SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (0-1, 0-0 Big Sky), whose rally from a 20-0 deficit fell short in the final minute at the Colgate 22-yard line in a season-opening 20-14 loss and ranked No. 23 in both the STATS media and FCS coaches preseason polls, plays its first road game of the 2017 football season Saturday afternoon with a non-conference matchup against Football Bowl Subdivision member and former California Collegiate Athletic Association rival San Jose State (0-1, 0-0 Mountain West) on the new AstroTurf artificial playing surface at CEFCU Stadium (30,456).
Kickoff for the first meeting between the two schools since 2009 and the 10th meeting overall is set for 4:30 p.m. PDT. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN Radio (1280 am) with Chris Sylvester (play-by-play) and Alex Clupper (analyst). Pregame show starts at 4 p.m. Links for an audio stream as well as live stats are available on the football schedule page at www.GoPoly.com.
Cal Poly earned its fourth FCS playoff berth in 12 seasons last fall, finishing with a 7-5 mark and tied for fourth place with Southern Utah in the Big Sky. San Jose State posted a 4-8 mark a year ago and has a brand new coaching staff led by former Mustang assistant coach Brent Brennan, who served the last six seasons as a receivers coach at Oregon State. In his first season as a major college head coach and a 1996 UCLA graduate, Brennan was the wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator under Rich Ellerson at Cal Poly from 2001-04. Also on the Spartans' coaching staff is former Mustang defensive line coach Joe Seumalo.
Colgate shut out Cal Poly for three quarters, the first team to do that since Southern Utah in 2010, and held off the Mustangs in the final minutes for the 20-14 win in front of 8,428 fans inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium and a national television audience (ESPNU). Senior fullback Joe Protheroe ran seven yards for a touchdown and sophomore quarterback Khaleel Jenkins hit senior slot back Kyle Lewis with a 16-yard scoring pass as the Mustangs closed the 20-0 gap to six points with 7:07 to go. Cal Poly got the ball back one more time, but an incomplete pass on fourth down with 37 seconds left ended the potential game-winning drive. Protheroe finished with 139 yards, his 14th career 100-yard game, on a career-high 39 carries.
San Jose State welcomed back 34 letter winners, including 15 starters, to Fall Camp in late July. Heading the list of veterans are offensive guard Jeremiah Kolone, linebacker Frank Ginda, cornerback Andre Chachere and punter Michael Carrizosa. Ginda, Chachere and Carrizosa all were named to the 2017 All-Mountain West Conference Preseason Team.
Ginda led the Spartans with 99 tackles (50 solo) a year ago, including 11.5 tackles for lost yardage and 6.5 sacks. He scored a touchdown against Hawai'i on a fumble return. Chachere logged 36 tackles (27 solo), intercepted four passes and broke up 14 others en route to first-team All-Mountain West honors and, in July, was named to the Jim Thorpe Award and Bronko Nagurski Trophy watch lists. Carrizosa averaged 44.3 yards per punt a year ago and was an all-conference honorable mention.
Last Saturday, San Jose State sprinted to a 16-0 lead in the first quarter before falling to Nos. 19/21 USF (South Florida) 42-22. The Bulls scored 28 second-quarter points and never looked back in a 4-hour, 3-minute game which featured 23 punts, 189 plays, 39 possessions and 18 penalties. For the Spartans, Josh Love completed 18 of 36 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns, both to Bailey Gaither, but was intercepted three times. Gaither and Justin Holmes both caught six passes. Top rusher was Malike Roberson with 52 yards on 19 carries. Carrizosa averaged 44.5 yards on 11 punts with a long of 68 yards. Ginda and linebacker Ethan Aguayo recorded 13 and 14 tackles, respectively.
In addition to two coaches on the San Jose State staff, one of its former players has a Cal Poly connection. Mustang cornerback Dominic Frasch's father Phil was a cornerback at San Jose State in 1986 and 1987. In addition, a pair of Spartans are Paso Robles High School graduates -- Gaither and tight end Josh Oliver, who caught five passes last week.
