Standing composed and confident on the Stott Community Field following Portland State’s short walk-through Friday morning, the glimmering smile on Tygue Howland’s face was tough to miss. The beaming grin that the junior quarterback owned followed a few short words that encapsulate his more than three years in the South Park Blocks.
Standing composed and confident on the Stott Community Field following Portland State’s short walk-through Friday morning, the glimmering smile on Tygue Howland’s face was tough to miss.
The beaming grin that the junior quarterback owned followed a few short words that encapsulate his more than three years in the South Park Blocks.
“I’ve been waiting three years for this,” Howland said.
The this Howland is referring to is, of course, the Vikings’ matchup with Western Oregon Saturday at 1:05 p.m. at PGE Park.
And the reason for Howland’s eagerness is after being plagued by injuries his entire career at Portland State-completing only 13 passes and appearing in a total of three games-he has another chance to play.
Despite the lack of on-field experience, offensive coordinator Darrell “Mouse” Davis anointed Howland the frontrunner for the starting quarterback position early in camp and gave him the nod more than a week before the season opener.
There is no doubt that Howland is the most experienced signal caller in the fold for the Vikings, however, that does not mean he has nothing to prove.
Aside from the men in charge, head coach Jerry Glanville and Davis, Howland is likely facing the most critics heading into the game and therefore has tons to prove against Western Oregon.
This fails to faze the unflappable Howland, who has enjoyed an excellent camp and appears more prepared than ever to take the reins and guide the Vikings.
“If you are worried about that, you shouldn’t be playing,” Howland said of the notion of getting injured again. “I probably won’t sleep much tonight. I’m just ready for it to start.”
The truth is Howland’s need to prove himself permeates throughout the Portland State locker room, capturing every player and coach in its sweeping wrath.
When camp opened several weeks ago, all of the chatter was about how young the Vikings were after losing 25 senior to graduation, not renewing 12 players’ scholarships and bringing in more than 40 newcomers to compensate.
While that talk has been tempered as the weeks have passed, Glanville has voiced his disappointment with the team’s progress several times and even wished less than two days before the matchup with Western Oregon that it was a preseason tilt. “The problem with coaching new people is you wish it was a preseason game,” Glanville said. “Young freshmen make errors and mistakes.”
As much as Glanville may desire a look-see at his young squad, Saturday’s game with Division II opponent Western Oregon is the real deal. The hits will be potent, the strategy authentic and the result permanent.
All week the Vikings have been careful not to underestimate the Wolves, throwing out such compliments as calling Western Oregon “hard-nosed” and raving about some of the athletes on its roster.
Glanville pointed out Thursday that Western Oregon, who returns 17 starters from a 9-2 team, is “very well coached” and will show the Vikings an abundance of schemes.
On the offensive side of the ball, other than the fact that Western Oregon plays a pro-style offense, the Wolves are quite a mystery.
The Western Oregon enigma is greatest at quarterback, where it is an understatement to say that the team has options.
It is conceivable that up to four players could be taking the snaps from under center Saturday, with sophomore Brady Lovell looking like the frontrunner to start and take the majority of the center-quarterback exchanges.
Lovell appeared in four games a season ago and is tabbed to be a quick, athletic quarterback that is not afraid to run out of the backfield. Against Humboldt State last season, he rushed 10 times for 33 yards and a touchdown.
Behind Lovell are three quarterbacks, Josh Riddle, A.J. Robinson and Cory Bean, each with a chance to see the field. Riddle actually started for Mississippi State last season before tearing an anterior cruciate ligament.
“We will have to adjust the calls to which QB is on the field,” Glanville said.
Another pressure point will be containing the Wolves’ rushing attack, headlined by sophomore DJ Jackson and junior Ken Kuenzi. The duo combined for nearly 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
At wide receiver, starters senior Isaiah Smith and sophomore Jake Zeutenhorst are a pair of lanky targets that could give the Vikings’ much smaller cornerbacks, senior Reggie Jones and freshman Deshawn Shead, some problems.
