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Cal Poly comes to town banged up, but still fearsome on defense

By From page B1 | October 31, 2013

When the Battle for the Golden Horseshoe resumes Saturday with Cal Poly, don’t be surprised if you hear the theme from “M*A*S*H” play as the Mustangs take the field at Aggie Stadium.

Staggering into town for a 4 p.m. showdown with UC Davis, Cal Poly has been hammered by injuries this year — forcing it into a Lazy Susan selection of quarterbacks and musical chairs across the point of attack.

Most disappointing for the visitors could be the apparent loss of Dano Graves, the former prep state Player of the Year from Folsom High.

Quarterback Graves (hamstring) was hurt during last week’s 17-13 loss to Northern Arizona, gutting it out and finishing the game. But head coach Tim Walsh says Graves is gimpy and has dropped to No. 3 on this week’s depth chart.

Graves is to be replaced by Chris Brown, who started three games after season-starting quarterback Vince Moraga was knocked out for good with a knee injury.

Brown was added to the carousel when Walsh recently benched the junior (ineffectiveness) in favor of Graves.

Guard/captain Lefi Letuligasenoa, another key Mustang and a former Elk Grove standout, is out for the year, as is once-leading wide receiver Willie Tucker.

Even running back Kristaan Ivory (ankle) is hurting, but is expected to play.

Ivory gave it a try against the Lumberjacks last Saturday, but came out after just one carry.

So, who will be where come the opening whistle?

“We’ll know more after (today’s) practice,” Walsh told the Big Sky Conference media on Wednesday. “Right now it’s Brown No. 1, (Tanner) Trosin and Dano, if he can go.”

Trosin is a former Bulldog teammate of  Graves.

Back to those significant losses …

Junior Willie Tucker, injured at midseason, was penciled in as one of the best long-distance dial-ups in the Football Championship Subdivision. He left with only 312 yards on 18 receptions, but his 17.2 yards per catch and two long touchdowns (one for 74 yards) hinted at his promise.

Moraga and Graves combined for 665 yards through the air, but their contributions came in how they handled the Cal Poly triple-option. Local fans already knew how Air Force-transfer Graves could get it done on the ground, having seen him win the state title in 2010 while at Folsom.

Letuligasenoa (knee) being out is literally a big deal.

At 6-1, 300 pounds, his senior leadership and ability to move mountains were elements upon which Cal Poly hoped to pin a championship run.

At 2-2 in Big Sky and looking up to two 4-0 schools (Montana State and Eastern Washington), it’s doubtful that running its four-game table will help the 3-5 Mustangs into the postseason.

Nonetheless, UCD coach Ron Gould knows his guys have their hands full.

The two schools have become entertaining opponents in a series that sees the Aggies holding a 19-17-2 advantage. It is the Aggies’ goal to make sure the Golden Horseshoe doesn’t make a round trip this weekend. Cal Poly won, 28-20, last fall.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Gould says of his first taste of the rivalry. “I’ve been learning about what it is. I have tremendous respect for coach Walsh and his team.

“They are dynamic and have tremendous speed to the outside. They have the best defense in the conference. I’m looking forward to the opportunity … and the players are excited about the rivalry.”

Gould says his team can’t worry about which CP players are playing where come Saturday. On defense, it is about preparing for the Mustang scheme, which is sleight-of-hand football, given their triple option.

Brown (269), Ivory (808) and Akaninyene Umoh (179) will be among the principal runners mixing it up.

Cole Stanford (Nevada Union High) and Chris Nicholls will try to make up for Tucker’s absence, but the recent Cal Poly trend says the Mustangs will go only as far as their defense allows.

In the past three weeks, Cal Poly has allowed 38 points. Two of those games were against No. 9 Montana and No. 16 NAU.

Gould knows how the Mustangs will come at his Aggies.

“Alex Hubbard is unbelievable. He could be the best safety in the conference,” points out Gould, a former Oregon defensive back himself. “He has range, tremendous football IQ. That guy can wreak havoc.”

And then there’s Sullivan Grosz…

“He is the best defensive lineman we’ve faced to date,” adds Gould. “He’s scary to watch on film. You can’t single-block him.”

Both Grosz and Hubbard have 48 tackles. Grosz had made eight of those stops for losses and has added five sacks.

Hubbard, who also returns punts, has recovered two fumbles and messed up six opponents’ passes, but curiously has no interceptions.

Notes: As the season advances, the Aggies have yet to get a bye (it comes Nov. 9). Gould, however, isn’t worried. “We’ve modified practice a little bit,” but the coach adds that off-season focus on conditioning is a key to the Aggies’ lack of injuries and improved play. “Our guys came into camp in good condition and have stayed healthy. That’s a tribute to the hard work these men have put in.” … Aggie RB Gabe Manzanares (890 yards) is ranked 15th among FCS rushers. In Big Sky games, he leads all ball carriers with 727 yards. Among league rivals only NAU’s Zach Bauman (975 and ranked ninth) has gained more ground overall. FYI: Terrance West of Towson State leads the FCS with 1,412 yards. Manzanares now has six TDs. … Walsh loves Sacramento-area players. In addition to Graves, Letuligasenoa, Trosin and Stanford,  there are Little Letu — 245-pound Josh Letuligasenoa (Elk Grove) — WR Carson McMurtrey (Folsom) and OL Stephen Sippel (Folsom) on the Cal Poly roster.

— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-747-8047.

Bruce Gallaudet

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