Saturday, September 29, 2007

Good, bad & ugly from Poly's romp

The good, the bad and the ugly from the Cal Poly football team’s 56-21 victory over Northern Colorado on Saturday:


  • QB Jonathan Dally is obviously the right guy for the job. JD had six TDs in the romp, rushing for four and throwing two more out of the improving triple option.
  • RB Jono Grayson is starting to get it going after missing the first two games of the season thinking he was going to redshirt. In his third game, JG went over 100 yards for the first time in his career, rushing for 127 yards on 15 carries.
  • Cal Poly had 11 different ball carriers Saturday, giving the backups a better feel for the pitch-happy triple option.
  • The Mustangs were 8 of 8 in the red zone and tallied 600+ yards for just the third time at the I-AA level.
  • While key players like C Stephen Field, RB James Noble and RB Ryan Mole were able to rest their injuries, FB Jon Hall, RB Jaymes Thierry and LB Marty Mohamed were among the Mustangs who left Saturday’s game with injuries. With Mohamed out, Fred Hives had to come on and had a team-high 12 tackles. And while it was a good breakout game for Hives, the Mustangs are looking thin at middle linebacker.
  • The botched pitch from Dally to Grayson in the second half did not sit well with head coach Rich Ellerson.
  • A bye is finally here but after that it’s four straight games on the road, three of which are out of state.
  • All that “good” stuff and all that “bad” stuff came against Northern Colorado. The Bears were "the ugly" and have now lost 13 straight games. They are 0-5 this season and 1-15 since leaving the Great West Football Conference two years ago. Dakota schools beware.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Poly football facing must win

Cal Poly is only five weeks into the 2007 season, but is it possible the Mustangs are faced with a must-win scenario this weekend?
If they intend to make the FCS football playoffs, they probably are.
A loss to winless Northern Colorado (0-4) would just look plain bad for Cal Poly (2-2), not to mention it would hand the Mustangs their third loss in five weeks.
With three losses, Cal Poly would likely have to run the table to have a solid shot at the playoffs. Even if one of those losses is to a FBS school.
Teams with more than three losses just don’t make the playoffs very often unless they’re an automatic bid. And we all know the Great West Football Conference is years away from any automatic bids. And we all know winning six straight to end the year would be difficult for this young team considering four straight are on the road (look what happened at the tail end of last year’s brutal road swing). And that next home game against No. 4 North Dakota State on Nov. 10 isn’t exactly your typical Homecoming cupcake.
The Mustangs already have as a tough road ahead of them having dropped out of The Sports Network top 25 this week. And that was after a win over a Division II school.
Imagine how far the Mustangs would drop in the rankings if they lost to Northern Colorado.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Liddell's future in question after UFC 76 loss

After Saturday’s football game I caught a replay of Cal Poly graduate Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell’s UFC light heavyweight fight against Keith “Dean of Mean” Jardine.
Just like I was surprised that Division II Western Oregon was able to hang with the Mustangs on the football field, I was somewhat surprised when Jardine hung with Liddell in the Octagon.
I’d seen Jardine fight a couple times before as an undercard to Liddell’s main events and always thought he’d be a good test for “The Iceman.” But I never though Liddell would get beat by him.
That’s what happened late Saturday night when Jardine shocked the former light heavyweight in UFC 76, going the distance and winning a split decision. Jardine made the most of his legs, kicking Liddell throughout the bout and handing the San Luis Obispo-based fighter and former Mustang wrestler back-to-back losses for the first time in his storied Ultimate Fighting career.
In less than a year, Liddell has gone from the most feared striker in mixed martial arts to a second-tier contender for Quinton “Rampage” Jackson’s belt.
Saturday’s loss will make it extremely tough for the 37-year-old Liddell -- who was once the face of the sport -- to get a timely rematch with “Rampage” and could signal the beginning of the end for a fighter some have called the greatest MMA light heavyweight ever.

