The 23-point second quarter put the Cougs ahead for good against an overmatched FCS foe on Saturday. It was an example of what should happen when an Power 5 school meets up against a Big Sky school, and after that disappointing (but entirely predictable) faceplant against Utah State in week one it was encouraging for Nick Rolovich’s squad.
What really impressed on Saturday was the Cougs passing offense as it rebounded from a horrific first week to average 9.5 yards per attempt. Freshmen Jayden de Laura got the start and promptly looked the part after coming off the bench the week prior. He completed 21 of 29 pass attempts for 303 yards and three touchdowns — with one interception on an incredibly poor decision. There were still miss timed and overthrown balls but he looked more settled behind center than he had at any point in the previous five games he’d played in. His ability to get out of trouble and move around the pocket, or take off if needed, kept several plays alive that would have otherwise been snuffed out by a Portland State defense that attempted to duplicate the Aggies aggressive attack up front.
And the Vikings were fairly successfully at doing that in the first quarter. The offensive line struggled mightily to open up holes or give de Laura time throughout their first couple of series. But this is the second week in a row where a defensive front seven has come at the o-line aggressively and it caused issues that slowed down the offense. While the offensive line adjusted to PSU’s aggressive front seven and asserted their superior athleticism, Pac-12 play is looming around the corner along with faster linebackers and more athletic defensive linemen.
It won’t matter how many touches Max Borghi and Deon McIntosh get, they won’t be able to use their speed if there aren’t any gaps for them to hit. And that’s going to be a particular problem for Borghi, who has a tendency to let his blocking scheme develop before he tries to hit the hole — McIntosh tends to find the first piece of green he can see and head towards it.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Cougs secondary only allowed 6.4 yards per attempt while holding Portland State’s two quarterbacks to a completion rate of around 56%. The big concern is the front seven as they rarely got pressure on Portland State’s quarterback — they did hold the Vikings to 3.8 yards per carry. It was this lack of consistent pressure that allowed the Vikings to hit such big chunk plays, particularly when targeting Beau Kelly. This is the second game where the defense has been unable to generate a pass rush, it’s going to be something they need to figure out heading into USC and Utah over the next two weeks.
One thing that was greatly appreciated was the coaching staff not trying to get too cute for its own good. The widely panned decision to bring in a goal line wishbone package with Cam Cooper last week was not repeated this week and they stuck mostly to the principles of the run-and-shoot that make it an offensive system. Their in game adjustments to what the Vikings were doing, and where they were finding success, was also encouraging; both something that had been lacking since the OSU win in this staff’s debut in Corvallis last year.
Overall, a win is a win and that’s a good thing. But the consistently poor play/production in the trenches is a ongoing concern for this squad. If the lines on both side of the ball continue to be inconsistent and don’t improve throughout the season, it’s going to be a tough year out on the Palouse.