Extended game plan
Mavs' QB Salum helps spark Mesa's offense
The game plan included getting Eystin Salum some reps early in the game.
The sophomore backup quarterback for Colorado Mesa University spelled Sean Rubalcaba at Black Hills State and provided a late-game spark in the Mavericks’ first loss of the season.
Salum, a gifted runner who also possesses a strong throwing arm, rotated with Rubalcaba in the first quarter Saturday night, but played the majority of the second half in CMU’s second straight loss, 38-31 to Dixie State. He directed Mesa’s final two scoring drives that pulled Mesa within one touchdown.
“We wanted to get Eystin in early, he provided a spark last week, but we were struggling running the football,” CMU coach Russ Martin said of the decision to keep Salum in the game after the first two series of the second half.
“He gave us an added dimension of being a more dynamic runner. It didn’t have anything to do with how Sean’s been playing or anything else, it was just a standpoint we were trying to create more of a spark.”
The Mavericks’ running game sets up their run-pass option offense, but in the past few weeks, defenses have been slowing the run.
In the first three games of the season, CMU ran for 300 or more yards, including 396 in the second week of the season against Chadron State.
Since then, the running numbers have steadily declined, with a season-low 203 against Black Hills and 220 on Saturday. Salum has been CMU’s leading rusher the past two games, with 132 yards against the Yellow Jackets and 103 against Dixie.
With defense and special teams creating three short fields in the first quarter, Rubalcaba threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to David Tann on CMU’s second series of the game. Salum took over after Zac Owen forced a fumble, which was recovered by Alec Barcellos at Dixie’s 35.
A 30-yard pass to Tann on third-and-16 set up his 4-yard touchdown, and when the defense held and Brad Gillis blocked and recovered a punt, the Mavericks (5-2, 5-2 RMAC), with Salum at quarterback, kicked a field goal for a 17-0 lead.
Each quarterback ran a half-dozen series Saturday night, but until the fourth quarter, the Mavericks failed to establish any kind of running game and the defense couldn’t stop Dixie’s ground attack, giving up 35 consecutive points to fall behind 35-17.
Until the final series of the third quarter, the longest drive the Mavericks put together was 50 yards, after Antonio Clark intercepted a pass on Dixie’s first possession.
“I prepare the same way for every game, it’s football,” Salum said. “Sean’s a great starter. I’m always ready to do what I do.”
Salum, Mesa’s special teams player of the year last season, is a mainstay on special teams, so he’s never standing idly on the sideline.
Martin and Salum both said they would be studying the film to determine why the Mavericks’ run game was shut down and adjust accordingly. Salum has rushed for 250 yards on 36 carries this season, second on the team behind Tann (391 yards on 86 carries). Rubalcaba has run for 163 yards and Jonathon Beverly 168.
“It’s frustrating. We work hard all week and we go over the tape and do the same thing every week to prepare our best for the game,” Salum said. “It’s it’s not going our way, of course it’s frustrating. We didn’t get the win tonight, that’s the most frustrating part.”
Salum’s legs were a big reason the Mavericks got the ground attack going late.
“I’m just looking through my reads, going through my progressions, ‘cause if I can pass it and get it into our playmakers’ hands, those guys have great ability as well,” the Regis Jesuit graduate said.
“If I can get it into their hands, that’s what I’m thinking going through my progressions. If it’s not there or maybe protection breaks down, then just get out and get what I can and get on to the next play.”
That will be Mesa’s task starting today, getting on to the next play and preparing for Adams State. The good news is, the Grizzlies (1-5, 1-5) are allowing 290 rushing yards per game and running for only 100 per game.
The bad news is, Adams State had a bye this past weekend, so the coaching staff will have two weeks to prepare for the Mavs.
“We still have a chance to tie for a conference championship,” Martin said, “but right now we’ve got to get things regrouped and get back on track and take care of things one play at a time, one game at a time.
“It’s a standpoint of we need to get things fixed. If we fix them, we’re going to be fine. If we don’t, it’s going to be a struggle.”