Unlike in past years, PSU's running offense isn't getting it done
Portland State has played some good teams, and not having injured Mu'Ammar Ali carrying the ball for large chunks of yardage has hurt the ground game.
But the Vikings need to get better at running the ball - Tim Walsh's staple in 11 years as head coach - starting 6 p.m. Saturday against Montana at PGE Park.
The Vikings are averaging 112.5 yards rushing per game and 3.1 yards per carry, after averaging about 200 and 4.7 the past two years.
Six prime linemen returned -Brennan Carvalho, Peter St. John, Steve Blatchley, Derek Duff, Daren Heerspink and Cody Feakin - all with at least three years of experience in the system. Duff and Blatchley are fifth-year seniors. But inconsistency has been a problem.
'They're a year older, they should be a year better,' Walsh says.
'We need to be more technically sound,' says St. John, a junior from Beaverton High. 'We're trying to do too much,' and penalties and bad blocking have ensued.
'It's just early season stuff we go through,' says Carvalho, a preseason NCAA Division I-AA All-American from the island of Kauai in Hawaii. 'We have to stick with what we do. We've got to get it going.'
Weber State focused entirely on stopping PSU's running game last weekend, especially with third-string quarterback Rob Freeman taking the snaps due to the absence of injured QBs Sawyer Smith and Tygue Howland. 'Stacking the box,' they call it in football.
Without Ali, the Vikings lack the explosive threat in the backfield to make teams pay for that. The running back-by-committee of Kelena Ho'okano, Olaniyi Sobomehin and Bobby McClintock bring power to the run game, but not much speed.
'He's a shiftier back,' St. John says of Ali, who, along with Smith, figure to be game-time decisions for Saturday.
Ali has practiced this week, but without pads.
A good running game depends on running backs sometimes allowing the scheme to get them yards, rather than forcing the issue, Walsh says. In turn, it's a psychological boost when the offensive linemen see backs gaining positive yardage consistently.
'It makes them feel better,' Walsh says.
The Vikings expect their running game to improve eventually. Tough opponents in New Mexico, California and Weber State have limited PSU's ground gains so far. Against Northern Colorado, the Vikings rushed for 182 yards in their 45-3 win.
'Against a team not good on defense, we mauled them,' Walsh says.
Montana is no Northern Colorado, however.