When Tim Walsh took over as Cal Poly’s head coach in 2009, he faced a dilemma – should he keep the Mustangs’ triple option offense intact or dump it and switch to his preferred pro-style attack?
Ultimately, he compromised.
Maintaining the triple option as the base, Walsh incorporated elements of the pro-style and spread attacks into the scheme, fashioning a unique and funky offense that has bedeviled opposing defenses for the past few years.
Portland State will get another chance to stop Cal Poly’s offense when the two Big Sky schools square off in a nonconference matchup Saturday at 6:05 p.m. at Spanos Stadium in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
Last year, Cal Poly amassed 518 yards in total offense in a 38-34 victory over PSU at Providence Park as the Mustangs rallied from a two-touchdown halftime deficit with 24 unanswered points over a 16-minute span bridging the third and fourth quarters.
Running the football is what Cal Poly does best. Through two games, 100 of the Mustangs’ 128 offensive plays (78.1 percent) have been rushing attempts. A year ago, Cal Poly ranked No. 1 in the FCS in rushing offense (309.1 yards per game). Two years ago, the Mustangs broke the Big Sky Conference single season rushing record with 3,890 yards in 12 games.
“They were already running it (the triple option) here,” Walsh said Wednesday during the weekly Big Sky coaches teleconference. “If we were going to change over to the pro style, we would have had to make numerous changes in how we recruited, who we recruited and we realized there are only so many guys out there you can recruit because of the academic requirements here, as well.
“So, the triple option fits us. We added some shotgun stuff. It’s been good for us. It was really good against Portland State a year ago as a way to complement the triple option, which is under center. But we are still a triple option team. The no-huddle part of it is a little different than what most people who run this offense do, but we think that has been a good advantage for us.”
Cal Poly fell to New Mexico State, 28-10, on Aug. 28 and South Dakota State, 44-18, on Sept. 6 in its first two games, both on the road, accumulating 693 yards of total offense, 485 on the ground. The Mustangs had a bye last Saturday.
“Both games were winnable at halftime,” Walsh said. “The second halves were not good for us. So, we’re worked on finishing and conditioning. Defensively, we’ve worked on fits, so 11 guys are playing as one. We got a little sloppy against South Dakota State when guys were trying to do too many things. The players just have to do their job. We have to play more sound football. That’s been our emphasis on defense.”
Finishing drives and operating the offense at the tempo sought by Walsh were problems in the first two games, he said. Cal Poly has four touchdowns and one field goal in six red zone trips (67 percent TD).
“Two things we have to improve on are the pace we play at and we have to get the ball into the end zone when we’re in the red zone,” Walsh said.
Cal Poly QB Chris Brown threw for 202 yards on 16-of-21 passing in the loss at South Dakota State two weeks ago, adding the throwing game to the Mustangs’ offensive mix.
“We were able to throw the ball effectively two weeks ago,” Walsh said. “We’re probably still not where we want to be throwing it. And this year, we’re probably not where we want to be rushing it. We’re averaging about 242 rushing yards and we’re used to averaging over 300 yards. We’re also used to running 80 to 85 plays per game, but we’re only averaging 64. There are a lot of things from a tempo standpoint (we have to improve)
Regardless of Portland State’s loss at Washington State last Saturday, Walsh realizes the Vikings possess the athleticism to make life difficult for the Mustangs in their home opener.
“I know Washington State did their deal with them, but in reality Portland State is pretty athletic overall and probably one of the more athletic teams in the conference,” Walsh said. “They need to win, we need to win. There is a lot to play for this week. Both us are trying to get ready for the Big Sky Conference.”
Walsh, of course, was Portland State’s head coach from 1993-2006 when the school made the jump from Division II to FCS and joined the Big Sky Conference. In 2001-02, his defense backs coach was current Portland State head coach Nigel Burton.
“What you see is what you get (with Burton),” Walsh said. “He’s been an achiever at everything he’s ever done in his life. He achieved as a player when I’m sure a lot of people told him he wasn’t big enough to play in the Pac-12. He’s carried that same thing over to his coaching style. He’s an outstanding recruiter. He’s a good husband and dad, he loves football and he loves young people.
“Those are qualities we all hope to have in this profession. Our relationship is a little bit more competitive now. I’m sure he would like to get a piece of Cal Poly. We’ve been fortunate and have come back and won against Portland State in the last two years. I’m sure he would like to put a notch on his belt that he got me one time.”
Moreover, PSU defensive coordinator Jaime Hill served as the Vikings secondary coach and defensive coordinator from 1993-97 during Walsh’s first five years in Portland.