after the Bears tied the game late in the first quarter, to run away with the victory.
Williams scored three touchdowns on the ground, while sophomore Kristaan Ivory rushed for two, Broadous threw for two and redshirt senior Ryan Solomon also added his first career score in the rout.
Out of polls to start the season, the Mustangs have steadily climbed up the top 25 rankings in the last three weeks. Following a win against UC Davis in the Battle for the Golden Horseshoe, Cal Poly earned a No. 23 ranking in both the coaches and media polls before vaulting steadily to a No. 12/14 ranking this week. The Mustangs are only one of four undefeated teams in the FCS entering the homecoming game.
Stout defense has helped Cal Poly garner that ranking, which has the Mustangs ranked No. 2 in the Big Sky in scoring defense after allowing 20.7 points per game. A big part of that was junior defensive tackle Sullivan Grosz’s 11 tackles and three sacks against Northern Colorado last weekend.
According to senior linebacker Kennith Jackson, the Mustangs’ undefeated record through six games has the defense and the team at an all-time high.
“We’re enjoying the run that we’re on right now,” Jackson said. “We’re excited about where we’re headed, but we understand that it comes down to how we practice throughout the week. We’re looking forward to taking on Portland State.”
Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.
Jefferson P. Nolan contributed to this article.