Posted: Oct 21, 2019
WEEKLY NOTES: CAL POLY | SACRAMENTO STATE | BIG SKY
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BIG SKY PODCAST | MUSTANG GAMEDAY (Saturday, 3:30 p.m.)
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BIG SKY PODCAST | MUSTANG GAMEDAY (Saturday, 3:30 p.m.)
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (2-5, 1-3 Big Sky), which rallied from a 21-point deficit to tie Montana State with seven minutes to play, scored 24 unanswered points to pull to within 10 points of UC Davis with 14 minutes to go and led North Dakota with three minutes to play, only to lose all three contests, plays its second straight home game Saturday, hosting Sacramento State (5-2, 3-0 Big Sky) for a Big Sky Conference game on Mustang Family Weekend inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium (cap.: 11,075).
Kickoff is set for 5:05 p.m. PDT and the game will be broadcast live on ESPN Radio 1280 AM and 101.7 FM with Chris Sylvester (play-by-play) and Vernon (Veejay) Huskey (analyst). Pregame show starts at 4:30 p.m. The game also will be streamed on Pluto TV Channel 544 and WatchBigSky.com. Links for audio and video streams as well as live stats are available on the football schedule page at www.GoPoly.com.
Cal Poly racked up 607 yards of total offense in a season-opening 52-34 win over San Diego, led by redshirt freshman Jalen Hamler and sophomore fullback Duy Tran-Sampson. In his first game in a Mustang uniform, Hamler passed for 221 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 96 yards and two more scores en route to ROOT SPORTS Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week honors. Tran-Sampson, who had just one carry for four yards as a redshirt freshman behind record-breaker Joe Protheroe a year ago, sprinted 87 yards on his first carry of 2019 for a touchdown and finished with 172 yards and two scores, averaging 11.5 yards per carry.
Opening a three-game September road trip in Ogden, Utah, on Sept. 7, the Mustangs were held to 164 rushing yards and had the ball for just 24 minutes, 45 seconds in a 41-24 setback versus Weber State. Playing its second game ever against a Pac-12 school four weeks ago, Cal Poly fell 45-7 at Oregon State. Tran-Sampson rushed for 137 yards on 29 carries and Hamler hit redshirt freshman wide receiver Xavier Moore with an eight-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, tying the game at 7-7. The Beavers scored 38 unanswered points to win going away.
In a Big Sky-opening 24-21 win at Southern Utah on Sept. 28, Hamler ran for two scores, Jake Jeffrey added another scoring run and Colton Theaker connected on a 36-yard field goal. The Thunderbirds had a chance to send the game into overtime, but a 36-yard field goal attempt with 2:10 to play hit the left upright and Cal Poly was able to run out the clock. Montana State let a 21-point lead slip away in the fourth quarter, but Travis Jonsen ran nine yards in overtime as the Bobcats beat the Mustangs 34-28. Cal Poly had possession of the ball for nearly 39 minutes, including a 94-yard, 20-play drive that lasted 11 minutes, 40 seconds in the first quarter.
Two weeks ago, UC Davis scored the first 34 points of the game and Cal Poly answered with 24 points of its own and drove to the Aggie 16-yard line on its next possession before UC Davis turned the Mustangs away with two scores in the final 11 minutes. Cal Poly had possession of the ball for over 33 minutes, but lost the turnover battle 3-0, punted eight times, did not record any sacks and was penalized a season-high 12 times for 102 yards in the annual Battle for the Golden Horseshoe. Last week, Cal Poly let 17-7, 23-14 and 26-24 leads slip away in a 30-26 loss to North Dakota, spoiling a 40-carry, 173-yard performance by Tran-Sampson. It was the Mustangs' first loss in four years when leading at halftime.
Sacramento State, jumping into the polls at No. 15 last week following a 34-21 win at then-No. 6 Montana State, leaped to Nos. 7/8 (media/coaches polls) this week after thrashing then-No. 5 Montana 49-22 before its largest home crowd in 10 years (15,140). Junior quarterback Kevin Thomson completed 24 of 34 passes for 369 yards and four touchdowns, added 50 rushing yards and two more scores, and Pierre Williams and Elijah Dotson each caught eight passes.
