Whether Bruce Barnum’s year-long “interview” turns into a long-term gig as Portland State head football coach remains to be seen.
What is irrefutable is Barnum will have plenty of experienced and productive players at key positions on the offensive side of the ball in 2015.
Technically, PSU returns six starters on offense, but the number is actually seven when you consider rising junior Cam Sommer was listed first at tight end on the preseason depth chart but appeared in just five games with 11 receptions for 121 yards before being lost for the season with an injury.
The Vikings should have three dependable quarterbacks (Kieran McDonagh, Paris Penn and Josh Kraght), three talented running backs (Steven Long, Nate Tago and Rey Vega), a quartet of experienced and productive wide receivers (Alex Toureen, Thomas Carter, Darnell Adams and Stevie Coury) and three returning starters on the offensive line (LT Kyle Smith, RG Cam Keizur and RT Mike Davis)
What does it mean? Spring practice should be a 15-practice exercise involving less teaching the basics and installing schemes and more about perfecting fundamentals and ironing out the small details that make an offense hum along at peak performance.
The 2014 Vikings’ offense took a step or two backwards after setting numerous school records in 2013, but Barnum believes the 2015 edition has the potential to reach the high levels achieved two seasons ago.
“Those positions should be solid,” Barnum told Viking Tales recently. “Mentally and physically, all of our guys are going to be a year older. I’m going to expect to see production on the football field. Of course, we need to add to those positions to keep the classes up so when they leave the cupboard is not empty. It’s not a panic situation at all. I would expect (the execution level will be high in the spring).”
While no major schematic changes are expected because the Vikings should have several major contributors returning on offense, Barnum won’t be afraid to make a tweak or two, especially in terms of how the tight ends are utilized.
“Offensively, what I have always done every year is see what we have and figure out the best way to make that group successful,” said Barnum, who was recently named interim coach for the 2015 season. “What I’m going to do next season is add some pieces such as more tight ends. Two or three tight ends in this program is not enough. I need to get more tight ends in here. That allows a whole other window of the run game, pass game, play action. It just opens it up.”
At the tight end spot, PSU loses Tyson Heller (4 receptions in 2014) to graduation, but Sommer returns along with rising juniors Jacob Nall, Adam Futter and sophomore Desmoun Thompson.
Last season, Portland State heavily utilized formations involving one running back, no tight ends and four wide receivers (in football parlance, ‘10’ personnel) because of injuries and availability.
Should Viking fans expect to see more ‘11’ (1 RB, 1 TE) and ‘12’ (1 RB, 2 TE) personnel packages next season? Possibly.
“It will be fixes like that,” Barnum said. “It won’t necessarily be more up-tempo. I need to help a couple of positions and we need to get over that edge instead of walking away in the wrong column by less than seven points and get on the other side of it.
“Portland State football isn’t about Bruce Barnum. I’m just the head coach. I’m the one assigned right now by this university to put a product on the field that everybody is proud of and enjoys watching.”
— Perhaps Barnum’s biggest task after being named interim head coach was hitting the recruiting tail. The past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of activity for Barnum and his assistants as they seek to add prospects to the 2015 signing class. According to Barnum, the Vikings coaches were informed last week of how many scholarships they could award in 2015: “The first thing I did was watch every student-athlete in the state of Oregon that we have heard of, somebody has recommended, he’s on our board, we have offered or we’re thinking about offering. That’s what I’m doing right now. I’m going into schools and talking to guys and going into homes at night. That’s the start.”
— Barnum said the Vikings would pursue JUCOs to fill holes “that need immediate help with guys that are going to step onto the field and play right now.”
— Barnum vowed, in terms of recruiting, that Portland State “will hit it harder than anybody in the country during the final push to Signing Day.” Barnum said Portland State is close to the maximum of 63 scholarships allowed in FCS (Div. I-AA).
— Portland State has one vacancy left on the 11-game 2015 schedule – Week 2 on Sept. 12. The Vikings open the season at Washington State, marking the second straight year PSU has played in Pullman and the fourth time in the past seven seasons they have opened against a Pac-12 opponent. “I’m looking right now at a Division I (FBS or FCS) opponent with a home-and-away tradeoff or another money game against a (higher) level (opponent),” Barnum said. “But I don’t think that’s the route to go. At the end of the year, people are going to look at the win-loss record, see me as the interim one year guy and make the easiest evaluation for anybody outside the program. If I go 4-7, they’ll say ‘Enough of that’ regardless of what I did with the budget or saving Portland State football. They don’t care. They’re going to look at the wins and losses. It’s a fine line.”
— The 2015 PSU Football Schedule:
Sept. 5 at Washington State
Sept. 12 HOME (Opponent TBA)
Sept. 19 Bye
Sept. 26 at Idaho State*
Oct. 3 NORTH DAKOTA*
Oct. 10 at North Texas
Oct. 17 MONTANA STATE*
Oct. 24 at Cal Poly*
Oct. 31 MONTANA*
Nov. 7 at Northern Colorado*
Nov. 14 SOUTHERN UTAH*
Nov. 21 at Eastern Washington*
* Big Sky Conference game