Mustangs need to get healthy

After the Cal Poly football team found itself trailing Division II Western Oregon 10-0 in the second quarter Saturday, a few of the 8,837 fans on hand began to boo, which is something I haven’t heard since Mustang Stadium was renamed Alex G. Spanos Stadium a couple years ago.
On the kickoff following Western Oregon’s field goal making it 10-0, one of those disgruntled fans even showered the Mustangs with a, “Where’s your varsity squad?”
It was a tongue-in-cheek comment, but one had to look no further than the Cal Poly sideline to see where the Mustangs’ first team was.
Starting running back Ryan Mole was in street clothes with a sprained left knee.
Nose tackle James Chen was on crutches with a season-ending knee injury.
Defensive end/linebacker Ryan Shotwell had his helmet off for much of the game because of an ankle injury.
And the Mustangs’ other starting running back, James Noble, watched the latter half of the game with an ice pack taped to his left knee.
It was fitting ending to the Mustangs’ 24-17 victory over Western Oregon considering how beat up they are four weeks into the season.
Heading into Week 5, the Mustangs must feel like they’re entering Week 11.
Players held out of the starting lineup Saturday included Noble (knee), Mole (sprained left knee), Shotwell (ankle), strong tackle Mike Porter (undisclosed medical condition) and center Stephen Field (foot). Backup fullback Kevin Spach also was out, which left the Mustangs’ triple-option without three key running backs on the two-deep (which is exactly why Cal Poly hasn’t rushed for a touchdown in 15 quarters).
After the game, head coach Rich Ellerson said he expects a handful of those players to be available for Saturday’s game against Northern Colorado, a team that is still winless on the season after dropping its Big Sky Conference opener to Northern Arizona.
After the Northern Colorado game, the Mustangs get a much needed bye before four straight road games. If Cal Poly doesn’t get back to full strength by the conference opener at UC Davis, the Mustangs are going to be in trouble come Great West Football Conference play.
Don’t believe me? Look at Saturday’s scores and you’ll see just what I mean:
UC Davis 28, Northeastern 10.
North Dakota State 44, I-A Central Michigan 14.
South Dakota State 38, Texas State 3.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Tale of two halves for Poly football

Listening to the fans and media members during the Cal Poly football team’s home opener at Alex G. Spanos Stadium tonight, I realized there are two types of people out there:
Glass half full kind of people. And glass half empty kind of people.
I try to be the former, but in this profession, you have to spend a lot of time being the latter.
But I’ll say I came away very impressed by the game-day atmosphere, from the tailgating to ESPN Radio’s live Cal Poly Gameday show at the BBQ pit (hopefully their ratings didn't go in the toilet during my guest appearance). And there were solid upgrades all around Spanos Stadium, from the comfy pressbox to the new player’s tunnel and giant Mustangs logo at midfield.
Here are some additional reasons for Cal Poly fans to celebrate after the 47-19 victory (along with some reasons for concern for the half-empty bunch in the crowd).

  • Half full: The brand-new tailgate area was a hit, according to the fans I talked to.
  • Half empty: It cost $20 a parking spot and was closer to Baggett Stadium than it was to Spanos Stadium.
  • Half full: The west concourse renovation, complete with a posh suites and a stat-geek’s paradise in the pressbox.
  • Half empty: The east concourse.
  • Half full: The vociferous student crowd livened up the aging east side of the stadium, helping Cal Poly set a school record with 11,075 fans.
  • Half empty: Most of those fans left after Cal Poly jumped to a 33-3 lead in the first half.
  • Half full: The 33 points in the first half. ... Six touchdown passes by Jonathan Dally? Yes, a school passing record for a so-called “option quarterback.” Dally threw some nice balls tonight, particularly the pass down the sideline to Tredale Tolver for a TD.
  • Half empty: Getting outscored 16-14 in the second half. ... Dally had some passes that were flat out dropped and could've had eight TDs. ... The Mustangs still have a lot of work to do running the triple option if they’re going to stick to it this season. The passing game looked great, but dare I say they (gulp) probably have to run the ball more … and better. James Noble is the most electric player on that offense and they need to find a way to get him more involved and get Ryan Mole healthy.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Battle of winless teams still draws enthusiasm

Saturday’s home opener at Cal Poly’s “newly renovated” Alex G. Spanos Stadium should be quite an event.
While the Mustangs are 0-2 for the first time since 2002, there is no lack of enthusiasm for the nonconference football game against winless Weber State (0-1). [See today's Weber State team preview here. The Cal Poly preview runs Saturday along with our traditional Gameday Page.]
After two (three, or is it four?) years of renovations, the stadium is truly complete – pressbox and all.
The current capacity is 11,750 and, as of today at 4 p.m., only 500 reserved tickets are left.
I’m no math major, but I’m guessing the stadium record of 9,387 fans for the UC Davis game in 2004 could come crumbling down tomorrow.
Cal Poly fans also are jacked up about having a designated tailgate area for the first time.
With ESPN Radio doing a “Cal Poly Gameday” show 90 minutes before kickoff outside the stadium (I’m slated to kill ratings with a 5 p.m. appearance), tailgating, a sold-out crowd and a completed west concourse, game day is starting to take on a whole new meaning at 1 Grand Ave.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Mustangs trying to do what 2002 team couldn't

