In this week’s opponent Q&A, we talk with Jonathan Willis: one of the many fine contributors over at SB Nation’s G5 and FCS football site Underdog Dynasty. Jonathan mostly covers FCS over at UDD, so we thought he’d be a natural fit to help us preview Oregon State’s home opener this weekend against Portland State.
1. If there's one thing that Portland State has on its roster, it's experience. There's 14 returning starters listed. Who are some of the key returners for the Vikings this year?
Chris Seisay is a name Beavers fans might be familiar with. He came to Portland State as a transfer from Oregon and was the Vikings' best cornerback last season. He was very good in Portland State's opener against BYU, breaking up three passes and was a big part of why Tanner Mangum put up such pedestrian numbers.
Offensive tackle Randin Crecelius was named to the Big Sky's Preseason All-Conference team and is well-rounded as both a pass and run blocker. He has more mobility than you'd think from a guy his size and played well against BYU's defensive line last week.
2. What's the biggest difference between this PSU team and their team that went 3-8 last year?
A much better offseason and much lower expectations.
Last season, Portland State had two starters pass away prior to the start of the 2016 campaign. It's hard enough for a team to overcome tragedy once in the offseason, but twice was too much to ask. Although they started the season ranked in the Top 25, they quickly fell out of it and only beat a Division-II team and two bad Big Sky teams all season.
Things have been a lot more calm this offseason and the team is free from the burden of lofty expectations. No one is expecting much from a team starting a true freshman quarterback and that could work out in their favor.
The defensive line should be a lot better too. Portland State played four true freshmen along the line last season and that unit was gashed repeatedly. They held up well for three quarters against BYU, but the Cougars finally started to move the ball on the ground in the fourth quarter and were able to slowly grind out the game.
3. What was your biggest takeaway about Portland State from their 20-6 loss last week against BYU?
Portland State has some legitimately good cornerbacks. Seisay got a lot of the love, but the entire secondary played well. BYU's receivers could not beat these corners off the line and struggled to match their physicality. The top six cornerbacks on this team are all 6'0 or taller and can swallow up receivers if the referees allow them to be physical.
Donovan Olumba was particularly impressive. He was a walk-on last season and BYU seemed to target him in the early going. He was good in coverage and was usually able to jam the receiver at the line and run him off his route.
Two or three of BYU's big pass plays were passes that Mangum just threw up for grabs. He was fortunate that one of those passes wasn't intercepted.
4. What's the biggest thing that Oregon State needs to do offensively to secure a win against PSU?
Keep running the ball. Portland State still has a very young defensive line and while they played well against BYU, playing FBS teams in back-to-back weeks is going to take a toll.
Davond Dade and Anthony Del Toro are the two guys to watch on this defensive line. Del Toro was fantastic as a freshman last season and has a huge motor, while Dade has been the team's rock at defensive end.
5. What about defensively?
Put pressure on Jalani Eason. Eason's numbers weren't great, but when you consider that he is a true freshman that arrived on campus in summer and won the job, you can see why the coaching staff is excited about him.
Eason had his fair share of ups and downs in the first game. He lacked touch on some of his passes and continually tried to rifle the ball to his receivers. He also had a tendency to throw the ball just a little bit behind his receivers and needs to work on his timing.
However, the potential is there. Eason actually progressed through his reads and didn't just lock on to one receiver. He looked more and more comfortable as the game went on and led the team on a few long drives.
BYU was able to make him rush throws at times because of defensive line pressure and Oregon State should put an emphasis on getting to him. He is only 5'9 and BYU's front seven was able to bat balls down by getting into passing lanes and putting their hands up.
6. Care to make any predictions about the final score or any other aspects of the game?
Portland State could keep this close for a while. The Vikings are much better on defense than they were last year and will hang around if they can stop the run.
Look for one or two special teams mishaps from Portland State. The Vikings have a true freshman kicker, a true freshman punter, and a true freshman kicking specialist. The kicker shanked an extra point against BYU and doesn't have a big leg either.