Rob Malara

Sun Devil Schedule Study: Cal Poly


2014 Record: 7-5 (5-3 Big Sky)

While ASU can be commended for its bravery in scheduling the Texas A&M Aggies to start the 2015 season, rest assured head coach Todd Graham can count on a few weeks of relatively stress free non-conference play that beings with the Mustangs of Cal Poly.  The Devils second game of the season will also be its first under the lights at a Sun Devil Stadium currently receiving a facelift as off-season renovations as part of Phase 1 come to a close.  As part of the stadium’s “reinvention”, fans will be able to finally gaze at a completed new student section area in the south end zone, helping to create a student presence at both end zones, dubbed by Todd Graham as the “Double Inferno”.

The Devils welcome in the Cal Poly Mustangs of the FCS Big Sky conference as its first home opponent of the season.  A Mustangs squad that struggled in a 28-10 defeat at the hands of an eventual two win New Mexico State team to open up its 2014 season.  Athlon ranked the Mustangs 24th in its FCS rankings, while the team ranked 5th in the Big Sky preseason polls.  Head coach Tim Walsh, heading into his seventh season with the school, has managed just one post season birth (2012), but is known for his steadiness as a veteran head coach having spent a combined 24 years at the helm accumulating a 156-112 record during his time at  Sonoma State (1989-92),  Portland State (1993-2006) and Cal Poly (since 2009).

In his three seasons as head coach at ASU, Todd Graham has never had even a remote letdown against FCS opponents, outscoring the likes of Northern Arizona, Sacramento State, and Weber State by an average of 47 points.  But the Mustangs, and the Devils third opponent, the New Mexico Lobos, will provide Todd Graham’s defense a good warm-up before facing off against USC later on in the month of September to open conference play.

What to Look for from the Mustangs on Offense

Percentage of Offensive Yards Returning: 82%

Career Starts Offensive Line: 55

2015 Returning Starters Offense: 9


Cal Poly’s conference, the Big Sky, has been a passing conference as of late.  But Walsh  has gone against the grain in that regard with his offense leading the nation in rushing back in 2013, and then again last season.  In fact, the Mustangs were the first team from the Big Sky to lead the nation in rushing in over 30 years.  And much like Graham who is proud of boasting the identity of his team, Walsh makes no excuses for taking the air out of the football.  “Our excitement stays on the ground more than it does in the air,” said the head coach at 2015 Big Sky Media Day.

And that excitement begins with do-it-all senior quarterback Chris Brown who was responsible for 34 touchdowns (split equally rushing and passing) in 2014.  But it was Brown’s fellow backfield mate, junior running back Kori Garcia who was recently selected to the Big Sky pre-season all-conference first team.

Mustangs offensive coordinator Saga Tuitele calls a heavy dose of triple option and has helped coach the scheme in Walsh’s previous stops at both Army and Portland State.  In this day and age of pass-heavy attacks, his offenses have been about establishing the run via the triple option and putting its trust in its quarterback to make the correct reads.  And like most teams that run the triple option, it will force the ASU defense to play disciplined and to execute proper run fits.  But where Todd Graham came into the New Mexico game last year with a young and inexperienced group of first level defenders, the defense that lines up against Poly in the second game of 2015 will be much more seasoned.  And much of time put into defensive game plans for both this game and the New Mexico game might be put into similar scheming.

Co-defensive coordinators Keith Patterson and Chris Ball will have watched the tape exhibiting how a New Mexico State defense shut down the Poly offense last season.  They’ll also look back at the Devils win in Albuquerque last September against a similar styled triple option scheme.  One that uses the triple option scheme both with the quarterback under center and out of shot gun sets.

Unlike the Mustangs defensive personnel, the offense returns nine of its starters from 2014 including most of its offensive line.  This group along with their backfield look to be the strength of this team.  But because of the roster turnover on defense, undersized starting left tackle Miles Williams will be shifting to the defense during his sophomore season.  He’ll more than likely be replaced by 6-foot-6, 270-pound junior Calvin Sandeen who sat out last season as a redshirt.  Music to the ears of ASU defensive line coach Jackie Shipp who will looking to create his newest tackle for loss machine out of either redshirt junior Edmond Boateng or redshirt freshman Renell Wren at the field end position.

