WEEKLY NOTES (FINAL) (pdf)
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — The 2017 Cal Poly football team opened practice in July with high hopes, having qualified for the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoffs a year ago. A total of 53 lettermen were back for another season of football, including five starters on offense and eight on defense from a squad that finished 7-5 overall with national rankings of No. 21 by the coaches and No. 24 by the media.
By October, it was clear that the successes of the past few years, including four straight seasons with the No. 1 rushing offense in the FCS, were not going to be duplicated. The Mustangs lost their first eight games, their offensive numbers fell dramatically, as many as eight starters missed games due to injuries, including four of the six team captains, and Cal Poly equalled the school record for losses in a season with its 1-10 finish. The 1964 team was 0-10.
"Obviously, the season was extremely disappointing to all, but more importantly the 2017 football team," said nine-year Mustang head coach Tim Walsh. "I personally want to thank the 19 seniors for their five years of hard work. Certainly things didn't work out for them this year, but there were some great wins in those five years, including two against Montana, three victories against UC Davis and the win over South Dakota State in 2016."
Cal Poly's rushing numbers dropped from 343.5 yards per game in 2016 to 231.7 this fall. The Mustangs scored 34.7 points a contest a year ago and just 18.5 points in 2017. Cal Poly led the nation in fumbles lost with 17, allowed more than twice the number of sacks (15) than a year ago and its third-down conversion percentage fell from 54 percent to 37 percent.
"We will make a full examination of our offense by evaluating each and every game, the play selection, and also look back on the previous four seasons when we produced a lot of points and yards and try to determine why we weren't as successful this fall," said Walsh.
Defensively, the Mustangs gave up four more yards per game rushing and 24 yards per contest passing, but the scoring average dropped slightly from 32.8 to 32.0. Opponents completed 64.9 percent of their passes against Cal Poly this fall, the highest in the Big Sky Conference, and the Mustangs were No. 7 with 21 sacks and No. 8 with seven interceptions, finishing minus-nine in turnover margin.
Cal Poly executed 32 long plays (20 or more yards) offensively, but surrendered 77 such plays on defense.
"We gave up way too many big plays on defense and were not able to make big plays on offense," Walsh noted. "Part of the problems with our defense was the lack of offense. Our philosophy is to generate a lot of yards and points on offense, hold onto the ball for long periods of time and run 80 or more plays a game, thus helping out the defense. We didn't do that. Plus, coverage-wise on defense, we need to get our players in better position to not allow big plays to happen.
"The season overall was very disappointing and I am probably most concerned with the last two weeks," Walsh said, pointing to the 49-14 loss to Sacramento State and the 42-0 whitewash at Northern Colorado, the first time Cal Poly has been shut out in 19 years (Nevada 63-0 in 1998). "For nine weeks, we competed extremely well in spite of some obstacles, notably the injuries, but that's part of football.
"I as the head coach take full responsibility for how we finished and I look forward to being part of the solutions," Walsh added.
Fullback Joe Protheroe and quarterback Khaleel Jenkins missed most of the season with injuries. Linebackers R.J. Mazolewski and Charlie Davis, offensive linemen Colin Goebel, Zach Shallcross and Sam Ogee and defensive backs Dominic Frasch, Aaron Johnson and Carter Nichols missed playing time as well.
Highlights were few, but they are worth noting, particularly the play of senior fullback Jared Mohamed, the victory over Portland State and the comeback effort in the overtime loss at Northern Iowa.
Mohamed became the 14th Mustang to earn All-Big Sky Conference first-team honors Tuesday after rushing for 1,172 yards and four touchdowns. The 21st Mustang to surpass the 1,000-yard mark in a single season rushed for more than 100 yards in a game seven times (eight for his career), including a career-high 194 yards in the Mustangs' lone win this year, a 35-28 decision against Portland State. He also had 97 yards against San Jose State.
"Jared was a quality backup for two years and had an opportunity to step up and do what he can as a starter," said Walsh. "His performance is credit to his abilities. He definitely was ready for the challenge and I am so proud of what he did."
Mohamed is No. 10 on Cal Poly's all-time list for rushing yards in a season, finished the regular season No. 1 in the Big Sky in rushing and accumulated 933 of his yards in eight Big Sky games, averaging 116.6 yards per conference contest. Cal Poly has produced at least one 1,000-yard rusher in each of the last seven seasons.
Cal Poly rallied from a 14-point deficit with two touchdowns in the final 125 seconds of regulation to force overtime at Northern Iowa. Jenkins scored from a yard out with 2:05 to play to trim Northern Iowa's lead to seven, 38-31 and Cal Poly got the ball back with 1:05 to go, needing 91 yards with no timeouts for a potential game-tying score. Jenkins found Kyle Lewis open for a 53-yard touchdown pass on the sixth play of the drive with five seconds remaining to tie the game at 38-38. The Panthers won in overtime 45-38 despite Cal Poly's season-high 543 yards of total offense.
