HILLSBORO — After closing out nonconference play last weekend with a lopsided 52-10 victory over San Diego, it’s now wheels up to Oregon for the Bobcats (2-1) as they prepare for their Big Sky opener against Portland State (1-2).
The last time both programs crossed paths was during the 2018 season with Montana State finishing on top in dominant fashion. However, the veterans will you the Vikings are a much different team this fall.
“This is probably the best Portland State team, for me personally, that I’ve seen since I’ve been here," senior offensive lineman Lewis Kidd confessed. "A lot of great experience. A lot of super great athletes. They’re pretty sound, and they play a little different style of defense, so it can be tough on offense for sure.”
Through the first three games, Montana State’s opponents have primarily played a four-down defense. It’s an alignment the Bobcats also play and practice against daily, but this week will present a much different front.
“They play a flex defense," head coach Brent Vigen explained. "The flex aspect comes from playing a standup linebacker essentially over a guard, or over both guards, kind of playing at the heels of the defensive linemen and sending the other linebackers deeper. It’s a defense that not too many people run. It gives I think people problems.”
With a flexed defense, it’s allowed lineman VJ Malo to get loose, racking up a team-high 5.5 sacks through the first three games.
“Again, the scheme frees guys up, and he’s a guy that has had some of those opportunities," Vigen added. "When he’s been given opportunities to make plays he has. Moves well. Strong. All those things that you want in a d-lineman, so he’s definitely a guy we have to account for.”
It will be as much of a challenge on the defensive side of the ball for the Cats with Davis Alexander at the reigns for Portland State. Despite sporting a 1-2 record, the dual-threat QB currently sits fourth in the FCS for passing yards with 998.
“He can make plays," defensive coordinator Freddie Banks said. "He’s like a little Johnny Manziel back there. He’s talented, so we’ll have to do a real good job of containing him. We have to do a good job standing coverage when he scrambles because he makes plays as he scrambles.”
“He’s able to extend plays, and he’s really what drives them," Vigen said.
His favorite target, Beau Kelly, has also been a driving force on offense sitting second in the FCS for receiving yards with 344 on 20 receptions and four touchdowns.
“They’re different than any offense we’ve played the first three weeks," Banks said. "They’re going to spread it out. We’re going to pace it a little bit more. We better do a good job tackling, do a good job running to the ball and do a good job getting him off the field on third down.”
Luckily for Montana State, they'll be getting back a major piece of their defense this Saturday with cornerback Tyrel Thomas returning. He will be making his season debut after missing the first three games with a leg injury.
Kickoff is set for 3:05 pm MT at Hillsboro Stadium, which will be streamed on ESPN+.