A decade ago, new Vikings football offensive coordinator Jeff Hoover was finding holes for running backs as Portland State’s offensive line coach. Now Hoover is charged with infusing life into a tepid and predictable offense that cost the Vikings some key wins last year as they stumbled to a 6-5 season on their way to another year bereft of postseason play.
In 2005 the Vikings offense rode senior tailback Joe Rubin as they gained 195 yards a game and scored 24 rushing TDs in 11 games. When Portland State was forced to pass, junior quarterback Sawyer Smith faltered at times, though he did put together several outstanding games as the season progressed.
To improve on Smith’s 54 percent completion rate and 14 touchdowns, Hoover must open up the offense and allow Smith to use his strong arm to hit receivers down field. However, for a run-based offense such as Portland State’s, the transition to a more balanced attack may take awhile.
The Vikings have suffered through sporadic play from their quarterbacks for years. Joe Wiser, Smith’s immediate predecessor, hovered only a few points above a 50 percent completion rate in his two years as a starter and in 2003 failed to record more touchdowns (16) than interceptions (17).
Smith had just nine interceptions last year but he averaged only 6.2 yards per attempt. As the season wore on, opposing defense started stacking the line to stop Rubin, daring the passing game to make a big play. By the end of the 2005 season Rubin was starting to wear down and the strategy was beginning to work.
In the season’s ninth game against Montana Rubin gained a pedestrian 101 yards. Smith had 199 yards but needed 35 attempts to get them. Rubin was shut out from scoring, as Smith and senior wide receiver Shaun Bodiford scored PSU’s only touchdowns on rushes.
Rubin was again held to modest numbers in the following week’s game against Idaho State, as he gained 113 yards on 34 attempts, just 3.3 yards per carry. Smith was sharp, passing for 201 yards on 19/32 passing with two TDs yet the Viks lost a heartbreaker 36-34.
It’s clear that Portland State is a school that must run the ball to be successful. That has been true since Hoover’s first years with the Vikings and it will remain true in his second tenure with the team. Say what you will about run-based offenses, but for PSU, the strategy seems to work.
When it doesn’t work is when that is all the Vikings can do. Football is a team game that must incorporate every element in order to achieve success. Hoover doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel, he just has to make sure the wheels keep turning with some success. Let Walsh worry about a defense that gave up 41 points to Montana State then shut out Northern Arizon 45-0 the next.
Let someone else worry about putting the fans in the bleachers, which at times last year were painfully empty. Run the ball. Pass the ball. Keep the opposing defenses off-balance and keep the fans entertained. Sounds simple. Yeah right. Good luck, Jeff.