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Opponent Defense Preview: Portland State

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The Vikings were a breakthrough team in 2015. Can their defense continue that trend now?

Portland State v Washington State Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images

Before I begin today’s defensive preview, I first have to admit that all credit for today’s article goes to “dawgincentralwa,” who informed me two days ago, so very eloquently, that he/she did not appreciate us publishing articles that weren’t strictly related to Xs and Os. You can bet s/he was more than pleasant in communicating this and also that the person totally used correct capitalization. Needless to say, it warmed the cockles of my heart.

Well, dawgincentralwa, today is your lucky day, because today we will make sure never to stray away from the Xs or Os. No. Fun. Allowed. And that goes for everyone, you hear me? Even you, Rhaego. That’s right, you will not catch one whiff of fun in this article, because we know that’s not what football is about. I wouldn’t dare disappoint dawgincentralwa in such a way.

And, to quote those old British guys, now for something completely different:

FCS riser Portland State.

You know how last week I said Idaho was the team that would scare me if we were a Sark-coached team? Yeah, same goes for these guys.

Personnel

If there’s one person who stands out on the PSU roster, it’s Chris Seisay, former Oregon defensive back from their almost-but-not-quite national championship team who transferred to the Vikings about a month ago. That being said, it turns out he’s changed positions to wide receiver and so doesn’t apply today. Hooray!

As far as I’ve seen, the Vikings tend towards a 3-4 front, although they will also play 4-3 and, for Saturday’s game, their depth chart is listed in 4-3 format. Flitting between the two, if their play is disciplined, is a change up that has the potential to keep opponents from getting too comfortable and could force offenses to make the gaffes on which an opportunistic defense feasts.

That being said, five of PSU’s defensive starters are new in 2016; I wouldn’t be shocked to see Washington take advantage and aggressively attack the pockets of inexperience.

The statistical leaders of the Portland State defense are LB Anthony McNichols and S Tyler Foreman, who both have by far the most tackles on the team at 18 and 14, respectively. Foreman, incidentally, spent two seasons at UCLA before transferring up north. McNichols also has two sacks after two weeks of play and has the potential to interfere at will if the Huskies take him lightly.

With that in mind it’s tempting to basically want to game plan around stumping McNichols, but PSU is well-rounded enough to make putting too much focus on him impractical and dangerous; already, 10 different players have recorded at least one tackle for loss.

Their strengths and weaknesses in action?

Well, last week the Vikings defense gave up over 100 yards (and one touchdown) to - who else? Deontae Cooper. In their season opener against Central Washington, three of Central’s four touchdowns came on passes of 30 yards or more, while the fourth was a 16-yard rush. Against San Jose State, they allowed a whopping nine TDs, three of which were passing and six were rushing. Three of the rushing ones were over 25 yards.

Furthermore, they’re so far giving up an average of 5.7 yards per rush and 544 yards per game.

With that in mind...

Bottom Line

GET INTO THE DEFENSIVE BACKFIELD.

Seriously. (Sorry for the all caps - I hope they don’t count as stuff or, God forbid, shenanigans. No fun allowed!)

But seriously, seriously. The relative frequency of high yardage touchdowns against San Jose State and Central shows a legitimate weakness for Washington to go after. SJSU, in particular, had multiple rushing touchdowns of not just over 25 yards, but over 65. That’s a lot of yards.

From this we’re seeing a picture of a team that has a decently strong front, but once a ball carrier has broken through those lines there’s lots of room to make a big play.

Another little thing I noticed is that PSU has given up about 50% more points in the middle quarters of the game than they have in the 1st or 4th, i.e. they start and finish relatively strong, but tend towards lapses in the middle of games. Whether that’s complacency or just a tendency to go on cruise control, it’s a trend that - if it continues through enough games this season to be considered statistically valid - is probably symptomatic of a team who might need to improve their mental toughness on some level or at least be more zoned in on every play. I know it’s cliche, but there’s a reason successful coaches focus on one game at a time, one quarter at a time, one play at a time. If this ends up being the case, it’s something that the Huskies will really have an advantage over and should make a huge difference between PSU making it a good game or being subdued easily by the Dawgs’ playmakers.

That said...

Do good things, don’t do bad things, and bow down to Washington.