Cal Poly, Eastern Washington offenses in spotlight
Cal Poly has the FCS’ top rushing offense and the Big Sky’s leading rusher in quarterback Chris Brown.
It is no secret that the Mustangs like to run the football and that poses a problem to Eastern Washington, which has been shredded on the ground defensively.
However, the Eagles have a potent offense of their own, boasting the nation’s top air attack. And as luck would have it, Cal Poly has one of the FCS’ worst defenses against the pass.
Both offenses will likely be salivating with their matchups Saturday when the Mustangs visit seventh-ranked Eastern Washington.
"We basically are running at 85 percent of the time," Cal Poly coach Tim Walsh said before last weekend’s game against Idaho State.
Walsh’s team then went out and ran on 81 of their 90 plays and racked up 499 run yards in a 58-26 rout.
The Mustangs (2-3, 1-1) are one of a handful programs that run the triple option, and they may be the most committed to it. They’ve run 362 times – 91 more than the next-closest team – and have racked up an FCS-best 1,819 yards.
A year ago, they led all the FCS with a Big Sky-record 4,221 rushing yards and also had conference records of 764 run attempts and 44 rushing touchdowns.
"Our game plan is regardless of whether it’s Arizona State, Idaho State or Montana State, we’re going to run the football," Walsh said. "That is who we are and that is what we do. We’re not going to change."
The rushing attack starts with Brown, who takes the snap and then either fakes the ball or hands off to H-back Joe Protheroe, or fakes it, hands off or pitches it to slotback Kori Garcia, or just runs the ball himself.
Brown leads the league with 529 rushing yards with Protheroe amassing 433 to rank fifth and Garcia checking in at sixth with 359. The trio have combined for 12 of Cal Poly’s league-best 14 rushing touchdowns.
"They’ve been good at what they do offensively for a long time – it’s unique," Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin said. "It’s one thing to be unique at what you do, but it’s another to be unique and really good at what you do. Coach (Walsh) and his staff has established that over the years and present a tremendous challenge."
Cal Poly’s offense would provide a challenge for any opponent but for a team that ranks 124th out of 125 FCS teams in run defense, it has the makings to give the Eagles nightmares.
Eastern Washington (2-2, 1-0) is allowing an average of 313.0 rushing yards and that’s with holding a Sacramento State team that ranks 12th in the 13-team Big Sky in rushing to 14 yards in the second half of a 28-20 win on Sept. 26.
The Eagles, who are surrendering an FCS-worst 567.0 yards per game, haven’t played since with a bye last week, so they’ve had some extra time to prepare for the Cal Poly juggernaut.
"Teams that play us really do need to have two weeks," Walsh said. "So I think that’s an advantage to them. Playing there that’s an advantage to them."
Eastern Washington has won 17 consecutive regular-season home games and another thing it has going in its favor is it should be able to keep up with Cal Poly.
The Eagles have the FCS’ third-best offense at 590.5 yards per game and their 466.3 passing yards per contest are 81.6 more than the next-closest team.
Jordan West threw for a school-record 491 yards against Sacramento State and ranks second in the FCS in touchdowns (15) and passer rating (201.6).
Given that Eastern Washington has one of the nation’s top quarterbacks it’s not surprising that it also has one of the country’s top receivers in Cooper Kupp.
A member of the STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year Watch List along with West, Kupp leads the FCS in receptions (46), yards (759) and touchdowns (10). His 189.8 receiving yards per game are 48.0 more than the next-closest receiver.
Kupp caught three touchdown passes in the last game to establish an Eastern Washington and Big Sky record with 47 in his career. He ranks sixth in FCS in history and needs three more to move into a tie for third place with three other players, including Hall of Famer Jerry Rice.
Reaching that mark certainly appears possible considering the Mustangs have given up three touchdown passes three times this season. They have the FCS’ fifth-worst pass defense at 313.0 yards per game and are allowing opponents to complete 62.8 percent of their passes.
Kupp caught eight passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns the last time these teams played in 2013, a 35-22 win for Eastern Washington.
"If we’re going to beat them we’re going to have to score some points," Walsh said. "How high scoring? I wouldn’t put a number on it but we’re going to have to score more than the 20 and 28 that we’ve scored in our losses this year."