Under first-year head coach Troy Taylor, Sacramento State's only two losses of the year are to FBS teams — 19-7 at Arizona State and 34-20 at Fresno State. The Hornets have accumulated 26 sacks in seven games, average 40.7 points and 466 yards per contest offensively and are among the FCS leaders in completion percentage (eighth, 66.8 percent), first downs (16th, 167), interceptions (No. 12 with nine), passing offense (12th, 312 yards per game), sacks allowed (14th with eight), scoring defense (17th, 20.3 points per game) and tackles for lost yardage (No. 5 with 64).
Sacramento State returned a total of 50 lettermen, including 11 starters — six on offense and five on defense — off last year's squad which posted a 2-8 mark. The Hornets had won just two games three of the last four years before hiring Taylor, who was offensive coordinator at Utah (2017-18), co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Eastern Washington (2016) and co-head coach at Folsom High School (2002-04, 2012-15) among other coaching stints.
Taylor (first season, 5-2, California '89) was a quarterback for the 14-0 Cordova High School football team in 1985 and was starting quarterback at Cal from 1986-89, leading the Pac-10 in total offense as a senior and leaving the Bears program as the all-time leading passer with 8,126 yards. He was drafted by the New York Jets in the fourth round of the 1990 NFL Draft and played in seven games over two seasons.
So far this year, Thomson has completed 172 of 260 passes (66 percent) for 2,104 yards and 23 touchdowns while also rushing for 296 yards and seven scores directing Sacramento State's multiple-set offense. Dotson has rushed for 267 yards and two scores and is Thomson's favorite target with 47 receptions for 561 yards and four touchdowns. Williams has 36 catches for 619 yards and five scores for the Hornets, who have seven receivers with 10 or more catches. Middle linebacker Marcus Hawkins leads the Hornets' 4-3 defense with 44 tackles while defensive tackle Dariyn Choates 13 tackles for lost yardage (5.0 sacks) and defensive end George Obinna 10 tackles for lost yardage (8.0 sacks).
Sacramento State averages 466 yards and 41 points per game, rushing for 154 yards and passing for 312 yards each contest. The Hornets have allowed 383 yards and 20 points a game, including 110 yards on the ground and 273 through the air.
Cal Poly and Sacramento State are meeting for the 39th time in football this weekend and the Mustangs lead the series 21-17 after earning a 41-27 victory a year ago in the state capital. J.J. Koski scored twice, once on a punt return and the other on a long run on an end around, and five Cal Poly ball carriers rushed for over 60 yards as the Mustangs defeated the Hornets for the fifth time in the last six years. Drew Hernandez rushed for 113 yards on 12 carries and Joe Protheroe added 128 yards on 32 trips for the Mustangs.
The series began in 1967 with a 17-7 Mustang victory in Sacramento. Cal Poly, which has won 10 of the last 12 meetings versus the Hornets, is 11-9 against Sacramento State at home and 10-8 against the Hornets in Sacramento. Tim Walsh is 18-3 against Sacramento State, including a 12-1 mark while he was head coach at Portland State, while Troy Taylor is facing Cal Poly for the first time.
Sacramento State, seeking its first-ever NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoff berth, joined the Big Sky Conference in 1996. In their 66th season of football, the Hornets reached the semifinals of the 1988 NCAA Division II playoffs and have claimed five conference titles -- 1964, 1966 and 1969 in the Far Western Conference, 1986 in the Western Football Conference and 1995 in the American West Conference.
Cal Poly returned 10 starters on defense and six on offense. Biggest holes to fill were at outside linebacker (three players with five or more starts are gone) and right up the middle on offense — Protheroe, quarterback Khaleel Jenkins and center Harry Whitson, one of four offensive linemen with five or more starts who are gone. Whitson is now an offensive analyst with the Mustangs.
Protheroe amassed 1,810 yards on 363 carries last season, raising his career totals to 861 carries and 4,271 yards, all new school records. His 23 career 100-yard games, including five over the 200-yard mark, also are school records, and Protheroe earned seven All-America honors in 2018 after leading the Big Sky and FCS in rushing. Jenkins rushed for 664 yards and passed for 777 more yards, accounting for nine touchdowns in each category.