What to Look for from the Mustangs on Defense

2014 Havoc Rate: 0.136

Percentage of Total Tackles Returning: 37%

2015 Returning Starters Defense: 6


Mustangs defensive coordinator Josh Brown enters his fourth year in change of the defense, and it will be a unit in transition as it heads to Tempe.  Walsh had stated during the offseason that improving the defense was the main emphasis of spring camp due to the fact that it would be returning only six starters from 2014.  “No question, the defensive side needs to grow dramatically with the personnel we have,” said seventh-year Mustang head coach Tim Walsh. “We might play more 3-4 than 4-3, use multiple sets and see how our guys grasp it.”  Being multiple is a necessity as Walsh will be replacing two defenders at each level of their defense.

ASU offensive coordinator Mike Norvell would be smart to start to establish the true roles of his wide receivers in this contest among the group of D.J. Foster, Gary Chambers, Ellis Jefferson, Fred Gammage, Tim White, and Devin Lucien.  The same could be said for sorting out the tight end position after Kody Kohl.  Look for ASU to punish the center of this Poly defense that is breaking in two new safeties let alone all-conference linebacker Nick Dzubnar (school record 167 tackles) who is currently fighting for a spot on the San Diego Chargers roster.  At the same time, it will be interesting to see what state of mind the offense will be in from the previous week having introduced two new starting offensive tackles, a quarterback into the mix in Houston.

A scheme change not to mention a two-deep full of inexperience would lead you to believe that Norvell will have his way throughout the first half of this contest until the starters are pulled. Also intriguing will be how newly ordained Sun Devil starting quarterback Mike Bercovici performs in this game having just faced a newly rebuilt Aggies defense the week prior.  This seems to be his game to really shine and put up some eye-popping numbers, even if it is for two quarters before being spelled by Manny Wilkins for the second half.  It’s also pertinent to bring up the fact that Mike Norvell has had huge success in the run game against FCS opponents

Final Synopsis

There’s just no better way of predicting what should be an Sun Devil-dominated affair than referring to who has given ASU a 99.6% chance of winning this game according to the its football power index metric.

Under Todd Graham ASU has recorded a +6 turnover ratio against FCS opponents recording an average score of 54-7.  With New Mexico being the Devils next opponent after this game, and a home contest against USC two weeks on the horizon, ASU can plan on experimenting in this one on both ends of the ball as it licks its wounds coming off the season opener against Texas A&M.  It will also give the coaching staff a better look at players in the 2-deep and beyond, let alone the improvements taking place on special teams.

For Poly, it’s a great shot at exposure, especially as it tries to strengthen its recruiting, and it’s good experience for the players and coaches coming off their teams season opener against Montana.  And as is the case in most FCS versus FBS matchups, it’s certainly a game that will help finance their football program.

While ASU will have just played an Aggies team running a fast-paced, pass-heavy offense, something very different than what Poly brings to the table, odds are this game is done and dusted after 30 minutes of play.


Here’s a set of highlights from a Cal Poly win over 2014 Sun Devil opponent Weber State in a game played in October of last year:

**Havoc Rating was devised by Bill Connelly – “The percentage of plays in which a defense either recorded a tackle for loss, forced a fumble, or defensed a pass (intercepted or broken up). If QB hurries were a reliable stat (at the college level, there is far too much inconsistency in how they are recorded), they would be included here, too.”

**Graphs provided by ASU Devils Den stats guru Gary Doran**

About Rob Malara

Rob Malara

Rob Malara is a 2002 Sun Devil grad having spent the majority of his time in Tempe as a football, basketball, and baseball season ticket holder and front row inhabitant. A member of the Football Writers Association of America, he hosted the ASU Devils podcast and was its sub-optimal technical producer through its lifespan. Currently the president of the ASU Alumni Association's Northern Colorado Club, he is part of a family of maroon and gold residing in Fort Collins with his Sun Devil wife and nearby Sun Devil sister.

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