Preview: Viks battle Mother Nature, Cal Poly’s triple option

By Scott Hood  Oct 14 2016, 8:49 pm — Leave a comment
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What: Cal Poly (3-2) at Portland State (2-4)

Where: Providence Park, (18,627), Portland, OR

When: Sat., Oct. 15, 2:30 p.m. PT

TV/Radio: No TV; Rip City Radio 620 AM (Tom Hewitt and Mike Lund); Live stream on watchbigsky.com

Mother Nature and the triple option unleash their fury Saturday afternoon at Providence Park as showers and  heavy wind gusts (25+ m.p.h.) are expected to descend upon the Rose City, making playing conditions less than ideal.

Dealing with the major storm striking the Pacific Northwest this weekend, though, could be the easy part for Portland State as they look to remain unbeaten at home this season in Bruce Barnum’s second year at the helm.

The Vikings are 6-2 at home since the beginning of the magical 2015 season, 4-1 against Big Sky opponents. The home team has won every game Portland State has played this season.

Cal Poly, yet another Vikings opponent coming off a bye week, operates one of the most prolific triple option rushing attacks in FCS under head coach. The Mustangs lead the Big Sky in rushing offense (330.6 yards per game) by a wide margin with Portland State second at 237.2 ypg. The Mustangs led all of FCS with 387.3 rushing yards per game in 2015.

Fullback Joe Protheroe leads Cal Poly’s triple-option offense with 557 rushing yards and five touchdowns in only four games. Protheroe missed the Mustangs’ last game but is expected to return against Portland State.

Mustangs running back Kori Garcia has 49 carries for 344 yards and two touchdowns, while fifth-year senior quarterback Dano Graves has rushed 70 times for 335 yards and four scores. Cal Poly’s triple option is based upon myriad running backs, formations and deception.

Graves has waited patiently for the better part of the last two years for his opportunity to be Cal Poly’s starting quarterback as he backed up the graduated Chris Brown. Graves, who attended the Air Force Academy for two years before transferring to Cal Poly, enters his senior season with 17 games of experience and a firm understanding of the Mustangs’ triple-option offense.

Barnum offered Graves in high school, so he is very familiar with his skill set.

“He threw the ball all over the field (in high school), so when you add in the triple option, that’s dangerous,” Barnum said. “He runs that option as a serious dual threat quarterback in that offense. The speed of that offense, you can’t duplicate that on the practice field. We’ll have to adjust to it.”

Since the two teams combine to average 104.4 rushing attempts and 567.8 rushing yards per game, predicting the schematic direction of this game is easy.

Portland State will counter Cal Poly’s triple option  with one of the most balanced rushing attacks in the Big Sky spearheaded by Nate Tago (476 yards on 86 carries), quarterback Alex Kuresa (414 yards on 84 carries) and Paris Penn (394 yards on 60 carries).

That trio has combined for 81.8 percent of Portland State’s rushing attempts in the first six games of the 2016 season (230 of 281).

The Vikings ran the ball 58 times for a school-record 531 rushing yards in the win over Idaho State two weeks ago before relying on a more balanced attack (42 rushes, 25 passes) in a 14-10 loss at Weber State last weekend when the Vikings had a chance for a late touchdown to come away with the win but couldn’t convert a fourth-and-four play deep in Weber State territory.

Portland State has run the ball at least 42 times in every game this season and attempted more than 26 passes just once (at Southern Utah). Will the Vikings relay predominantly on the run against with rain forecasted throughout the afternoon? Cal Poly is third in the Big Sky in rushing defense (128.0 ypg), ninth in passing defense (249.6).

Defending the Cal Poly triple option offense is made more difficult because they are a legitimate threat to complete a pass when they do decide to throw the football, which happens about 11 times per game. Statistically, Cal Poly is last in the Big Sky Conference in passing offense (145.8 ypg), but they rank first in passing efficiency has their quarterbacks have completed 40-of-63 passes (63.5 completion pct.) for 729 yards, a Big Sky-leading 18.23 yards per completion and an impressive 11.57 yards per attempt.

In other words, even though Cal Poly relies extensively upon the run, they are averaging more than a first down every time the Mustangs quarterback drops back to pass.

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NOTES

— The Portland State defense has improved as the season has progressed. The Vikings have given up an average of 320 yards and 17.0 points in the last two contests, forcing three turnovers and breaking up 13 passes. PSU has played six true freshmen on defense this season due to numerous injuries: DT Anthony Del Toro, DE Kenton Bartlett, DT Sione Taumoe’anga, CB Montre Brown, LB Devin Thompson and LB Mason Vega.

— Oregon transfer Chris Seisay joined PSU in late August as a wide receiver but moved to the defensive side of the ball for the last three games because of injuries. Seisay will likely stay on defense as he has amassed 17 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, four pass breakups and an interception in the last three games.

— Saturday marks the third time in four weeks Portland State faces an opponent coming off a bye. Cal Poly is 3-2 overall with marquee wins over Top 10 foes Montana and South Dakota State.

— How evenly matched has the PSU-Cal Poly series been over the years? The all-time series is tied 11-11 and includes 11 games when the teams were NCAA II members of the old Western Football Conference. PSU leads the series in Portland, 6-5.

— Saturday’s game is the fifth meeting between PSU and Cal Poly since the Mustangs joined the Big Sky in 2012 and the first official Big Sky conference game in Portland.

— PSU-Cal Poly Connections: Former Portland State head coach Tim Walsh (1993-2006) has led Cal Poly since 2009. He compiled a 90-68 overall record at PSU, while leading the Vikings to four post-season appearances (1993, 1994, 1995, 2000). Additionally, Cal Poly offensive coordinator Juston Wood was an All-Conference quarterback for the Vikings from 1999-2002. Cal Poly wide receivers coach Jim Craft (1996-99) played for Walsh at Portland State and was a Vikings assistant coach for eight years.

— After committing 15 turnovers in three consecutive losses at San Jose State, Washington and Southern Utah, Portland State has settled down in the last two games with zero turnovers against Idaho State and Weber State. PSU forced three turnovers in those games for a plus-3 turnover margin in the last eight quarters of football.

WEEK 7 BIG SKY SCHEDULE (Sat. Oct. 15)

Southern Utah at North Dakota, noon

Montana State at Weber State, 12:30 p.m.

Sacramento State at Montana, 1:30 p.m.

Cal Poly at Portland State, 2:30 p.m.

Idaho State at Northern Arizona, 4 p.m.

Northern Colorado at UC Davis, 4 p.m.

(All Times Pacific)

BIG SKY STANDINGS (After Week 6)

Eastern Washington 3-0

North Dakota 3-0

Weber State 2-0

Southern Utah 2-1

Montana 1-1

Northern Colorado 1-1

Cal Poly 1-1

Idaho State 1-1

Portland State 1-2

Northern Arizona 1-2

Sacramento State 1-2

Montana State 0-3

UC Davis 0-3

Scott Hood

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