Friday, September 14, 2012

Washington takes on Portland State for first ever meeting

By Kshell

This Saturday the Portland State Vikings(1-1,0-1) travel to Seattle to take on the Washington Huskies(1-1,0-0) for the first time ever. The Vikings are led by third year head coach Nigel Burton who led the Vikings to their first winning season since 2006 when he guided the Vikings to a 7-4 record last year. Burton is a former Husky for those who don't know as I talked about him yesterday as he is facing his old team. Burton was a big part of the Huskies upset win in 1996 over BYU who was led by quarterback Steve Sarkisian. Now Sarkisian has a chance to get even with Burton and more important turn this season around. The Huskies are at their lowest point in the Sarkisian era fresh off of a 41-3 defeat to #3 LSU Tigers as injuries on the offensive line continue to add up. The Huskies will have a challenge stopping the Vikings run which under Burton runs the pistol attack.

Last year the Vikings were third in the nation in FCS in running the football. This year they added Maryland transfer DJ Adams. While at Maryland as a freshman Adams ran for 225 yards(3.5 YPC) with 11 touchdowns. As a sophomore he ran for 174 yards(4.4 YPC) with four touchdowns. This year with Portland State he has ran for 226 yards(7.5 YPC) with three touchdowns. In a 45-37 loss last week to North Dakota saw Adams with a huge game. He ran for 144 yards on only 16 carries(9.0 YPC) with a touchdown. He also caught three passes for 31 yards in the game as well. His backup is Shaquille Richard who has ran for 77 yards(3.5 YPC) on the season. Richard also has three receptions for 117 yards including an 80 yard touchdown on a screen. The Vikings will hope to run the football to control the clock especially against a Huskies team who has allowed 441 yards rushing(220.5 yards per game) on 92 carries(4.8 YPC) with five touchdowns.

Meanwhile the Washington Huskies are finding out that life after Chris Polk has been a lot more difficult transition than life without Jake Locker last year. Last week the Huskies as a team ran for 26 yards on 24 carries(1.1 YPC). Bishop Sankey so far this year has been terrible as has his offensive line. For the year Sankey has 82 yards rushing on 30 carries(2.7 YPC) with a touchdown and a fumble in the red zone. He has four receptions for 30 yards this year. With Sankey struggling the Huskies could give some carries to Erich Wilson who this year has ran for 47 yards on just six carries(7.8 YPC). The Huskies must find a way to run the ball or quarterback Keith Price will get killed back there. If the Huskies can't run the ball effectively against an FCS school then they aren't running the ball at all this year. Look for Sarkisian to try and get the run game going so the Huskies have some positive momentum heading into what is shaping up to be the biggest game of his career when the Huskies host Stanford on September 27th on a Thursday.

Unlike last year the Vikings have a quarterback who can throw the ball. On the year Kieran McDonagh is 29 for 57(50.9%) passing for 493 yards(8.6 YPA) with five touchdowns to only two interceptions. McDonagh has also ran for 27 yards and has only been sacked twice all year. His favorite target is Justin Monahan who missed the first game but had a monster game last week. Monahan caught six passes for 156 yards(26.0 YPC) with two touchdowns last week. Another running back Justin Lilley has two receptions for 76 yards including a 40 yard touchdown. Under Burton the Vikings run a lot of Pistol with big plays in the passing game as they like to feature their three running backs in the passing game. They also have slot receiver Keitrell Anderson who has seven receptions for 41 yards(5.9 YPC) as he leads the team in receptions. The Vikings offense so far this year is averaging 37.5 PPG as they can beat you with throwing and running the ball.

Sarkisian is looking to get his passing attack on track which has been held out of the end zone for seven straight quarters. The Huskies strength the passing game led by Keith Price is the Vikings weakness. Last week North Dakota quarterback Marcus Hendrickson came off the bench to throw for 294 yards on 16-25(64.0%) passing with a school record six touchdowns. Price needs a bounce back after suffering his worst game as a Husky. For the year Price is 42-71(59.2%) passing for 379 yards(5.3 YPA) with one touchdown and one interception. His leading receivers are tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins who has 15 receptions for 133 yards(8.9 YPC). Kasen Williams has nine receptions for 94 yards(10.4 YPC) with a touchdown. While Kevin Smith has six receptions for 68 yards(11.3 YPC). The Huskies offense needs to make more explosive plays as their longest play of the year is a Price completion to Kevin Smith last week for 22 yards. The Huskies have only one run over 20 yards this year and only three passes over 20 yards this year. Hopefully Sarkisian opens up the play book a little so the Huskies offense can get some confidence going.

With all due respect to Portland State this game isn't about them. This game is about the Washington Huskies finding their offensive identity as they try to head into Pac-12 play with some momentum. The disaster down in LSU counts as only one loss and if the Huskies can regain their confidence back going 2-1 into conference play that is all anyone could have asked for. The Vikings will have upset on their mind as the Eastern Washington Eagles who the Vikings defeated last year nearly defeated the Huskies last year and the Washington State Cougars last week. This is a big opportunity for Burton to showcase himself as a head coach to his former school and throughout the country. With that said this shouldn't be a close game and if the Huskies have any ounce of pride they'll destroy the Vikings in the first half. The Huskies must find their offensive identity soon as they face four straight ranked opponents after this week. Should be a fun one Saturday afternoon as the Vikings take on the Huskies for the first time ever.

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