Vikings shuffle backs as offense looks for better running game

It's time for Portland State to make a run at the Big Sky Conference championship. Literally.

The Vikings have yet to get their running game in gear. Last year, with Joe Rubin toting the ball, they ran for 393 yards in beating Weber State 39-14. In three games this season, the Viks have totaled just 339 yards (3.4 per attempt) on the ground.

No one has been able to replace Rubin, but as coach Tim Walsh says, 'we're not playing as well as we can up front, either.'

PSU, which ran for 302 yards against Weber State in a 34-15 victory in 2004, is expected to go back to Kelena Ho'okano as the main back. James Magee, who has a little better speed, has fumbled twice in 19 carries, including a drop at the Cal 13-yard line in last week's 42-16 road loss to the Bears.

'You've got to hold onto it,' Walsh says.

Help could be on the way: Mu'Ammar Ali, who was slated to be the No. 1 back, could return for the Sept. 30 home game against Montana after missing the first month with an injured shoulder. If he isn't available by then, the Viks might give some time to true freshman Kyley McCrae from McNary High, who otherwise would redshirt. And, to help with the run blocking, tight end Brent TenBruggencate could return from a knee injury for Montana.

Either way, the Viks have to get it done on the ground, especially with the injuries suffered at Cal by their top two quarterbacks, Sawyer Smith (hip) and Tygue Howland (torn anterior cruciate ligament, out for the season).

Rob Freeman, a 6-2, 225 pound junior from Westview High, did a remarkable job in emergency relief at Cal, attempting his first passes since he was with Butte Junior College in California in 2004, but the Viks need a rushing threat, too.

Through the air, the Viks have made 26 first downs, scored six TDs and averaged 213 yards per game. On the ground, they have 15 first downs, four TDs and 113 yards per game, with only one run of more than 19 yards in 101 attempts.

PSU will play its conference away games this year at Weber State, Montana State, Northern Arizona and Sacramento State.

'You win on the road in the Big Sky and you can win the championship,' Walsh says. 'We talk a lot about it. We've got to make sure we do it.'

The Viks didn't play well at Cal, Walsh says, and he hopes that makes them determined to show better at Weber State.

'We didn't play Portland State football last week,' he says, 'and I hope our guys are upset about that.'

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