The Cal Poly football team is off to an 0-2 start for the first time since the 2002 season when the Mustangs lost five straight to open the year and finished the season 3-8 – the Mustangs’ only losing season under seventh-year head coach Rich Ellerson.
Like the 2002 team, this year’s club is young and inexperienced but has the offensive firepower the ’02 team was lacking.
The Mustangs also have an easier schedule than the ’02 team, which would make a turnaround more likely considering the ’02 team faced I-A Toledo and I-A Kent State along with a rash of solid Big Sky Conference squads that season.
The problem with this year’s schedule is that it could be too soft in the eyes of the playoff committee in the event that Cal Poly finishes strong and ends the regular season with say three or four losses.
North Dakota State is the only top-25 caliber team on the Mustangs’ schedule at this point.
Sure, Texas State was ranked 19th last week after its win over Cal Poly, but the Bobcats backed up that performance with a brutal 45-27 loss to Division II Abilene Christian and should be in the top 25 no longer (so much for the reader comments about Texas State being underrated).
The Mustangs could drop out of the rankings as well this week but might hang on considering they lost to a I-A team.
So two weeks into the season, not only is Cal Poly 0-2 and sliding in the polls, two of the Mustangs’ better opponents (Texas State and UC Davis) have already lost to Division II schools. That’s certainly not going to help the Mustangs’ strength of schedule if they put together a storybook turnaround this year.

Poly football fumbles one away

When Cal Poly head football coach Rich Ellerson emerged from the locker room after Saturday’s 20-13 loss at Idaho, the first question he asked the writers was: “How many fumbles did we have?”
The response was quite a surprise for anyone who’s followed Cal Poly since Ellerson took over seven years ago.
“You put the ball on the ground seven times and lost four.” (And that didn’t include the botched snap on a field goal attempt that resulted in a turnover on downs in the first half.)
Seven fumbles, four of which were lost by a team who’s No. 1 "key to victory" each week is to “win the turnover battle.”
Well, the Mustangs lost Saturday (read more about the game, and all the fumbles, here).
As quarterback Jonathan Dally put it afterward, “Today, we let it slip out of our hands, literally.”
Seven fumbles is the most by a Cal Poly team in I don’t know how long. (I have Cal Poly’s sports info. department trying to track that one down.)
But it could’ve been worse, I guess.
Looking at the Division I-AA record book, the I-AA/Football Championship Subdivision’s dubious record for most fumbles in a game is 16 by Delaware State in 1980. Delaware St. lost six of those drops against Portland State that season.
The most fumbles in a game by both teams?
That would be the 21 combined fumbles by North Carolina A&T and Lane in 1995. NC A&T had 15 drops in that one, losing nine!
Now that's what I call dropping the ball.
9/11 update: Cal Poly stat guru Eric Burdick says the seven fumbles are the most since the Mustangs' eight fumbles (two lost) against Humboldt State in 2002 -- you know, the wet and wild mud bowl game at Mustang Stadium. The Mustangs also fumbled seven times, losing four, against Northern Arizona in 1999.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Beck, Shotwell playing waiting game

Former Cal Poly linebackers Jordan Beck and Kyle Shotwell are still waiting for “the call” after being cut by their respective NFL teams this week (see below posts).
As reported earlier this week, Beck worked out with the Cincinnati Bengals on Tuesday. Beck would be a good fit in Cincy because the Bengals list only two LBs at the middle and weakside spots and could use help on special teams.
Beck also had workouts scheduled with Baltimore, Minnesota and Tampa Bay, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
Shotwell is back home in Goleta and has not worked out for any other clubs. He is hoping to rejoin the Raiders this season and said he likely won’t go the CFL or arena route to continue his football career.
In the meantime, Shotwell will help us out with his three keys to victory each week for the Cal Poly football team. See Saturday’s Gameday page (S3) for his take on that day’s opponent.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The real reason Shotwell didn't make the cut

I spoke to a couple Raiders beat writers over the last two days and got some more information on the mixup that had two Northern California papers publishing an Oakland practice squad list that mistakenly listed former Cal Poly linebacker Kyle Shotwell as making the squad.
They said the Raiders had Shotwell on their practice squad list when they released it to the local media around 11 a.m. Sunday.
The Raiders did not call Shotwell back to let him know he had not made the practice squad until around 3 p.m. Sunday, so obviously there was a change of heart between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. and nobody from the Raiders informed the San Francisco Chronicle and Sacramento Bee of the change.
It's pretty obvious what happened now: The Raiders said Shotwell was not at Sunday's morning practice session because they were still working out the details of adding him to the practice squad.
But the real reason was: the Rams had surprisingly cut LB Jon Alston (a third-round pick in the 2006 draft) on Saturday and the Raiders were waiting until he cleared waivers Sunday to make a decision on their practice squad linebacker. Alston received offers from four teams and decided to go with the Raiders. That's when Oakland went with the former Stanford LB instead of the undrafted Shotwell, meaning the former Cal Poly standout was the last player cut from the Raiders. He was that close to making the team.
See my story today for reaction from Shotwell.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Beck, Shotwell cut from NFL teams

