UW-Cal Poly Q&A swap

Robert Gagliardi, WyoSports’ senior editor, did a question-and-answer session with Joshua D. Scroggin, who covers the Cal Poly Mustangs football team for the San Luis Obispo Tribune.

The first five questions are from Gagliardi, followed by his answers to Scroggin’s questions.

Cal Poly opened with an impressive 41-14 win over San Diego but was off last week. Do you think that’s an advantage or disadvantage for the team heading into Saturday’s game with Wyoming?

They say football teams improve most between their first and second games, so I guess there are two extremes. Either Cal Poly will have double the improvement. Or the Mustangs got bored and forgot how to play. With two whole weeks to ramp up for their only FBS opponent of the season, I’ll lean toward the first option, but — outside of staying a little healthier — I’m not sure how much of an advantage it will be.

Sounded like Cal Poly was more diverse with its offense against San Diego. Still ran a lot of triple-option, but also came out throwing the ball more. Is that something to expect more Saturday?

In total, I’m not sure Cal Poly threw the ball more than usual, but the Mustangs were not afraid to throw it early, and that might have opened up room to run. The fullback dive doesn’t seem to be driving the offense anymore, and Cal Poly has been trying to pattern the formation and tempo of its option attack after teams like Oregon. But fighting the altitude along with the athleticism, size and depth of an FBS roster, it’s highly possible the Mustangs’ offense could revert to a more conservative approach against Wyoming.

What kind of player is senior quarterback Andre Broadous, and what makes him tick? Who are some of the other top offensive weapons for the Mustangs?

Broadous is the type of player that thrives on personal confidence. On pure athleticism, he could have been a Pac-12 defensive back coming out of Portland (Ore.) Grant High, but he came to Cal Poly to play quarterback. One of his most memorable plays, against Fresno State in 2010, went for only a yard but not before running backward for about 30 and juking his way back to the line of scrimmage. He showed no fear in that game, and I doubt he’ll be intimidated Saturday. Ever since Mustangs coaches gave him exclusive reigns to the offense in 2011, he’s gotten a huge confidence boost. One of his least talked about attributes, yet also one of his most impressive, is his decision-making. For as much as he handles the ball, he doesn’t turn it over much. Broadous has only one career interception in 254 passing attempts.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Mustangs’ defense?

The unquestioned strength is Cal Poly’s experience at linebacker. Senior Kennith Jackson is a four-year starter, and junior Johnny Millard, the son of former Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Keith Millard, is in his third year starting. There was nearly a complete turnover on the defensive line and the defensive backfield in the offseason. Only one starter is back from either unit. The defensive line did reload with Wisconsin transfer Jake Irwin and UCLA transfer Wesley Flowers, and first-year starters at safety Dave Douglas and Alex Hubbard doled out some hard hits against San Diego. But Cal Poly’s defense — one of the worst in the entire FCS against the pass last season — is largely untested. Can they rush the passer? Can they defend the pass? These remain crucial question marks, especially for this game.

What does Cal Poly need to do well at Wyoming and your predicted final score?

This has little to do with Cal Poly, but Brett Smith not being able to play is probably a necessity. The Mustangs need to limit the Cowboys’ passing attack, especially on third down. If Cal Poly can get its defense off the field, there’s less chance of Wyoming wearing it down by the end of the game. I see the Mustangs’ offense trying to possess the ball and run the clock. They also need to make sure they get in the end zone, something that’s a little harder to do if you’re moving down the field 3 yards at a time. I’m terrible at predicting scores, but Wyoming should win 38-20. However, short of a Cal Poly blowout, no outcome would truly surprise me.

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So, is the altitude all it’s cracked up to be? People throw around the idea of playing that high up for the first time as a guaranteed disadvantage. We’re out here on the beach, basically at sea level. Is Cal Poly doomed to huff and puff?

To say the altitude isn’t a factor would be naive, but also it can play more mind games than anything. It’s not much different than preparing to play in heat and humidity. Players need to stay hydrated and take care of their bodies the same way. But if teams worry too much about the altitude and not on the game plan, then it can be a factor. Toledo didn’t seem to be affected by the altitude last week. Everyone reacts to it differently, but teams that don’t put too much emphasis on it normally do fine with the altitude.

In the case of Brett Smith, what does “doubtful” really mean? How surprised would you be to see him start?

Doubtful means he won’t play, at least that’s how I’m taking it. I would be floored if he starts or plays. He wasn’t even at practice early in the week.

If Smith can’t go, how good is Colby Kirkegaard? How would his ideal game compare to the numbers Smith put up the first two weeks?

We will find out Saturday. One positive about Kirkegaard is he took all the snaps during the spring, including in scrimmages, when Smith was out recovering from offseason surgery to his thumb. Those reps were huge for him. He came in out of junior college last year and was the backup. He played mostly in mop-up roles and didn’t show that much. Kirkegaard is a smart kid who has a good grasp of the offense. But now he must do it in a game. He played late in the Toledo game after Smith got hurt, but didn’t do a whole lot. He’s not the runner like Smith is, but I think he’s capable of moving the team. If he’s the starter, and I believe he will be, Wyoming likely will try to lean on other players to pick up the slack and not put the entire burden of the offense on Kirkegaard.

Though 9-0 since 2000, Wyoming has had some close games against FCS teams. Which one should have gone the other way?

A lot of them. Last year Wyoming needed a touchdown pass from Smith in the final seconds to beat Weber State. It had all it could handle the year before with Southern Utah, and in  2008 it needed a field goal late to beat North Dakota State. Even back in the early 2000s in wins over Furman and The Citadel, Wyoming could have easily lost those games.

If you could give Cal Poly’s hopes of an upset a percentage chance, what would it be and why?

I would give them a 50-50 shot based on no Smith and the struggles Wyoming’s defense had last week. Toledo had a dual-threat quarterback last week that tore the defense apart (300 yards passing, four touchdowns and 74 yards rushing). With a dual-threat quarterback like Andre Broadous and a unique offense like the triple-option, Cal Poly has a chance if Wyoming’s defense doesn’t improve. Wyoming could have a slight advantage against the triple-option as it sees that once a year against Air Force and has defended it pretty well over the last few years. However, there are three new defensive coaches on the staff, including the defensive coordinator, so it’s not a given Wyoming will be on top of its game when it comes to that. With Smith out, other players need to step up offensively. Whoever plays quarterback is the main guy, but I know Wyoming would like to run the ball more and more effectively. But Smith was the leading rusher and two of the top three running backs are true freshmen. Based on all that, Cal Poly looks to be in good position for the upset.