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Cal Poly Seeking a Return to the Top of the FCS in Team Rushing This Fall

Cal Poly Seeking a Return to the Top of the FCS in Team Rushing This Fall

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — On offense, Cal Poly was No. 1 in the NCAA Division I's Football Championship Subdivision in rushing for four consecutive years.

That run came to an end last fall.

After seasons in which the Mustangs rushed for 309, 352, 387 and 344 yards per game and scored 29, 34, 34 and 35 points a contest from 2013 through 2016, respectively, Cal Poly's numbers dropped dramatically in 2017 to the tune of 232 yards and 19 points a contest.

Hence, the 1-10 mark.

"Anytime you lose arguably the best offensive lineman in Harry Whitson (missed five games), starting quarterback Khaleel Jenkins (six games) and Walter Payton candidate Joe Protheroe (nine games), things are going to be difficult," 10th-year Mustang head coach Tim Walsh said.

"The good news is all of them are back," Walsh added. "You look at the starting offensive linemen, all have started games. Look at our starting skill players, they have all started games. So the offense is experienced. Having Joe back and Khaleel back, that's a great asset for us, but the experience all the other guys gained will be valuable for us as well."

Cal Poly lost those players at about the time the offense was starting to gel — Game 3 when the Mustangs generated 543 yards of total offense and scored 38 points in an overtime loss at Northern Iowa and Game 5 as Cal Poly tallied 34 points with 463 total offensive yards in a loss at Idaho State.

"You look at Idaho State and Northern Iowa, the offensive numbers we put up against them when we were pretty healthy," said Walsh. "If we can get everybody healthy and back and get things going where we can run the ball effectively and open up the passing game like we did in both games, we'll be all right. Plus, we have added speed to our team as well this year."

Cal Poly's Triple Option also led the nation last fall in lost fumbles, allowed more than twice the number of sacks than a year earlier and its third-down conversion percentage slipped from 54 percent to 37 percent.

"Overall, we lost our physicality," said Walsh. "As a group, we weren't as physical as in the past. We worked hard on that in the spring and we're working hard on that now. The players have bought in. This is a physical offense, and a physical offense is a mindset as much as it is the body doing physical work. You have to believe in what you're doing.
If you play with an aggressive attitude, good things will happen."

Five days into Fall Camp, including the first with full pads Wednesday, Walsh likes what he has seen from his offense so far.

"I have seen some explosiveness," Walsh said. "I haven't seen any consistency yet and don't think we're going to right away, but J'uan Campbell is an explosive player, Chuby Dunu is an explosive player, Broc Mortensen is an explosive player, Duy Tran-Sampson is a very explosive player too. Add to that J.J. Koski and some guys like that, we've got some people who can go the distance in a hurry. That can make a difference in who we are."

Can Cal Poly return to its stature as the best rushing team in the country this fall?

"Well, if you ask Harry Whitson, that's definitely the goal, there's no question about it," said Walsh. "There are three or four teams running what we do on offense, and those three or four teams are usually the top three or four teams in the country rushing the football.

"With the likes of the No. 1 rushing defense as our first opponent, it's a huge challenge for us, but it's a challenge we're looking forward to and hopefully we'll get back on the top where we've been in the past," Walsh added.

Cal Poly opens its 2018 season Sept. 1 at North Dakota State, ranked No. 1 in all preseason polls and winner of six of the last seven FCS national championships.

The Mustangs' home opener is Saturday, Sept. 8, a non-conference game against fellow Big Sky Conference member Weber State, and the Mustangs also host Brown on Friday, Sept. 14.

Cal Poly also will entertain Montana on Sept. 29, UC Davis on Oct. 20 (Mustang Family Weekend), Idaho State on Nov. 10 (Homecoming) and Southern Utah on Nov. 17 for Big Sky games, all kicking off at 4:05 p.m.