Three and out

Leaning back in his office chair following a soggy, drizzly morning practice Thursday, head coach Jerry Glanville spoke with confidence and certainty when he claimed that his 1-3 team was excelling in many facets of the game.

Leaning back in his office chair following a soggy, drizzly morning practice Thursday, head coach Jerry Glanville spoke with confidence and certainty when he claimed that his 1-3 team was excelling in many facets of the game.

It is likely that many would look at Portland State’s record after four games and determine there is little the Vikings are doing right heading into their matchup with Eastern Washington at PGE Park Saturday.

But Glanville disagrees. He believes there is only one major thing his team still needs to correct. Third-down execution.

“We have to be better on third down,” Glanville said.

In fact, Glanville said that third-down efficiency has been all the Portland State coaching staff has emphasized this week, a tact being employed in hopes of correcting Portland State’s woeful performance this season.

On offense, the Vikings rank died last in the Big Sky Conference in third-down conversion rate, sputtering to an atrocious 29.6 percent clip.

Conversely, the top teams in the conference on third down–Montana, Sacramento State and Weber State, respectively–own a combined 10-4 record, with each maintaining above a 42 percent conversion rate this season.

Dropped balls, overthrown passes and penalties have been the chief culprits leading Portland State’s trouble with converting key third-down plays, which Glanville believes must be corrected for the Vikings to string together a couple wins.

“We have to win on third down on both sides of the ball, and we’ll be a good football team,” Glanville said. “Nobody in football harps on third downs more per week than me. “

Injuries and a case of the missed tackles have plagued the Portland State’s defense, which is allowing opponents to convert on 43.3 percent of third-down attempts.

Like the offense, Glanville is adamant–that trend must change for the Vikings’ fortunes to do the same.

And, according to the players, the team’s fortunes must change immediately if they have their sights set on salvaging their season with a playoff berth, especially with a formidable opponent such as Eastern Washington coming to the Rose City.

“We just know that we need to win at all costs,” junior quarterback Tygue Howland said of the Vikings’ game with Eastern Washington Saturday.

Howland and many of the other players who don the Portland State colors have emphatically stated that the playoffs start now for the Vikings, because it is unlikely for a two-loss Big Sky team to earn a spot in the post-season.

The players decided playoff time was now at a players-only meeting last Sunday following a loss to Sacramento State the day before, and the Eagles are Portland State’s first test with the renewed sense of purpose.

But Howland knows it will be a challenge against the Eagles.

“They’re really a sound football team,” Howland said. “They might be the best team we’ve played.”

Howland, who is still unsure if he or sophomore Drew Hubel will start Saturday, expects the Eastern Washington defense to show a variety of zone formations, forcing Portland State to attempt short passes and “dink and dunk” its way down the field.

The good news for the Portland State quarterbacks is that the Eagles will likely apply little pressure when in the zone formations. However, Howland said it will be crucial for the Vikings’ receivers to find holes in the secondary.

While the Vikings have one of the most potent passing games in the nation, Eastern Washington is not far behind.

The Eagles rank second to Portland State in the Big Sky with almost 327 passing yards a game and are the top scoring team at over 36 points a contest. This poses a threat for a Portland State defense that has had its share of woes this season.

Glanville said Portland State’s main focus is junior signal caller Matt Nichols. In four games, Nichols has proved to be one of the best quarterbacks at the football bowl subdivision level and has a 137 passer rating to go along with his 10 touchdown passes.

Glanville marvels at the fact that the Eagles made Nichols the starter a few years ago as a freshman and surrounded him with young receivers–now juniors, Tony Davis, Aaron Boyce and Brynsen Brown–so the offensive could grow together.

“That’s exactly what we did in Hawaii,” Glanville said. “It makes for a good offense.”

Like the Vikings, Eastern Washington runs the ball sparingly, with senior Dale Morris leading the way with nearly a 60-yard per-game average and a pair of touchdowns this season.

With a high-scoring offense and serviceable defense, Eastern Washington should be tough challenge for the Vikings.

Just ask offensive coordinator Mouse Davis.

“This team is a good offensive and defensive team,” Davis reminded his players at the end of Thursday’s practice. “What are we? A good offensive and defensive team, God dammit.”