Damarco Ballard, a 6-foot-6 junior, is another wide out with the athletic ability to give the Vikings fits if he is on his game.
With only one returning starter on the offensive line, Western Oregon’s ability to protect the quarterback and run block will be absolutely crucial against the superb Portland State linebacking crew and burgeoning defensive line.
“We’re ready” said senior inside linebacker Andy Schantz, the leader of the undisputed Portland State defense. “This is a pretty important game for us and we’re going up against a really good team.”
Expect that Vikings to blitz freely in an attempt to expose the Wolves’ young offensive line. But also expect Western Oregon to run a fair amount of screen plays and operate a balanced attack that gives the Vikings a lot of different looks.
As far as the Vikings’ offense goes, even with a whole slew of new faces, Davis and Howland both believe Portland State is ready for the Wolves.
In the backfield, the Vikings maintain some of the usual suspects with Howland taking the snaps and junior fullback Bobby McClintock lining up behind him.
McClintock has racked up some preseason honors, being named to the Big Sky all-conference team and to the College Sporting News Preseason All-America second team. Needless to say, McClintock is expected to perform wonderfully this season and could be the key to the Vikings’ run-and-shoot scheme.
While McClintock is supposed to provide the run, the Portland State wide receivers are billed to bring the shoot portion of the offense.
Most of the new faces reside on the periphery, as the Vikings top eight pass catchers from a year ago are not on the roster any longer.
But Davis is not bothered by that reality.
“We have a lot more talent as a group than last year,” Davis said. “I feel good about this group. We have more speed.”
When the Vikings quickly ran through a two-minute drill at practice Friday morning, junior Daniel Wolverton and senior Ty Coleman were lined up outside while juniors Aaron Woods and Mario D’Ambrosio held down the slot positions.
This should be a snapshot of how the Vikings start the season Saturday.
“This year you could throw a five-yard completion and it could go 60 yards down the field,” Howland said in comparing the speed of the current receivers to last year’s group.
Offensive line has been another point of contention throughout the off-season, however, after having only a handful of hogs up front in the spring, the Vikings seem to have made great strides.
The unit features returning players junior Moses Punzal and senior Clayton Rios, slated to play the guard spots, blossoming tackles junior Matt Leunen and senior Landan Laurusaitis, and transfer Tyler Staley at center.
Howland is not sure how the Wolves will attack the Portland State offense, but he is leaning towards the thought that Western Oregon will take a conservative cover two or four approach.
“It’s hard to see what they are going to do against a spread offense,” Howland said. “They don’t blitz much but they could blitz 40 to 50 times. You just don’t know what you will get.”
Look for Western Oregon junior middle linebacker JT Gilmore, who led team with 122 total tackles last season, to make his share of plays Saturday.
And senior tackle Matt Cox was the team leader with 10 sacks a year ago and 19 tackles for a loss, making him a threat to disturb the backfield if the Wolves begin to unload the blitz packages.
With all the uncertainty regarding how the Western Oregon defense will react to the run-and-shoot, Howland maintains that he wants to get an early peek at what the Wolves have in store for Portland State.
“I want the ball first,” said an overly eager Howland, “so we can score really quickly.”
Notes: -Two former Vikings players return to Portland for the season opener but in Western Oregon uniforms.
After playing a year under Glanville and Davis, senior offensive tackle Cody Feakin and senior middle linebacker Ronnie Fa’avae know the Portland State attack better than most of the young Vikings players that have only practiced the schemes.
Expect the two former Vikings to play with a chip on their shoulders and to have the rest of the Wolves players up to speed on what to anticipate from Portland State.
-Junior free safety Jordan Brown was dressed in street clothes and on the sidelines during the Vikings abbreviated practice session Friday morning.
On Thursday, Brown hobbled to the sidelines and looked to be in excruciating pain. The athletic, heady junior is rehabilitating several torn ligaments in his left knee and has also suffered from a hamstring injury in the same leg during camp.
Brown’s status for Saturday’s game is still unknown.