As Viking football prepares for a pivotal game this weekend, the question on everyone’s mind is “can the defense get the job done?”
The defense has had some trouble this season in various areas, most notably in stopping the rush. It has allowed 15 touchdowns on rushes so far this season, with many of them coming on long runs. Because of this, the onus will be on Portland State’s defense when the Viks take on the Sacramento State Hornets at PGE Park this Saturday.
Two weeks ago, the Hornets lost star quarterback Ryan Leadingham to a broken wrist, bringing in backup Blake Mori and shifting the focus of the offense to tailback Tyronne Gross. In that time, Mori has completed 50 passes out of 86 attempts for 612 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. Gross has rushed for 706 yards and seven touchdowns this season and leads the Big Sky with 117.7 yards per game.
Given the situation of a week run defense put up by the Vikings, PSU defensive coordinator Greg Lupfer is planning on the Hornets relying on their running game given the situation.
“With their quarterback being out and them having the tailback they have, and the yards we’ve given up rushing, I imagine they’ll come out and try to jam it right down our throat,” he said.
But he’s not worried, or at least didn’t seem that way after practice Wednesday. He knows his defense has some problems but appeared confident that those problems have been identified.
One is letting an opponent’s offense break 14 points in a game. The defense set a goal this season to limit its opposition to 14 points but has only done it once against Stephen S. Austin on Oct. 4. The Vikings have allowed two teams, Fresno State and Big Sky rival Eastern Washington, to post 40-plus-point games. They have also allowed Northern Arizona University and Texas A&M-Kingsville 20-plus-point games, but won both.
Lupfer identified another problem – a lack of identity.
“We started this deal about two weeks ago, ‘trying to create our identity,'” he said. “And our identity as a defense depends on which defense shows up – the type that is flying around and tackling well, and knocking the heck out of people, creating turnovers, or the defense that is running slow and not tackling well like the one that showed up at EWU.
“Right now we’re trying to create an identity of playing hard, tackling well, creating turnovers, and we can’t do that half the time. We’ve got to do that for four quarters, and it’s been a long time since we’ve played four quarters together. If we do that, the margin in the game is going to be a lot to a little, and we’re going to have a lot.”
The cornerstone of that identity, and any solid defense, is the defensive line. That is especially true this weekend against a large offensive line like Sac State. Lupfer said his guys have to play well up front, and that the secondary can’t allow any big plays, which has happened once or twice this season. And the defense might have begun to find its identity with Andrew Dorsey, a new addition to the program this year. He came in as a linebacker and now has seemed to find his spot, at least in Lupfer’s eyes, anchoring the D-line with Josh Ratliff, the other defensive-end.
But other than sticking with Dorsey for the third week in a row, Lupfer isn’t making any changes.
“I’m not changing anything,” he said. “What we’ve done in the past has been successful, and it just comes down to execution and tackling. So I’m not changing anything. We’re going to line up, play football, run hard to the ball, we’re going to tackle well; if we do that we’ll win by a good margin.”