Walsh said the focus of the upcoming recruiting period will be on offensive linemen.
"We will need a little of everything, but our primary focus is with the offensive line," Walsh said. "We already have nine or 10 commits and maybe one or two junior college guys."
Cal Poly loses 19 seniors, including among starters a wide receiver, two offensive linemen, a pair of fullbacks and the tight end on offense and five defensive linemen, three of the four linebackers and three defensive backs.
One of the senior defensive linemen, Augustino Elisaia, landed on the All-Big Sky second team while center Joey Kuperman, outside linebacker Darren Adjei and safety B.J. Nard, all seniors, and junior punter Casey Sublette earned All-Big Sky honorable mention praise.
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 a 20-14 win in the season opener. An incomplete pass on fourth down at the Colgate 22 with 37 seconds remaining halted Cal Poly's late rally. San Jose State overcame an early 6-0 deficit and built a 20-6 lead before Cal Poly closed the gap to seven. It was still a seven-point margin with eight minutes left before the Spartans scored twice in a nine-second span to pull away for the 34-13 triumph. Against Northern Iowa, two illegal procedure penalties thwarted the Mustangs' overtime drive after the Panthers scored.
Northern Arizona led all the way in the Big Sky opener for both schools, pulling away with three consecutive touchdowns after Cal Poly closed the gap to 7-3 with a field goal. The loss to the Lumberjacks was Cal Poly's first in a conference home opener since 2007 when the Mustangs fell 31-28 to North Dakota State. Cal Poly was 5-0 in Big Sky home openers after winning its last four in the Great West.
The Mustangs erased an early 10-0 deficit at Idaho State with 17 second-quarter points but let a 14-point third-quarter lead slip away as the Bengals outscored Cal Poly 21-3 over the final 18 minutes for a 38-34 triumph. Jenkins rushed for 202 yards and two touchdowns and also passed for two more scores. Cal Poly dropped a 20-14 decision at Southern Utah as the Thunderbirds scored 17 points in the first 18 minutes of the game and held on. Trailing 20-7, Cal Poly rallied with a five-yard touchdown run by Broc Mortensen with 4:46 to play and got the ball back with 2:51 to go, but after picking up a pair of first downs and moving the ball into Southern Utah territory, the Mustang drive stalled. Mohamed set new career highs with 142 yards on 30 carries.
Weber State held Cal Poly to 106 rushing yards, the lowest total since 2009 when North Dakota allowed just 62 yards on the ground, in a 17-3 victory. Last time Cal Poly was held without a touchdown was in 2000 when Montana won 53-3. UC Davis scored 21 points in the first six minutes, 10 seconds, and held on for a 31-28 victory. Mohamed earned his fifth career 100-yard game with career highs for rushes (35) and yards (143). Trailing by three points with 14 minutes to play, Cal Poly couldn't secure the go-ahead score in three final possessions.
In the win over Portland State, Mohamed and Chuby Dunu each scored two touchdowns, Mohamed rushed for a career-high 194 yards and Mark Reza intercepted a Viking pass with 48 seconds to play to seal the verdict. The Mustangs rushed for 400 yards to offset Portland State's 433 yards passing. The following week, Sacramento State held Cal Poly scoreless for three quarters, scored the first 49 points of the game and coasted to the victory over the Mustangs.
On a chilly but sunny Saturday afternoon at Nottingham Field in Greeley, Colo., Cal Poly closed out the campaign by being shut out for the first time in 217 games dating back to 1998. The Mustangs' 10 losses are the most since the 1964 team went 0-10. Cal Poly finished 0-6 on the road, equalling the mark of the 1998 and 2009 squads. Lone Cal Poly highlight of the game was provided by Mohamed as he finished with 107 yards rushing, the seventh time this season and eighth of his career that he reached the 100-yard mark.
Cal Poly, which captured the 2012 Big Sky title in its first year in the conference, was picked by head coaches and media last summer to finish fourth in the 13-team Big Sky and claimed 12th place alone at 1-7. 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. Instead, the Fighting Hawks fell to a ninth-place tie and Weber State and Southern Utah shared first place with 7-1 records, joining third-place Northern Arizona in the FCS playoffs.
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.
The Mustangs have won 61 of their last 83 home contests (73 percent) and, overall, Cal Poly has won 99 of its last 172 games (58 percent) going back to the 2002 finale and has won 20 of its last 47 and 39 of 85 on the road while producing 12 winning seasons in the last 15 years.
Cal Poly opens the 2018 season at North Dakota State on Sept. 1.