Protheroe headlines another strong group of ball carriers in Cal Poly's Spread Triple Option. In becoming Cal Poly's 20th 1,000-yard rusher a year ago, Protheroe amassed 1,334 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground and is No. 8 on the career rushing chart with 2,436 yards. Jared Mohamed, also a senior, also returns to back up Protheroe after collecting 343 yards in 2016. The group of slot backs features all-purpose player Kyle Lewis (591 rushing yards and six TDs, team-leading 22 catches for 375 yards and four scores in 2016).
Jenkins started one game in 2015 against Portland State and appeared in four games last season with one incomplete pass and one carry for two yards. He completed six of 17 passes for 85 yards against Colgate last week.
Two of last year's five starting offensive linemen are back in junior left guard Harry Whitson and center Joey Kuperman -- the other three probable starters played all 12 games a year ago -- and the Mustangs' wide receiving corps is led by sophomores J.J. Koski (18 catches in 2016) and Jake Smeltzer (five). Protheroe and Kuperman landed on the 2017 All-Big Sky Preseason Team.
On defense, Cal Poly returns all four starters in the secondary, but three of the four linebackers and one of the linemen need to be replaced. The good news is that Charlie Davis and R.J. Mazolewski, both of whom played in the first three games of 2016 before suffering season-ending injuries, are back and healthy. Anders Turner and Jayson Lee, who combined for five starts a year ago, return as well, and Mason Montgomery and Darren Adjei each played at least 11 games last fall.
The secondary features safeties B.J. Nard, Kitu Humphrey, Carter Nichols and Aaron Johnson and cornerbacks Dominic Frasch, Jerek Rosales, Kevin Griffin and Kam Dennis. All played at least 11 games in 2016. Nickel back Aaryn Bouzos, who also played all 12 games with two interceptions, returns as well.
The kicking game has both of last year's kickers back -- Casey Sublette and Alex Vega. Sublette handled most of the chores in 2016, averaging 36.8 yards over 29 punts and making 54 of 56 PATs and all six field goal attempts. Vega, who punted 10 times for a 40.7 average, is best known for his 49-yard field goal with four seconds remaining in a 20-19 win over Montana in the 2015 opener.
San Jose State holds a 7-2 advantage in the series since Cal Poly became a four-year school in 1941. Last two meetings were won by the Spartans by 10-point margins — 17-7 in 2006 and 19-9 in 2009. Cal Poly's only wins in the series came in 1957 and 1958.
Coached by Tim Walsh (ninth season, 50-43, UC Riverside '77), Cal Poly began its 98th season of football in 2016 by winning six of its first eight games before losing three of its final four contests, including a 35-21 setback at the hands of San Diego in the opening round of the FCS playoffs, almost three months after a 38-16 triumph in Week Two.
Cal Poly was No. 1 in the FCS in rushing offense (309.1) in 2013, duplicated the feat in 2014 by averaging 351.8 yards on the ground, broke school and Big Sky records by averaging 387.3 yards per game on the ground in 2015 and topped all 121 FCS teams during the regular season again last fall with a 343.5-yard average.
Cal Poly, which captured the 2012 Big Sky title in its first year in the conference, was picked by head coaches and media this summer to finish fourth in the 13-team Big Sky. North Dakota and Eastern Washington shared the conference title in 2016 with 8-0 marks. North Dakota was ranked No. 1 by both the media and coaches to repeat this season, followed by Eastern Washington and Northern Arizona.
The Mustangs have won 60 of their last 79 home contests (76 percent) and, overall, Cal Poly has won 98 of its last 162 games (61 percent) going back to the 2002 finale and has won 20 of its last 40 and 39 of 79 on the road while producing 12 winning seasons in the last 16 years.
The Mustangs claimed four Great West Conference titles in the eight-year history of the league (2004, 2005, 2008, 2011) before moving to the Big Sky in 2012 and have earned NCAA Division I FCS playoff berths in 2005, 2008, 2012 and 2016.
Next week, Cal Poly plays its final non-conference game on Saturday (Sept. 9) at Northern Iowa. Kickoff inside the UNI-Dome at Cedar Falls, Iowa, is set for 2 p.m. PDT.