Portland State has banked nearly $1 million in the last two weeks traveling to FBS opponents San Jose State and Washington.
The money is nice, of course, and should go a long ways towards funding the operations of the PSU football program for the 2016 season and beyond.
But the Vikings paid a heavy price for the trips to the Bay Area and Puget Sound on the scoreboard (66-35 and 41-3 losses), in the medical trainers’ room (numerous injuries) and on the stat sheet as facing bigger, stronger and faster foes produced 10 turnovers in two games, and a league-worst minus-10 turnover margin heading into the start of Big Sky Conference play.
This week? Another road test at defending Big Sky champion Southern Utah, which enjoyed a bye last weekend after splitting games against Utah and Southeastern Louisiana to open the season.
Prevailing on the road always begins with winning the turnover battle, so the Vikings must demonstrate significant improvement in that key area. The current minus-10 turnover margin represents a considerable turnaround from last season when the Vikings forced 28 turnovers while committing only 15 for a plus-13 rating.
At San Jose State, the Vikings turned the ball over twice in goal-to-go situations. Last weekend in Seattle, the Vikings committed two turnovers in the red zone. Opponents converted PSU’s 10 turnovers in the past two games into 31 points.
“Our players understand. We talked about it Sunday (after getting back from Seattle),” Portland State coach Bruce Barnum told Viking Tales. “We’re not getting them on defense (just one takeaway in 3 games) and special teams and the offense are turning the ball over too much. I told them it’s a new season. It’s time to show we’ve had enough and it’s time to move on.”
After Washington drove for a touchdown on the opening possession of the game, Portland State muffed the ensuing kickoff., The Huskies recovered the loose football and quickly scored another TD. The Vikings trailed 14-0 before the offense snapped the ball for the first time.
“We’ve talked about first drive, stops on third down, getting two first downs every time the offense is on the field just to tilt the field and taking care of the football,” Barnum said. “If we do those things, we’ll have a chance to win.”
Besides turnovers, injuries have also mounted in the past two games. Safety Walter Santiago was lost for the season early in the San Jose State loss, while Anthony Jenkins’s career is over as well as a result of a spine injury. Before the season started, BYU transfer Jordan Preator, a defensive back expected to contribute this season, went down with an injury. All of a sudden, the secondary’s depth is being depleted.
“Those are three guys that could have been starting,” Barnum said. “We’re going to make some moves this week to make sure our guys have a chance to win.”
Offensive lineman Cam Keizur (sprained knee) and Utility Quarterback Paris Penn (shin bruise) were banged up in the Washington loss, bit should be ready to go when the Vikings square off with Southern Utah Saturday.
Penn has returned to practice earlier this week. Keizur was examined by a specialist on Tuesday and underwent a MRI, but the results were negative.
“We’re banged up, but I’m not a guy that’s going to complain about that,” Barnum said. “We have other players and every team in America is banged up right now. I don’t like having two FBS teams in a row. We took some dings. We have the paychecks to keep the program going and now we’re into conference play. I have great coaches.”
— Portland State played five true freshmen on defense (starting DT Anthony Del Toro, DE Kenton Bartlett, DT Sione Taumoe’anga, CB Montre Brown and LB Devin Thompson) in last week’s loss at Washington. Barnum said PSU’s recruitment of high school athletes improved after the school awarded him a long-term contract extension last season. Because of injuries, some young players have been forced to play perhaps quicker than the coaching staff wanted, but that’s the reality. “I don’t mind playing the freshmen because they are good football players, but they will make young mistakes,” Barnum said. “We will simplify it for them. That’s why coaching is fun. You have to make sure there are no excuses. WE have to put them in spots to win.”
— Portland State leads the all-time series, 9-3, against Southern Utah, including 3-2 in Cedar City, UT. However, SUU has won two of the three meetings since the Thunderbirds joined the Big Sky Conference. Portland State pulled out a 24-23 win last season in the Rose City, dealing Southern Utah their only Big Sky loss. The Vikings intercepted three passes, scored the decisive TD on a trick play and stopped a late two-point conversion attempt by the Thunderbirds.
— Portland State is making only its second trip to Cedar City since Southern Utah joined the Big Sky in 2012. The previous trip was a 17-7 loss in 2013. Saturday’s game kicks off at 6 p.m. MT (local)/5 p.m. PT. The game is not televised, but a live video stream will be available at www.GoViks.com/Live. The radio broadcast is on Rip City Radio 620 AM and www.ripcityradio.com.
— The Vikings dropped to 25th in the STATS FCS National Rankings this week following their loss to 8th-ranked (FBS) Washington. Southern Utah is unranked, but among others receiving votes, is listed 33rd.
BIG SKY SCHEDULE (Sat. Sept. 24)
Montana at Cal Poly, noon (ROOT Sports)
North Dakota at Montana State, 1 p.m.
Sacramento State at Idaho State, 1:30 p.m.
Eastern Washington at Northern Arizona, 4 p.m. (Fox Sports Arizona)
Portland State at Southern Utah, 5 p.m.
Weber State at UC Davis, 6 p.m.
(All Times Pacific)
(All Games streamed on WatchBigSky.com except for games televised by ROOT Sports)