Ready for a Rumble?

By Mick Holien

Now in the heart of the Big Sky Conference schedule, the Grizzlies play two of their next three games on the road against teams with quality quarterbacks: Northern Arizona’s Michael Herrick, Cam Higgins of Weber State, and, this week, Portland State’s Connor Cavanaugh.

A home town guy from Lincoln High School in Portland, Cavanaugh is at the Viking helm because of an injury to Drew Hubel. Hubel, who injured his shoulder at the end of last season but did not undergo surgery, found out this year that physical therapy and rehab didn’t do the trick. Surgery was required, leaving him out for the season in a medical redshirt situation.

While Hubel has thrown for more than 6,300 yards and 42 TDs in his Portland State career and is an NFL-type quarterback, Cavanaugh, a junior, is better-suited for the offense being employed by first-year coach Nigel Burton.

It’s called the ”pistol” and differs from my previous on-air definition of a pistol, where a running or blocking back is situated to the right or left about a yard or two alongside the quarterback in the shotgun.

In the current pistol formation as used by several NFL teams, the back, which for PSU is either Cory McCaffrey or Willie Griffin, is placed directly behind the quarterback.

That makes the offense harder to defend because you can’t scheme one way or another, makes play faking by the QB harder to discern and, additionally, positions the QB in a more efficient option perspective.

Portland State’s offense jumped out in front of Montana State in Bozeman last weekend before the Bobcats made some defensive adjustments to stop the pistol attack. Eventually, the MSU offense got rolling to the tune of a 44-31 victory.

Cavanaugh has thrown the ball 113 times at a 58 percent clip and rushed the pigskin 57 yards while using either McCaffrey, an in-state product, or Griffin, a University of Washington transfer, an additional 144 times.

McCaffrey is the workhorse and averages 5.8 yards per carry but when Cavanaugh does throw the football he mostly looks for Julius Thomas, a former PSU strong forward on the hoop team who has an NFL-type frame at tight end.

At 6 foot 5 inches and probably more beefy than the 240 he is listed at on the roster. Thomas was a basketball force on very good PSU teams and has hauled in 16 catches for 275 yards – a better than 17-yard average.

At 1-1, the Vikings are more than a league spoiler, despite being just 2-3 on the season with losses at Arizona State, Oregon, and Montana State. Their wins have come over Cal-Davis and Idaho State.

With a win at Hillsboro Stadium, where the game is being played because of renovations at PGE Park, they are right in the thick of the conference race and could deal the Grizzlies a near-fatal blow.

The upside for Montana is the Viking defense is going to give up some yards and some points (40 per game so far). They’re a bit inexperienced, yet talented, in the secondary, but it well could be a donnybrook Saturday night with the Vikings additionally focused on breaking the Montana dominance over Portland State.