This could get ugly.
Welcome to FCS week, our annual foray into previewing teams with very limited sources of information and statistics. Yesterday, Berkelium97 did his best to scare you as he previewed Portland State's stronger side of the ball. I'm here to disabuse you of any fear. True, it's easy to be flippant about FCS games, but last week's uprising means that we have to be a little more careful. It's a bad idea to schedule a team that can compete for a title in the FCS.
Portland State is not one of those teams. They were just 3-8 last year, primarily because of a defense that struggled badly throughout the year, allowing an average of 36 points per game. There's little reason to expect this year's version to be significantly better, as the defense is still extremely inexperienced at nearly every level.
They did put up some not-awful numbers last week . . . against NAIA Eastern Oregon. One could perhaps argue that allowing 17 points and 438 yards to a team two rungs lower is a disappointment. Regardless, I'm not going to quote any stats from last week because they're 99% irrelevant. Let's dive in.
Defensive Line: Nick Alexander, Sr. DE ; Joe Lopez, Jr. DT ; Zack Ka'ahanui, Sr DT ; Bryant Long, Sr. DE
Lopez and Long are both transfers, from Oregon State and Boise State respectively. So, although they have some pedigree, they also are first time starters for Portland State. Alexander and Ka'ahanui are relative veterans with 20 combined starts.
This unit is likely the strength of the defense, with four upperclassmen starting, with some FBS pedigree. Lopez has solid size, and nobody sticks out as being horribly mismatched. Still, Cal shouldn't have much trouble protecting their quarterback or creating gaps for the running backs.
Key Matchup: Cal vs. inside push. The Bears didn't have much success running the ball against Northwestern, and most runs got pushed outside. If Cal's interior line can't get traction against a weaker FCS defense, it might be a long, tiring year for Jared Goff's arm.
Linebackers: Jacob Shoemaker, Sr. SLB ; Jeremy Lutali, So. MLB ; Corey Crowder, Jr. WLB
Shoemaker is the only player on the defense to receive some kind of all-conference honor a year ago, and thus is likely the man to watch. Lutali and Crowder both are first time starters, and for Lutali Cal will be his 2nd game ever.
Key Matchup: Tony Franklin vs. creating mismatches. Can PSU linebackers offer help in the secondary? Unless they plan on playing cover zero or constant dime packages, these inexperienced linebackers will have to help in coverage.
Secondary: Aaron Sibley, So. CB ; Mishawn Cummings, Jr. CB ; Dean Faddis, Sr. SS ; David Edgerson, Jr. FS
The secondary has been PSU's biggest weakness lately, and there's not much reason to expect that to be any different. Sibley is the only player who has started for PSU prior to this season - as a matter of fact, the other three secondary starters had a combined 9 game appearances prior to this year. After a rough year, PSU is likely trying to remake the secondary on the fly, and that's not an easy thing to do.
Faddis and Cummings are transfers from Nevada and Oregon State, although 2 star recruit Cummings barely saw the field for the Beavers.
If you're looking for a potentially familiar name, look to Davon Dunn, who has actually played against Cal before - as a true freshman for Fresno St. two years ago. Now he's on the Vikings, and I suspect he'll see plenty of game time against Cal's 4 WR sets.
Key Matchup: Cal WRs vs. catching the ball. If there was a criticism of Cal's passing attack last week, it would be dropped passes. Time to iron that out in a game that should see plenty of open receivers.
Against the Run
3.19 yards allowed/attempt, 10th in FCS football
That's surprisingly good, although it should be noted that four players in the front seven partly responsible for that number are no longer with the program. They didn't have quite the same success against Washington last year, when they allowed 209 yards on 49 carries (4.3 per carry), but that's still a respectable effort against an FBS team with an above average rushing attack.
All things considered, this isn't the worst test for Cal's running attack, so for that reason this might be a pretty ideal FCS opponent.
Against the Pass
8.2 yards allowed/attempt, 110th in the nation
And there it is. Portland State simply couldn't defend the pass at all, and the result was a number of very, very high scoring losses. I don't know if the PSU coaching staff puts too much value on stopping the run, or if the Vikings simply had a solid defensive line and nobody at all in the secondary, but it was bad.
And they just allowed 7.3 yards/attempt to an 4-6 NAIA school. The revamped secondary isn't there yet, and it's now facing a Sonny Dykes, Tony Franklin led offense. Cal should be able to throw the ball at will.
Stats of Dubious Value
As a reminder: Below are stats that, while interesting, may have little if any predictive value on what will occur over the course of 60-100 offensive snaps tomorrow.
19 forced turnovers, 53rd in FCS football (9 fumbles, 10 interceptions)
Opponent 3rd down conversion rate of 40.8, 65th in FCS football
Opponent scoring percentage of 84%, 89th in FCS football
Opponent touchdown percentage of 70.4%
Nothing interesting to see here. Mediocre stats with zero predictive value.
The bottom line is this: Last year, Portland State had a very poor defense by FCS standards. They have completely revamped their defense this year, with only 4 starters with previous starting experience for the Vikings. It's entirely possible that some of the transfers are superior players to the ones that left last year. It's possible that they aren't. Either way, it's likely that those starters aren't fully integrated together and with the defensive scheme, and they haven't had any opportunity to prepare against an opponent similar to Cal.
Cal just put up more than 500 yards to a ranked, Big 10 opponent. There is zero reason to suspect that Cal won't be able to do more than that this week. And, as is frequently the case against FCS teams, this week is more about ironing out execution and getting comfortable than anything else.
Let's see how quickly we can get passes off. Let's see if we can go through 60 minutes without a procedural penalty. Let's not drop any passes. Let's create space in the running game. Let's do everything we can to feel confident before Ohio State comes calling.