BOULDER, Colo. – Another Canterbury D1A Top 20 fixture out of the California Conference is on tap for March 5 when No. 12 San Diego State travels north to face No. 19 Santa Clara. Elsewhere in the Golden State, UC Santa Barbara hopes to earn its first conference win, but will have to do it against No. 10 Cal Poly.
Santa Clara vs. San Diego State
Santa Clara’s first attempt at knocking off a Top 20 opponent didn’t go as planned. Last week, Cal Poly kept the Broncos at arm’s length in its 26-13 win. Another defeat would take Santa Clara below .500, and a date with No. 1 Saint Mary’s still looms.
The circumstances make Saturday’s game crucial, but the Broncos don’t need any additional motivation.
“San Diego State is always a big game,” said Santa Clara Head Coach Paul Keeler. “There’s a great rivalry there, and the game is always physical.”
Last year’s rendition of the rivalry supplied plenty of fireworks, as San Diego State outgunned the Broncos, 59-44, after having fallen to Santa Clara in 2014.
The Aztecs come into the contest with plenty of steam behind them following its Feb. 20, 45-0, win over UC Santa Barbara, but will have to hit the road for the first time in California play this year. On the other hand, this weekend will be Santa Clara’s first chance to play at home in a conference game.
“Home field advantage is always key, and the loss to Cal Poly is a great example,” Keeler said.
The Aztecs are coming off a bye week. The break midway into the California season has given San Diego State the additional time needed to reflect on both the good and bad thus far this season.
“The bye week was well-situated in our schedule after three games, and before four difficult upcoming matches,” San Diego State Head Coach Alex Lichtig said. “It has allowed us to take a step back and review the season to date, and make adjustments for the team moving forward.”
The freedom of not preparing for a game last weekend has also give San Diego State additional time to look at Santa Clara – something a coaching staff always appreciates.
“We’re looking forward to the match against Santa Clara,” Lichtig added. “They are always a well-drilled team who move the ball well, and play with a high level of physicality.”
Cal Poly vs. UC Santa Barbara
The Gauchos are the only team in the California Conference that is not ranked, making each league match an uphill battle. Still, positive momentum can be built coming off a 55-12 loss to the two-time reigning National Champions Saint Mary’s College.
In fact, minus its scoreless effort against San Diego State, UC Santa Barbara has averaged a respectable 21.5 points per conference contest. It will need those points playing a dynamic Cal Poly team that was able to score 43 points on the Gauchos last year.
Last week, the Mustangs ran over four tries against Santa Clara and earned a 26-13 win, but the boys from San Luis Obispo, Calif. know there is plenty of room for improvement.
“Our guys weren’t entirely pleased with last week’s win, and there is a sense of urgency that improvement is needed in a short timeframe,” said Cal Poly Head Coach James Tesoriero. “The guys have been very focused this week.”
The Mustangs will be pleased to welcome back captain John Joe Murphy, but it’s likely he’ll play limited minutes coming off a shoulder injury. Either way, the return of Cal Ploy’s eight man will be valuable, as a solid piece of its midfield will be out of action. Center Bill Campuzano, who has battled numerous injuries, suffered a leg injury last week that will force him to miss Saturday’s match against UC Santa Barbara.
Campuzano’s injury, coupled with the unknown timeline for the return of another key backline player, Mark Grzanich, will require more line-breaks from center Zach Markow and full back Kelii Dominguez.