The UND Football team heads out west on their first ever trip to Portland, OR since the move to FCS football to take on the Portland State Vikings. PSU is 3-4 on the year and 0-3 in Big Sky play. UND is sitting at 2-5 overall and 1-3 in Big Sky play. Game time is set for 3:05 CT and can be seen on WatchBigSky.com.
UND is coming off of their worst loss of the season, in our opinions. They got beat bad by Montana and Montana State earlier this season but the Sac State game was supposed to be a more even matchup, on paper at least. UND ended up losing 31-7 and was never really in the game. While the defense has shown flashes of improvement, the offense has been regressing. That will need to change in a hurry or they will not win another game this year. There will be opportunities vs. the Vikings defense but turnovers will be the key, once again.
UND Defense vs. PSU Offense
Portland State runs a pistol/spread offense, similar to many other Big Sky teams. They are averaging an impressive 34 pts/game and an even more impressive 537 total yds/game. PSU is pretty well balanced also, averaging 247 yds/game on the ground and 290 yds/game through the air. They have always had an explosive offense and this year is no different. Anyone who has watched Nevada-Reno run the Pistol will be familiar with PSU’s offense-very similar.
At the controls is sophomore QB Kieran McDonagh. McDonagh, 6’2″-245, is a load at QB as his size shows and is equally dangerous running the ball as he is passing it. Thus far in 2013, he has thrown for 1,723 yds and 13 TD’s but has been picked off 9 times. He has also ran for 287 yds and 3 TD’s. McDonagh is always a threat to run the ball, whether designed or not.
The guy we are most worried about is RB #10 DJ Adams. Adams, a former transfer from Maryland, is very elusive and has great speed. On the year he has an impressive 768 yards through the first 7 games. Adams put up 144 yds and a TD vs. UND last season. In our opinion, Adams is the best back in the Big Sky and one of the best in all of FCS.
McDonagh’s favorite targets in the passing game are his two tall receivers – 6’3″ Kasey Closs and 6’6″ Fresno State transfer Victor Dean. On year Closs has an impressive 36 catches for 722 yds and 5 TD’s. Dean is their big play red-zone threat. He has 15 catches for 333 yds and 5 TD’s. Both of these guys are constant mismatches for most secondaries and UND’s is no different. Special attention will need to be paid to their positioning in the formation.
If the UND defense cannot slow down Adams. initially, they will see a steady dose of him all game. That is first order of business for UND. One thing that PSU is known for and will certainly do this weekend is run multiple trick-plays early in the game. Whether it’s a flea-flicker or reverse pass, UND is going to see more than one. It seems to be there way of softening up the D and making them ‘think a bit’ early in the game. Defending these trick plays and not letting them get their heart started will be an early key to the game. Without safety Baylee Carr, who is injured again this week, UND will need safety Will Lewis to step up and make the checks vs. these multiple formations and unorthodox plays.
UND Offense vs PSU Defense
Portland State runs a 4-3 defense with heavy cover 4 and cover 1 tendencies, although they will play other coverages at times as well. Their defensive front is very active and the Vikings like to complement them with a linebacker or two in their 5 and 6-man pressures. Senior left defensive end and Boise State transfer #90 Nick Alexander is a headache for opposing right tackles. However, senior safety #21 Dean Faddis leads the team in tackles.
PSU is a -12 as a team for turnover margin. This rivals the UND -15 turnover margin. They also give up an average of 420 yards/game, with 230 yard of that coming through the air. Their defense has accumulated 18 sacks so far this season.
Last season, Marcus Hendrickson and the UND offense tore through the PSU secondary for 294 yds passing and 6 TDs. It led to the firing of the defensive coordinator following the game. If you don’t think that this will be in the back of Nigel Burton’s and the PSU defensive players minds, you are mistaken.
The UND offensive line has to improve on last week’s disaster in pass protection. It will not get any easier this week against a talented front 4 for PSU. We hope to see more Devin Barton at tackle. Darren Denuei and Joe Kleason need to be better this week, along with the play at center of Shea Walker. One thing you can bet on is that Portland State has seen the film and will be sending blitzes more often than not to test Mollberg’s decision making and the offensive line’s ability to pass protect.
We will be interested to see if the UND offense runs more RB screens and draws this week to try keep the Viking defense off balance and stop them from pinning their ears back with the blitzing packages. As we always state, some semblance of a running game will also be helpful for Joe Mollberg. Adam Shaugabay needs to get more carries in the power running game as a change of pace to Jake Miller.
We believe Nigel Burton has had this game circled on the calendar since they left The Alerus Center last September. His defense was embarrassed and exposed. He doesn’t want to just beat UND, he wants to blow them out. We expect trick plays and special teams fakes from Portland State in order to get their hearts started and jump on UND early. With how poor the UND offense has been lately it’s hard to think they will turn it around in one week, on the road vs. a talented team.
Portland State 34
North Dakota 20