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Opponent Defensive Preview: Portland State Vikings

Deciphering the Vikings’ Defense of Smoke & Mirrors

NCAA FOOTBALL: SEP 10 Portland State at San Jose State Photo by Tommy LaPorte/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This week the Huskies will face off against the Portland State Vikings. After a dominant offensive showing against Kent State’s perennially porous defense, we’ll look to continue our momentum against a solid defense that is coming off of a strong performance themselves. In their own season opener, the Vikings’ defense held San Jose State to just 17 points and kept them in the game to the very end. While Portland State is not a historic power in the Big Sky conference, their defense has been known to be their strength under DC Payam Saadat.

The Scheme

Since joining the Vikings staff in 2018, Saadat has turned around a league worst defense by focusing on momentum-altering plays and by leveraging unique athletes in his “Flex” defense. At quick glance, Portland State’s defense is a hybrid between the 3-3-5 and 4-2-5 defenses. They will regularly line up 4 defenders on the LOS but with 3 down linemen and 1 designated stand-up pass rusher. Behind their defensive front, Saadat likes to use non-traditional defensive structures and alignments to create confusion for the offense. Playing with only one traditional linebacker, Saadat floods the field with DB-type players and lets the scheme make up for their lack of size. Blitzes will come from all angles, and every player on defense could be a potential rusher. Penix and the OL will need to be on their A-game to keep up with the Vikings tricky pressure packages.

Key Players & Personnel

As I mentioned above, PSU loves to play as many athletes on the field as possible and let them make plays. One key defensive player to keep an eye on is their Rover, #5 Tyreese Shakir. Shakir had a breakout game last week against SJSU, posting career-highs in sacks, TFLs and tackles (3 sacks/4 TFLs/8 tackles). Despite only being listed at 5-10 and 175 lbs, Sadaat leverages his speed as a pass rusher who can come from wide angles and close on the QB on delayed blitzes, as well as make clean up tackles from his hybrid LB/DB position. For those of you who also follow Boise State football, the Shakir name should sound familiar as his older brother Khalil was a star WR for the Broncos.

Another key player to watch will be Anthony Adams. The senior CB also had himself a career night against SJSU to the tune of 10 tackles, 1 TFL, and 2 PBUs. Listed on this week’s depth chart as the starting boundary corner, Adams will likely tasked with patrolling the flats and getting involved in the run defense as an unblocked free tackler on run blitzes.

On the defensive front, Portland State plays a fairly under-sized DL with #45 Moses Finau listed as the starting NT at only 260 lbs. Outside of Finau, the biggest player anywhere on their 2-deep is 285 lbs. While we struggled last week to get movement against a big DL for a G5 program, UW should be able flex our size advantage in the run game this week.

Conclusion

As I mentioned earlier, this game will test Penix and the offense’s ability to process what the defense is showing and execute the offense. I’ll be curious to see if Grubb chooses to spread things out to hamper their ability to disguise coverages and pressures, or if Grubb decides to tune up the run game with heavier personnel and condensed formations that’ll bring PSU’s DBs into blocking mismatches. Either way, this offense vs. defense match up should be able to be won with good execution of our fundamentals and our scheme. We just have to play up to our talent level to avoid falling victim to the Vikings... like the Cougs in 2015.