After two long road trips to Pullman, WA and San Luis Obispo, Calif., Portland State head coach Nigel Burton is geared up to finally play a home game at Providence Park against a Big Sky opponent.
The Vikings square off with UC Davis Saturday at 4:30 p.m. in the conference opener for PSU.
“It’s good to finally be home,” Burton said Monday on Rip City Radio 620 AM. “We’ve spent about 21 hours on buses in the last two weeks (at Washington State and Cal Poly), so that stuff wears on you. To think that our first (true) home game would be October 5th, but that’s how the schedule played out this year. It is what it is.”
How did Portland State (1-3) spend the bye week? Preparing for the Aggies and engaging in community service.
UC Davis gave No. 2 Eastern Washington all they wanted and more in the first half of Saturday’s game at Aggie Stadium in Davis, Calif., going toe to toe with the Eagles for 30 minutes. EWU led just 9-7 at halftime before erupting for 21 unanswered third quarter points to take a 30-7 lead.
“We didn’t waste any time. We got into UC Davis and started working on them,” Burton said. “They are a great opponent. We have to make sure we get out of the blocks right in Big Sky play. We worked on finished drives because we were disappointed in that area at Cal Poly. We got into the red zone plenty of times and came away with no points.
“We also made sure our guys understand how we’re going to play coming out (of the end zone) when we’re backed up and pinned.”
Portland State and UC Davis both enter Saturday’s matchup with 1-3 records. However, both schools played a pair of FBS opponents in the non-conference schedule – Portland State lost to Oregon State and Washington State of the Pac-12, while UC Davis lost at Stanford and Colorado State. Both PSU and UC Davis own victories over Division II schools – Western Oregon and Fort Lewis.
Portland State won last year’s meeting, 41-10, at UC Davis as DJ Adams and Kieran McDonagh rushed for two touchdowns apiece and Kasey Closs caught two TD passes in the fourth quarter.
Burton’s message to his team during the bye week was clear – forget about what happened in the nonconference schedule because winning the Big Sky title and reaching the FCS playoffs are the ultimate goals.
“I don’t think either one of us is happy with how we started,” Burton said. “We should have played better and come out of the gate better. But our goal of being Big Sky champions has nothing to do with those first four games, whether we were 1-3 or 4-0. All that is irrelevant. We’re excited to get conference play excited.”
Portland State is averaging 172.5 rushing yards per game – sixth highest in the Big Sky – but over 40 percent of the Vikings’ total yardage on the ground (285 yards) came in the exciting 45-38 win over Western Oregon.
“We have to run the football and we have to run it better,” Burton said. “It doesn’t matter whether we run for 150 yards or 250 yards, we always want to make sure we do better. What that does is set up our play action and our deep passing game. Right now, we’re doing a better job protecting the football than earlier in the season.”
A key statistical category in which the Vikings have demonstrated improvement since the opening game on Aug. 30 at Oregon State is turnover margin. PSU committed five turnovers – all in the second half – in Corvallis with just one takeaway. However, in the last three games the Vikings are even in turnover margin (4-4) for a minus-4 rating heading into Big Sky play.
Portland State did not commit a turnover in the loss at Cal Poly on Sept. 20.
“It’s more important than anything,” Burton said. “I hear people talk about penalties and all that. There are stats people talk about and then there are the stats that really matter. If you talk to coaches, the one stat that changes ballgames is turnover margin. It’s about your offense protecting the ball and being an opportunistic defense by not dropping interceptions and recovering fumbles when the ball is on the ground and swarming to the football. So, as much as it’s about protecting the ball, it’s also about making sure we create opportunities for our offense.”
— Vikings RB Shaq Richard is ninth in the Big Sky in rushing, averaging 68.8 yards per game, while QB Kieran McDonagh is ninth is passing yards per game (144.0 ypg).
— WR Kasey Closs is tied for seventh in the Big Sky in receptions per game (5.2).
— Burton said the Vikings cancelled practice on Thursday and participated in their quarterly “Day of Service” by going out to churches and schools and engaging in community service. The PSU coaches also spread out for recruiting over the weekend.
Saturday’s Big Sky Conference Football Schedule (Oct. 4):
Montana at North Dakota, 1:35 p.m. (Watch Big Sky)
Idaho State at Eastern Washington, 1:35 p.m. (Watch Big Sky)
Northern Arizona at Northern Colorado, 1:35 p.m. (watch Big Sky)
UC Davis at Portland State, 4:35 (ROOT Sports)
Southern Utah at Cal Poly, 6:05 (Watch Big Sky)
Montana State at Sacramento State, 6:05 (Watch Big Sky)
(All times local)
Big Sky Tidbits: The Big Sky Players of the Week are Idaho State QB Justin Arias (Offense), Southern Utah LB Chinedu Ahanonu (Defense) and Montana State PK Luke Daly (Special Teams). . . Three Big Sky teams are ranked in this week’s Sports Network Top 25, while four are ranked in the FCS Coaches’ Poll. In the Sports Network Poll, Eastern Washington is No. 2, Montana stayed at No. 7 and Montana State remained NO. 13. Northern Arizona received the third-most votes of teams not in the top 25. In the Coaches’ Poll, Eastern Washington checked at No. 2 behind North Dakota State. Montana slipped a spot to No. 7 and Montana State rose two spots to No. 15. Northern Arizona returned to the Coaches’ Poll, checking in at No. 25. . . Home teams went 5-1 the opening week of conference play. Big Sky teams are now 4-31 in road games. Eastern Washington has won twice on the road. Sacramento State and Northern Arizona each have one road win. . . UC Davis held Eastern Washington to nine first-half points in a 37-14 loss. EWU had scored 106 points in the first half in its first four games. . . .Southern Utah’s James Cowser leads the nation with 14.5 tackles for loss. . . Cal Poly QB Chris Brown has rushed for two touchdowns in each of the past three games. . . For just the fourth time since 2004, Idaho State has won back-to-back games. The Bengals beat Sacramento State 44-24 at Holt Arena to improve to 2-2. Idaho State is seeking its first three-game winning streak since 2003 when it travels to Eastern Washington on Saturday. . .Idaho State rolled up 693 yards of offense against Sacramento State, the second-most by a Bengal team since 2004. . .Big Sky football is red hot: Montana currently leads the FCS in average attendance at 25,423 fans per game, while Montana State is fourth with an average of 18,955. Northern Arizona drew a standing room only crowd of 11,545 fans to last week’s win over Cal Poly. The Skydome currently seats 10,000. . .Eastern Washington QB Vernon Adams is five touchdown passes away from becoming the 14th player in FCS history to pass for 100 TDs in his career. Adams leads FCS in passing yards per game (361.6), total offense (385.4 ypg), passing TDs (20), points responsible for per game (25.6), and is second in pass efficiency (176).