Weber State’s defense could have hardly been better against San Diego State last week.
WSU held senior quarterback Ryan Agnew to 3.6 yards per pass attempt and the Aztecs, including star senior back Juwan Washington, to 3.0 yards per carry (SDSU averaged 4.1 ypc as a team last season).
But in the end, the Wildcats lost 6-0.
“If you would’ve told me going into that game that we were only going to give up six points, I would’ve taken it. The reality is, we were six points short,” WSU head coach Jay Hill said. “Sometimes in college football, you have to win 3-0, sometimes you have to win … 52-50. Bottom line, we have to find a way to win and we didn’t do it. In that sense, the defense wasn’t quite good enough but, overall, I was pretty happy with the way they played.”
Hill and senior defensive end Jonah Williams both said mistakes were made last week, despite the stout performance. Still, players like linebackers Noah Vaea and Conner Mortensen, and defensive backs like Dave Jones, Eddie Heckard and Maxwell Anderson, were getting either their first college snaps or their first games where they got most of the reps at their position.
“We had some young dudes out there in critical moments that I thought did a really good job, and we broke into becoming a much better defense because we were able to get them valuable reps,” Hill said. “And those guys held up under pressure.”
Now that defense turns its attention to the triple option of Cal Poly.
The challenge seems to be something coaches like Hill relish playing against. Weber State has won three straight in the series, holding the Mustangs to 15, three, and 17 points in the three contests.
“The main goal of the defense is the physicality side of it,” Williams said. “We know they’re going to come at us. Even their offensive linemen sometimes are in a four-point stance. As long as we bring physicality — our scheme is proven, it works — so as long as we’re more physical than them, we’ll win the game.”
The buzzword for any game week against an option team throughout the country is always “assignment” — assignment-sound, playing assignment football, sticking to your assignments. That’s still true, but Hill offered more insight to what that means.
“It comes down to executing our coverages and our eyes being proper,” Hill said. “Option teams rely on people losing their eyes. That’s something we’ve been really good at the last three years is playing disciplined and not doing stuff that bad teams do against the option.”
Through one game, though, that task might be easier said than done against Cal Poly. Weber’s young secondary, especially, appears to be in for a challenge unlike anything else the Mustangs have previously presented.
It seemed somewhat surprising when Cal Poly named freshman quarterback Jalen Hamler as its starter, given that other experienced signal-callers on the roster might be more seasoned in running the option attack. But the Mustangs’ Week 1 game against San Diego shed some light on what might have gone into that decision.
In what looked like it would be a back-and-forth contest early, Hamler completed his first six passes and went on to throw 8 of 11 for 221 yards and three touchdowns — scoring on throws of 23, 55 and 60 yards.
Their offense also produced scoring runs of 34, 38 and 87 yards.
“You can’t give them chunk yards. You have to make them earn it,” Hill said. “And we’ve got to keep their completion percentage low.”
San Diego started turning the ball over and Cal Poly made the Toreros pay, turning a 14-14 game into a 52-14 contest late in the third quarter. Cal Poly ended up winning 52-34.
Perhaps Cal Poly’s big-play capabilities change the dynamic of playing their option, because usually a game against the Mustangs means fewer possessions than normal. Even if that’s different, San Diego’s turnover problem (it threw three interceptions) still highlights the pressure such games put on the opposing offense.
“We need to be as crisp as possible,” junior running back Kevin Smith said. “It’s going to be a different game for us because we won’t have as many opportunities as we want. So we have to make sure the plays we have are specific and make sure we can get going early on them.”
In last year’s 24-17 win at Cal Poly, Weber State scored first and held leads of 7-0 and 10-3, then broke a 10-10 tie with a pair of long scoring drives to go up 24-10 in the fourth quarter.
“Be explosive from the jump,” Smith said. “We want to attack them early, get some points, put our defense in a better position … so we can control the game.”
WSU’s home opener kicks off at 6 p.m. Saturday. It will air on KJZZ TV in Utah, on Pluto TV channel 535 online and on the mobile app, and a radio broadcast will air on 1430 AM KLO.