Cal Poly boasts best defensive numbers in Big Sky conference

In a classic showdown Saturday, the Cal Poly defense will play the part of the immovable object.

The opposing force – Eastern Washington’s offense – is getting more irresistible every week, Mustang coach Tim Walsh said Wednesday.

“They’re very multiple, with a special guy at quarterback,” said Walsh, adding that Eastern coach Beau Baldwin “does a good job of figuring out what you’re trying to take away, and then hitting you with the other stuff.”

When asked to compare the Eagles’ attack to the pass-heavy Fresno State scheme he faced earlier this year, Walsh said Eastern is “very multiple, with power formations, closed formations. … and some good power football.”

“A lot of people have the vision that they’re the opposite of that,” Walsh said.

Indeed, the Eagles fielded one of the most pass-oriented offenses in the Big Sky. Not anymore.

“I think we’re just jelling and peaking at the right time,” Baldwin said. “The balance that we’re showing….” Baldwin’s voice trails off, letting the numbers do the talking.

In Big Sky games only, Eastern is averaging a conference-best 6.0 yards per rush, well ahead of runner-up Cal Poly’s 5.6 average. Total offense averages 544 yards a game – almost a football field better than Cal Poly’s 462 average. The Eagles are averaging 43.2 points a game, 5 points better than runner-up Montana State.

In its last two games, against Idaho State and MSU, the Eagles ran just three plays that went for negative yardage.

And the “special guy” at quarterback? That would be Vernon Adams, whose otherworldly stat line last week against Montana State raised his FCS-leading pass efficiency rating to 192.2.

Adams also has 39 touchdown passes, but Walsh admires his “escape ability.”

Walsh also has a fondness for his own defense, which leads the Big Sky in every major category, including scoring defense (15.8 ppg) and total defense (307.7 ypg). The Mustangs give up 102.2 rushing yards per game, just behind conference leader Southern Utah.

Last Saturday, Cal Poly (4-2 in the Sky and 5-5 overall) held Sacramento State to just one touchdown in a 42-7 win over the Hornets, continuing a strong late-season run. Cal Poly has allowed an average of 10.4 points and 271.6 yards in its last five games.

Walsh said the turning point came after a head-scratching 24-10 loss to Yale. “I think it was a wakeup call, and since then we’ve played with more energy,” Walsh said.

That’s especially true in the red zone, where opponents have scored just nine touchdowns – fewest in the conference – in 19 chances.

That’s the ticket

For the 18 Eastern players with California roots, Saturday’s game is like going home again. In the case of Adams, it means scaring up a few extra tickets – 50 to 60 of them.

“Hopefully I can get enough,” said Adams, a redshirt sophomore who hails from Pasadena, about 3 1/2 hours south of San Luis Obispo. “Everyone’s coming: my mom, grandparents, sisters, friends, teachers, coaches – it’s going to be a good one,” said Adams, who according to Eastern’s future schedule will never play this close to home.

Running back Mario Brown, from Berkeley, Calif., expects a large group, including family, and friends and former teachers and coaches.

“Just to go back is a warm feeling, to go back and play in front of them is a blessing,” Brown said.

Kupp is still full

Thanks to a 36-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter from Anthony Vitto, Eastern wide receiver Cooper Kupp has now caught a touchdown pass in 10 straight games – one shy of the FCS record. Marshall’s Randy Moss (1996), Cal Poly’s Ramses Barden (2008) and Eastern’s Brandon Kaufman (2010) all caught TD passes in 11 straight games. Kupp, a candidate for the Jerry Rice Award, has caught 60 passes for 1,092 yards and 14 touchdowns. Kupp needs 104 receiving yards to tie the record for most receiving yards by a freshman in FCS history.

Notes

Southern Utah notched its seventh win of the season, downing Weber State 27-21 on Saturday. This marks the first time since 2000 that Southern Utah has won seven games in a season. SUU is seeking its first eight-win season since 1999. The Thunderbirds are 7-3 with a win over FBS South Alabama. The Thunderbirds close the season against ranked Montana State on the road and ranked Northern Arizona at home. If the Thunderbirds can win both games, they figure to receive an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs. … Montana State’s Brad Daly had one sack against EWU. Daly continues to lead the nation in sacks and tackles for loss. The Buck Buchanan Award candidate has 13 solo tackles and 18.5 tackles for loss. He also has 53 total tackles.

Follow EWU reporter Jim Allen on Twitter @srjimallen

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