Fresno State Football: First Look at the Cal Poly Mustangs
The Bulldogs will host FCS Cal Poly in non-conference action. Here’s what to know about the Mustangs.
Cal Poly is back after a long layoff.
Fresno State Football: First Looks at Non-Conference Opponents
The Fresno State Bulldogs will return from a tough road date with the Oregon Ducks to host the Cal Poly Mustangs at Bulldog Stadium on September 11. Unlike a number of other FCS teams, though, no one got to see much of the Mustangs in the abbreviated spring season earlier this year.
Early returns on the Mustangs’ spring performance suggest that the ‘Dogs shouldn’t have much issue dispatching this FCS opponent at home, but a coaching staff that expected to get more normalcy than it did right away will have time to help steer the program toward contention in its rigorous conference.
Location: San Luis Obispo, California
Conference: Big Sky
2020 Record: 0-3 (0-3 Big Sky)
Head Coach: Beau Baldwin (second year; 0-3 at Cal Poly, 85-35 overall). After nearly a decade of engineering some of the FCS’s most powerful offenses at Eastern Washington, Baldwin’s tenure as an offensive coordinator at Cal was more decidedly mixed. Whether or not that helped to prompt his move away from the FBS, it’s safe to say COVID-19 derailed whatever plans he had for a fast start on California’s central coast.
The Mustangs played three games in the spring and weren’t very competitive in any of them before a slew of injuries made canceling the rest of the season an obvious choice. A blowout loss to Eastern Washington must have felt particularly galling, but a full off-season should do a lot to help clarify just how much work needs to be done.
LB Matt Shotwell
The Shotwell family has established something of a legacy within the Cal Poly football program as four brothers have all played for the Mustangs over the years, and Matt has acquitted himself quite well in his time as a starter. He’s led Cal Poly in total tackles over the last three seasons, including 34 in just three games this past spring, making him a much-needed anchor for a team with many holes to plug elsewhere.
QB Conor Bruce
The Mustangs had a bit of a quarterback shuffle in their brief spring season but since Jamel Hamler transferred to San Jose State, Hunter Raquet left for Jacksonville State, and Kyle Reid is moving to wide receiver, the sophomore Bruce looks like the frontrunner to win the starting job in fall camp.
The downside? Bruce has just one career pass attempt, but assuming he’s still QB1 by the end of August, it’d be a surprise if they didn’t give him a lot of time to grow into the job.
LB Aaron Cooper
Shotwell’s running mate at linebacker provided a bright spot for the Mustangs earlier this year by further establishing himself as another reliable tackling machine. He finished third on the team with 67 tackles and six tackles for loss back in 2019, adding seven pass breakups as well, and then finished second in tackles by racking up 20 more in the short spring.
WR Quentin Harrison
Cal Poly’s offense was definitely a work in progress when we saw them last, but the senior Harrison gives Beau Baldwin’s passing game at least one experienced playmaker. In 2019, Harrison averaged 21.3 yards per reception on 17 catches and scored five touchdowns and while ten catches and two touchdowns in three spring games may not sound like much, it’s worth noting that his average career touchdown has been 31 yards long. In other words, he can catch a defense napping if they aren’t careful.
⚡️ The past 3 years, Quentin Harrison's 10 touchdown catches have come by an avg. of 3⃣1⃣+ YDS / TD 🙌
🗣️ "His position flexibility is amazing. One thing that stands out about Q is that he's a student of the game" – @OCCoachEdwards 🏈
— Cal Poly Football (@calpolyfootball) April 22, 2021
Moving from the triple option to the spread is a pretty drastic change in offensive philosophy, so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the Mustangs struggled right away. You can expect that a normal off-season will do wonders to smooth things over, but a lot will depend on the rapport that Bruce (or whoever wins the quarterback competition) builds with the targets around him. Harrison, junior Michael Roth and redshirt freshman Mitch Anderson are all back to help things come along.
They’ll need some help on the ground, though, and it’ll be interesting to see how the competitions break down. Duy Tran-Sampson rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2019, but he didn’t see any touches at all in the spring while both Lepi Lataimua and Chuby Dunu are redshirt seniors who did not crack four yards per carry.
Between Shotwell and Cooper, the linebacker unit seems pretty well set but the defense as a whole is in dire need of answers after giving up 7.5 yards per play and 56.3 points per game in the spring. Granted, some of that may have had to do with playing both UC Davis and Eastern Washington, both of whom were top 25 teams at the time, and you can assume some of the issues that arose will be ironed out here with a complete fall camp, too.
It may take a while, though, since numerous potential youngsters could get thrown into the fire. Xaiver Olyphant, for instance, saw action in all three games during the spring and rewarded Cal Poly with a pick-six against EWU. Redshirt sophomore Dustin Grein, meanwhile, led the Mustangs with three tackles for loss, so at least Cal Poly has as least some of its foundation in place.
The Mustangs might be on a mild upswing, but it’s hard to see how they’ll keep pace with what looks like a powerful Bulldogs offense for sixty minutes. This seems like the kind of game where Jake Haener, Ronnie Rivers and others give way to the second team in the early fourth quarter.
Fresno State 49, Cal Poly 14