Top Mustang returnees are wide receiver J.J. Koski, offensive linemen Paul Trujillo-Langdon and Tyler Whisenhunt and the top four tacklers on defense in 2018 — inside linebackers Matt Shotwell (90 tackles) and Nik Navarro (83 tackles) and safeties Kitu Humphrey (67 tackles) and Carter Nichols (59 tackles). Koski led the Mustangs in receiving for the second straight year with 33 catches for 666 yards and four scores in 2018. Trujillo-Langdon moved from right guard to center to replace Whitson and Whisenhunt remained at left tackle after earning second-team All-Big Sky honors a year ago.
Drew Hernandez (664 yards, 7.6 yards per carry, nine touchdowns) and J'uan Campbell (195 yards, two scores) headed the list of returning slot backs this fall, but Hernandez missed the first two games due to injury and Campbell likely will redshirt. Replacing Protheroe at fullback are Tran-Sampson, senior Trey Nahhas, redshirt freshman Ryan Rivera and grayshirt Dusty Frampton.
So far this fall, Tran-Sampson has rushed for 687 yards and four touchdowns, producing three 100-yard games, while Hamler, who won a three-man battle with sophomore Kyle Reid and junior Jake Jeffrey for the vacant quarterback position, has added 412 yards and seven scores while completing 51 of 80 passes (64 percent) for 955 yards and nine touchdowns. Hamler is No. 1 in the Big Sky in passing efficiency. Koski has caught 30 passes for 634 yards and four scores, establishing new career highs two weeks ago at UC Davis with eight catches for 163 yards, and is No. 8 in career receptions (109) and receiving yards (1,914) at Cal Poly.
On defense, only two of the top 10 players at the three positions on the defensive front last year are gone. Sophomore Jojo Falo made five starts at defensive tackle, sophomore Pono Faaagi started seven games at nose tackle and sophomore Myles Cecil played all 11 games with seven starts at the defensive end spot. Cecil had 39 tackles, Falo 15 and Faaagi 11 a year ago. Falo suffered an injury on the first play of the season-opening San Diego game and is out for the season.
Dominic Frasch, the national leader in passes defended a year ago, has moved on, but the secondary has plenty of returning experience. Junior field cornerback Kevin Howell played in nine games in 2018 while senior Sharky Reza (15 tackles, five pass breakups in 2018) tops the field at boundary corner. Senior Carter Nichols (59 tackles, five pass breakups in 2018) and junior Bradley Mickey (10 tackles) are the top two candidates at field safety while senior Kitu Humphrey (67 tackles, nine pass breakups) returns for his final season at boundary safety.
Junior linebacker Matt Shotwell leads Cal Poly's defense with 61 tackles, No. 6 in the Big Sky, while Humphrey and sophomore outside linebacker Aaron Cooper have 44 tackles each.
Coached by Tim Walsh (11th season at Cal Poly (58-63), 29th season overall (174-145), UC Riverside '77), Cal Poly's football program celebrated a trio of milestones last fall. The Mustangs played their 100th season on the gridiron and 25th at the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) level while Walsh completed his 10th season at the helm of the Cal Poly football program.
Cal Poly played eight games against teams that were ranked in the Top 25 at one time or another last year. In addition, Sacramento State earned votes in a preseason poll while Southern Utah earned a share of the Big Sky title in 2017. Despite the difficult schedule, the 14th-toughest in the nation according to Jeff Sagarin of USA Today, the Mustangs managed a four-win improvement over 2017.
Cal Poly, which captured the 2012 Big Sky title in its first year in the conference, was picked to finish ninth by both the head coaches and the media in the 13-team Big Sky this fall. Eastern Washington was selected to claim the 2019 Big Sky crown, followed by UC Davis and Weber State.
The Big Sky lost North Dakota in its lineup last fall, though the Fighting Hawks will continue to play a Big Sky schedule as an independent for one more season before moving to the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2020. Idaho, once a Pac-8 member in the 1960s, returned to the Big Sky last fall after an 18-year run in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
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 65 of their last 92 home contests (71 percent) and, overall, Cal Poly has won 106 of its last 190 games (56 percent) going back to the 2002 finale and has won 23 of its last 56 and 42 of 94 on the road while producing 12 winning seasons in the last 18 years.
Cal Poly goes back out on the road next week, visiting Idaho for a Big Sky contest inside the 16,000-seat Kibbie-ASUI Activity Center in Moscow, Idaho. Kickoff is set for 2:05 p.m. PDT.
Photo above of senior wide receiver J.J. Koski courtesy of Matt Aguirre | Matt Aguirre Photography