Vikings bring high-powered ‘O’ to Bobcat Stadium

BOZEMAN — Rob Ash likes to describe Portland State’s version of the Pistol offense as an old fashion I-formation, with one thing missing.

“The quarterback,” says Ash, who appreciates ‘70s-style power football as much as the high-flying, high-powered brand his Montana State team plays in the early 21st century. “It looks just like a team lined up with an I-back and a fullback, except the player that looks like a fullback is actually playing quarterback.”

The fullback look-alike in the Vikings backfield is, of course, quarterback Kieran McDonagh. The 6-1, 240 lb signal caller engineers PSU’s option-oriented attack brilliantly, marching the Vikings up and down the field at a clip of 440.9 yards and 35.4 points per game.

While most option offenses rely on the ground game, PSU head coach Nigel Burton has fashioned a truly multiple threat attack, with its yardage nearly evenly split between the ground and air. McDonagh throws for 222.1 yards a game, adding another 37.0 on the ground. PSU’s offensive balance doesn’t end with McDonagh. Running back DJ Adams rushes for 89.3 yards a game, right behind Bobcat Cody Kirk in the Big Sky rankings, and PSU boasts three players with at least 20 catches and two more with more than 15.

Rob Ash’s message regarding the 3-6 Vikings is simple. “I’m not looking at their record or how they did last week,” Ash said. “All I’m looking at is game film and stats. They look very, very good on film, and their stats tell me they are a productive, balanced team. They are a nightmare to prepare for.”

While the Vikings statistical profile on defense may not be as impressive as on the other side of the ball, Ash says that hasn’t been true lately. “They changed defensive coordinators mid-season, and they’ve really played well lately,” he says, pointing out that the Vikings allowed 41.5 yards per game in the season’s first four games but only 22.8 points in the last five games.

Ian Sluss’ spectacular play at linebacker has keyed PSU’s dramatic defensive turnaround. He came up with four turnovers in one game, three in a single quarter, and leads the team with 87 tackles, 9.5 for a loss, and also has two sacks, four interceptions, and four fumbles recovered. Jaycob Shoemaker and Khalil Bass have also been steady performers on that side of the ball.

A week after its 695-yard home effort against North Dakota, the MSU offense produced just enough yards and points to get the job done Saturday. DeNarius McGhee’s 105 yards marked his fewest as a Bobcat, and that Sacramento State contest stands as the only game in his illustrious college career without a touchdown pass. Saturday’s offensive star, Cody Kirk, batted the Hornets for 129 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

When the leaves fall and the winter chill begins to set in – which is expected in Bozeman this weekend – it’s a good time to have the running game kicking into gear. That is the case with the Bobcats, who have gained 606 yards on the ground in the past two games. That number is padded by the 436 North Dakota allowed, but with Cody Kirk healthy the Bobcats have not rushed for less than 100 yards in a game this season. Kirk enters Saturday’s game healthy, and has five rushing touchdowns in the last two games.

Kickoff Saturday is at 1:35 pm, but Bobcats fans are encouraged to arrive early for ceremonies celebrating the program’s 2012 senior class. MSU’s current seniors have won 34 games, most by a single group in school history.

— MSU Sports Information