Former Cal Poly linebackers Jordan Beck and Kyle Shotwell got the bad news on the same day, although that news wasn't made public until Monday — and when it did finally come out, it wasn't exactly published accurately.
Beck was officially released by the Atlanta Falcons on Monday, although the Falcons let him know he was being waived when they signed three new additions on Sunday — the day after Beck appeared to make the 53-man roster.
Shotwell was released by the Oakland Raiders on Saturday when they trimmed their roster down to 53 players but was told he had a shot at the practice squad announced Sunday.
Late Sunday he was told by the team he was not one of the eight players on their practice squad, although no announcement was made publicly and it was actually reported by the San Francisco Chronicle and Sacramento Bee that he made the practice squad. As of Tuesday, those stories had not been corrected.
Confused yet? You should have seen me trying to write and re-write this story over and over tonight.
I finally talked with Shotwell late Monday and he confirmed that he did not make the practice squad and that he and Beck are both hoping to catch on with another team. But that will be tough considering few teams are looking for linebackers at this point. See Tuesday and Wednesday's Tribune for additional updates.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Bad weekend for the Great West

The Great West Football Conference isn’t looking so great this year.
For the first time since the league was formed in 2004, a Great West team did not win a game on opening weekend.
South Dakota State kicked off a week to forget on Thursday with a four overtime loss to Western Illinois, falling 29-26.
The Great West then went 0-for-3 on Saturday as Southern Utah lost at Montana, 37-17, UC Davis lost a hot one at home to DII Western Washington, 28-21, and Cal Poly suffered a “third quarter debacle” in the words of head coach Rich Ellerson and lost at unranked Texas State, 38-35.
So when does league favorite North Dakota State play again?
Here is Saturday’s schedule, which doesn’t look any easier for the Great West:

Saturday, Sept. 8, games:
Cal Poly at Idaho, 2:05 p.m.
UC Davis at Portland State, 6:05 p.m.
Stephen F. Austin at North Dakota State, 6 p.m.
North Dakota at Southern Utah, 6 p.m.
South Dakota State at Youngstown State, 5 p.m.

Don't mess with Texas

Cal Poly used to enjoy its trips to Texas.
In 2003, the Mustangs opened the season with a program-defining 34-13 upset victory at I-A Texas-El Paso.
But their last two trips to the Lone Star State have been bad, bad news.
In 2005, they lost 14-7 at Texas State in the quarterfinals of the I-AA playoffs.
On Saturday, another loss in San Marcos, 38-35, in a somehow winnable game that was much more lopsided than the score indicated.
Cal Poly came in ranked No. 15 in the country.
Unranked Texas State was picked to finish fifth in its own conference, so if you’re wondering if it’s time to hit the panic button, it might just be.
Cal Poly next travels to I-A Idaho, which covered the spread and looked tougher than many would expect in a 38-10 loss to USC. Yes, that USC. The No. 1 team in all the land (FCS and FBS).
Idaho goes from USC to Cal Poly, which after Saturday’s game isn’t exactly sure who its No. 1 quarterback should be and is obviously young and very inexperienced on the defensive side of the ball.
And the botched fake punt attempt? ... I'll be shocked if they ever call that play again. The Mustangs are 0-for-3 on that one.
The most disappointing part of the game for the Cal Poly faithful was the struggle in the running game (on both sides).
The Mustangs’ touted running back combo of Ryan Mole and James Noble barely combined to rush for 100 yards. On the other side of the ball, the Mustangs’ usually stellar run defense allowed almost 400 yards rushing.
Cal Poly, a team built on a triple-option offense and a run-stuffing defense, isn’t going to win many games if those numbers continue - even if the fake punts start working

Saturday, September 01, 2007

What a day for I-AA (FCS)

The Cal Poly-Texas State opener hasn’t even started and it’s already been a crazy day in Division I-AA football, now known as the Football Championship Subdivision.
The talk in the Texas State pressbox during pregame warm-ups Saturday afternoon was centered around defending I-AA champion Appalachian State’s unbelievable 34-32 upset of No. 5 Michigan, at Michigan Stadium of all places.
But when the UC Davis score came across on the sports ticker, the talk quickly changed to the Aggies.
While I-AA football took a step forward with App State, it also took one back thanks to UC Davis.
A few hours after the Appalachian State shocker at the Big House in Ann Arbor, I-AA and Great West Football Conference member UC Davis lost to Division II Western Washington, 28-21.
It’ll be interesting to read Michael Mirer’s blog on the UC Davis letdown.
It was UC Davis' first official game as a Division I-AA/FCS member and its first game at brand new Aggie Stadium, a $31 million facility that is the newest collegiate stadium to open in the country.
Maybe they should rename Aggie Stadium the Little House.