Cal Poly runs the triple option with a twist on offense, blending elements of the pro-style and spread schemes into the mix.
Defensively, the Mustangs are more vanilla.
Cal Poly sticks to a fairly simple defensive scheme and simply attempts to out-execute the offense by keeping everything in front of them. Rarely do they allow the offense to connect on a deep throw.
“They are a base cover two team,” Portland State defensive coordinator Bruce Barnum told Viking Tales earlier this week. “They are going to run a 4-3 with cover two (two deep safeties). But they do mix it up when you get rolling on them. They’re going to jump to Cover 1 just to stop what you’re doing. They’re not a big blitz team, but things change every Saturday, so we’ll see what they come with.
“They’re more of a ‘we’re going to keep you in front us and tackle you and you’re going to make the mistakes. But they are aggressive.”
Portland State quarterback Kieran McDonagh has noted the enormous differences between the Washington State defense, which run the fire zone blitz, and Cal Poly’s scheme.
“They run totally different defenses,” McDonagh said. “Wazzou was a heavy fire zone three team and that’s how they try to create turnovers. We’re going against a more traditional defense this week. But the game does change depending on what happens. We have a pretty good game plan and we have the personnel. Coach Barnum has put together a pretty good package for this defense.”
Shaq Richard averaged an impressive 6.2 yards per carry at Washington State, but also fumbled in the red zone when Portland State was close to tying the score in the second quarter.
“Coach (John) Ely reminded (Richard) this week that we have to focus and take care of the football,” Barnum said. “Third downs and red zone, that’s what we’re locked into. We did some drills in practice to refocus on taking care of the football. If we do that, we’ll be in every game from now on.”
Steven Long, one of the most inspirational players on the Vikings, carried nine times for 36 yards in his most meaningful action of the season, and looks ready to shoulder some of the running game burden.
“He’s not the tallest guy we’ve got, but he’s a master at getting behind that puller (pulling guard) and I don’t think the defense can see him,” Barnum said. “He’s fun to watch.”
McDonagh will try to duplicate his performance at Washington State (31-of-51 passing for 269 yards and one TD), although he is unlikely to attempt that many passes again this season unless the Vikings fall behind by four touchdowns at halftime as they did in Pullman.
“I got into a good rhythm and taking what they were giving us,” McDonagh said. “We weren’t getting too greedy. We knew we had to chip our way down the field and play with tenacity up front.”
McDonagh contends the Vikings possess enough skill position players to go into any game feeling they are at least equal in talent with the opponent.
“We’ve seen we have the skill players and the guys that can compete against anybody,” McDonagh said. “We had guys going up against Pac 12 corners and they were doing a good job and making plays. We have to carry the same confidence that we had last week.”
Barnum experimented at Washington State by moving Paris Penn to receiver. He caught two passes before he was injured. McDonagh says the sophomore speedster has plenty of potential at the position.
“He is coming along. We’ve spent some time throwing to get his hands broken in,” McDonagh said. “(Catching passes) is not something he is used to yet. But he is doing what it takes to make plays and get that Big Sky championship. He knows he is a weapon in space and we’re going to try to get him the ball out there.”
FIVE KEY PLAYERS
1. DE Sadat Sulleyman and Brandon Tobias – When you face a triple option team, the quarterback is normally reading the defensive end. They must stay disciplined and refrain from crashing down. If they do, it will leave acres of space on the outside.
2. QB Kieran McDonagh – He threw the ball well at times at Washington State. He must make enough plays to keep the offense on the field without committing silly turnovers.
3. RB Shaq Richard – What’s the best way to keep a triple offense off the field? Churn out first downs running the football. If he succeeds, that should open up the passing game.
4. OLB Brandon Brody – Heim and Corey Crowder – Option teams live on the edge. See #1 above.
5. QB/WR Paris Penn – The most exciting offensive player in the Big Sky must stay healthy and make some plays with his feet.
FIVE KEYS TO VICTORY
1. Stick to the assignments on defense – Defending the option is all about staying disciplined on defense and doing your job.
2. Take away the passing game – Cal Poly wants to mix in a few passes, so if PSU takes that aspect of the Mustangs’ game away, defending the option could be easier.
3. Convert Third Downs – Always a key for an offense staying on the field.
4. Run the Football – Shaq Richard has put together back-to-back good games. Cal Poly has shown its vulnerable to the run in the first two games, allowing 257.5 yards per game to New Mexico State and South Dakota State.
5. Win The Turnover Battle – I know this sounds like a broken record, but finishing with a positive turnover margin is an absolutely necessity whenever you play on the road.
BIG SKY CONFERENCE SCHEDULE (Sat. Sept. 20)
Eastern Washington at Montana State, 1:10 p.m.(ROOT SPORTS)
Northern Arizona at South Dakota, 2:05 p.m.
Montana at North Dakota State, 2:35 p.m. (ESPN Gameplan; ESPN3).
Northern Colorado at Northern Iowa, 4:05 p.m.
Stony Brook at North Dakota, 6:05 p.m. (Fox College Sports; Watch Big Sky)
Weber State at Stephen F. Austin, 6:05
Menlo at Sacramento State, 6:05 (Watch Big Sky)
Portland State at Cal Poly, 6:05 (Watch Big Sky)
Southern Utah at Fresno State, 7:05 (Mountain West Digital Network)
(Times Local to Site)