This Saturday, the Vikings football team will face the biggest challenge of the season. The top ranked, undefeated Montana Grizzlies come to PGE Park in a tough Big Sky Conference match-up.
The Grizzlies, who are also defending their crown as national champions, come into Portland on the heels of a 21-game winning streak. The Grizzlies (7-0 overall, 2-0 conference) have beaten the Vikings (5-2 overall, 2-1 conference) in the last two seasons and won the last six out of the seven games, leading 9-7 here in Portland. The Viks’ last win over the Grizzlies was in 1999 during a 51-48 overtime battle in Portland.
Montana leads the all-time series with Portland State, 19-10, and the Big Sky Series, 5-1.
Last season in Missoula, the Grizzlies opened up early on the 2001 Vikings team, which was struggling in first-half play, scoring two touchdowns in the first five minutes of the game. Combined with the slow starts the Vikings had been experiencing and the two quick scores, Portland State never had an opportunity to get in it.
This season, Montana hasn’t had quite as effective a rushing offense as last year, averaging 140.6 yards a game to last seasons 182.6. The Grizzlies’ leading rusher, David Gober, has only 336 yards with three touchdowns and averages 67.2 yards a game. Montana’s other two backs have just over 250 yards each.
Although its running is less than par from last season, Montana’s passing game has improved, with a 257.2 yards a game average to last years 236.7. Montana’s John Edwards leads his offense in the Big Sky with 36.4 points a game and 397.7 yards of total offense per game. Edwards has thrown for an average of 257 yards a game and 10 touchdowns. His primary target has been Jon Talmage, who has 386 yards and four touchdowns.
The Grizzlies offense wins games, but the defense wins championships. Montana’s defense is “as good as it gets,” Vikings head coach Tim Walsh stated in a recent press release.
“They come at you from different angles and put on a lot of zone pressure,” Walsh continued.
The Grizzlies defense has broken through its opponents line for 29 sacks on the season and picked off opposing quarterbacks eight times.
Vikings quarterback Juston Wood will have his hands full with the Grizzlies defense, but with no interceptions in his last three games, Wood can handle the Griz’s secondary as long as he stays calm and under control. Wood has got the Vikings going with 329 yards of total offense per game and has thrown for an average of 157.6 yards a game with six touchdowns. Much of Wood’s passing goes to Jesse Levin, who has 362 yards and a touchdown.
On the ground, PSU’s Ryan Fuqua has dominated. Fuqua has rushed for 1,000 yards already and averages 142.9 yards a game with six touchdowns.
Defensively for the Vikings, they have picked off the opposition nine times, one that was returned for a touchdown.
As long as the offensive line can create a small hole in the defense, then Fuqua can find some more room in the secondary. Once the run gets established, Wood can go to work through the air and put up the points the Vikings will need to subdue the Grizzlies.
The defense for the Vikings will also have to keep Montana’s high-flying offense out of the end zone and off the scoreboard – a not-so-easy task. The Grizzlies have outscored their opponents 235 to 113. A majority of the scoring comes in the first half, with the first quarter being the Grizzlies best and unfortunately PSU’s worst. PSU usually picks up the tempo in the second quarter, but the Grizzlies don’t let up from their high scoring.
The Viks need to attack fast and hold strong the entire game, but especially in the first half where Montana usually establishes control of the game.
“We cannot be a slow starter this week,” Walsh stated in a pre-game press release.
The game is at PGE Park this Saturday, where a large Montana crowd is expected. Kickoff is at 6:07 p.m.