Portland State faces make-or-break game

PSU’s 2005 football season reaches its make-or-break point this Saturday, as the Vikings face Big Sky conference rival Montana State at PGE Park. Having lost their last two games to fall to 3-3, the Vikings need this win if they have any hopes of fulfilling the promise that they began this year with.


Like every other game this season for the Vikings, it will all come down to running back Joe Rubin and PSU’s ability to throw the ball successfully. Unfortunately for the Viks, the former has been a blessing while the latter has been a curse.


Rubin leads all of college football in rushing. Last week, in PSU’s 21-14 loss to Boise State, he managed 151 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. For the year, Rubin has amassed an astounding 1,005 yards with 10 touchdowns in only six games. He has been the sole reliable force in a PSU offense that has yet to show cohesion. Considering that Montana State gave up 232 rushing yards in its win last week against Weber State, Rubin should be able to eat up the Bobcats defense. 


On the flipside, quarterback Sawyer Smith is coming off two consecutive poor performances. His average passer rating for the previous two games is a lowly 51.5. Smith has been fenced-in by a short, scripted passing game. As a result, his yards per completion average on the season is stuck at 5.1


To win against Montana State, the Vikings have to play up. The Bobcats are 4-2 on the year, tied for first in the Big Sky (2-0) and have racked up three straight wins. They have a well-paced, well-constructed offense and a tenacious defense that has saved the team in their two close, recent victories.


Montana State is led by quarterback Travis Lulay. Lulay, who has thrown for 1393 yards and eight touchdowns this year, has a strong, accurate arm and may be the best quarterback in the Big Sky. More troubling for PSU is the fact that Lulay is a threat to run, having piled up 328 rushing yards to go along with his impressive passing numbers.


Lulay’s choice target is wide receiver Tramaine Murray. Murray has hauled in 510 yards this season, matched by a solid 17.0 yards per reception.


For PSU, Saturday’s game against Montana State is a chance for the Vikings to prove themselves. With a win, PSU will have a chance to both right a sinking ship and build up enough momentum to make a late-season run for the Big Sky title. With a loss, the Vikings’ record will fall into the negative and the questions that have arisen in the last month will only become more relevant.


PSU’s reliance on Rubin and its running game has proven costly in their last two losses.

While Rubin has undoubtedly been a workhorse, opposing defenses have begun to stack the line, based on the knowledge that the Vikings lack a convincing passing game.


For the Vikings to be victorious, they must be able to pass the ball with more efficiency and more of a downfield threat. Look for wide receiver Shaun Bodiford to have a break out game if Smith is actually allowed to use the strong arm that he possesses. And look for PSU’s record to jump to 4-3 if Smith and the Viking defense can hold their own and Rubin is able to put up another super-human game.