What: Idaho State (2-2) at Portland State (1-3)
Where: Providence Park (18,627), Portland, Ore.
When: Sat., Oct. 1, 2:30 p.m. PT
TV/Radio: No TV; Rip City Radio 620 AM (Tom Hewitt and Mike Lund)
Seeing Portland State commit 16 turnovers – by far the most in the Big Sky Conference – in the first four games of the 2016 season convinced Bruce Barnum that he had to make some changes.
Not the personnel, the scheme.
Believing offseason enhancements to the Vikings offensive package had hindered rather than helped senior quarterback Alex Kuresa, Barnum simplified the offense heading into Saturday’s home game against Idaho State at Providence Park (2:30 p.m., Rip City Radio 620 AM).
The objective? Allowing Kuresa and the rest of the Vikings offense to think less and play more confidently.
“I was probably asking (Kuresa) to beat teams with his arm too much,” Barnum told Viking Tales. “So, we’re going to cut that back. Our passing game will be a little simpler. We’re going to take out some of the packages and make some of the protections easier. I’ll give Alex what his likes, his favorite plays and we’ll run the ball like we do and go from there.”
Portland State’s 16 turnovers are one more than the Vikings committed in 12 games in 2015 when they had a plus-13 turnover margin. Those 16 turnovers have led to 52 opponent points. Meanwhile, PSU has scored only three points off three opponent turnovers.
“Alex is a jewel, but we might have overflowed the pot a little bit,” Barnum said. “He was thinking too much on the football field, and that can’t happen. When he’s out there just reacting, we’ve seen what he can do. We might have gotten a little too creative with our packages. We’re going to cut back to what it was last year.”
Even though Kuresa has thrown eight interceptions in four games, Barnum has given little thought to replacing the senior from Millville, UT. But handing some snaps to former QB Josh Kraght, now playing wide receiver, has been considered. Will it happen? Not likely.
“Alex is my guy. I see this as a coaching error, not a player error,” Barnum said. “It was us making the playbook too big. If I need to settle him down in a game, I’ll put Kraght in. But I don’t think that’s needed. We had two drives of 90-plus yards in the second half at Southern Utah. That was all Alex. He made some great plays. He was back to normal.”
Idaho State is coming off a conference home-opening win over Sacramento State, 42-34. ISU is 2-2 on the season, 1-0 in the Big Sky. Portland State has won five of the last six meetings with Idaho State, including a 34-14 decision last year in Pocatello. PSU has won 11 of 20 Big Sky Conference matchups with ISU overall.
Portland State plays three home games against Big Sly opponents in the month of October, facing Idaho State (Saturday), Cal Poly (Oct. 15) and Northern Colorado (Oct. 29) at Providence Park.
“Everybody is glad to finally have a home game,” Barnum said. “Three weeks straight on the road, and we didn’t come home with a ‘W’ on any of the three trips. That adds to (the frustration) a little bit. We’re back home and we’re slowly getting healthy. We were banged up in those two games against FBS schools (San Jose State + Washington).
Against a somewhat similar schedule to the Vikings, Idaho State opened the season with a win against a Division II school (Simon Fraser) before dropping a pair of road games to Pac-12 schools (Colorado, Oregon State).
Idaho State prefers to throw the football, passing on 60 percent of its offensive plays. Quarterback Tanner Gueller has passed 900 yards and five touchdowns in four games, completing just under 60 percent of his passes.
Gueller’s main targets are Josh Cook (23 receptions) and KW Williams (18). Jakori Ford ignites the ISU running game with 48 carries for 251 yards and four touchdowns.
Defensively, Idaho State has surrendered 446.5 yards per game, including 272.2 yards passing. Mike Jenkins leads ISU with 41 tackles and seven tackles for loss, while Joe Martin has 33 tackles.
Barnum coached at Idaho State from 1998-2006, while Vikings running backs coach and special teams coordinator Nick Whitworth was star running back for ISU from 1997-2000. Additionally, safeties coach and recruiting coordinator John Ely coached at Idaho State in 1997-98.
“Obviously, we have a lot of history there, so we follow that program,” Barnum said. “I like what Coach Kramer has done to turn it around there. It’s cool to see on film. We will be challenged.”
— Senior TE Maximo Espitia, a graduate transfer from Cal, is making the most of his one season of eligibility. Espitia leads the Vikings with 17 receptions for 334 yards and two touchdowns this season. He averages over 20 yards per catch.
— Portland State has now played six true freshmen on defense this season after LB Mason Vega played briefly at Southern Utah. Those six youngsters have played in part due to numerous injuries on the Viking defense. The other five true freshmen who have played this season include start DT Anthony Del Toro, DE Kenton Bartlett, DT Sione Taumoe’anga, CB Montre Brown and LB Devin Thompson. True freshmen TE Charlie Taumoepeau and LS Riley Shackelford have also seen action.
— Portland State is unranked this week for the first time in 17 polls dating back to the first week of the 2015 season. Now the Vikings have three of their next four games at home for the rest of October.
— Because of numerous injuries on defense, Oregon transfer Chris Seisay moved over to the defensive side of the ball at Southern Utah. Seisay played cornerback at Oregon for two seasons, including starting games in the Rose Bowl and the National Championship game. When he joined the Vikings, he was slotted at wide receiver, a position he dominated in high school. Against SUU, Seisay started at cornerback and also played at wide receiver. His eight tackles led the team.
— Idaho State coach Mike Kramer has faced the Vikings 18 times with three different Big Sky schools (7-11 overall, including Eastern Washington and Montana State). He was named the Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year in 2014 at Idaho State.
— Rip City Radio 620 (@RipCityRadio620) September 28, 2016
BIG SKY SCHEDULE (Sat. Oct. 1)
Cal Poly at North Dakota, 11 a.m.
Northern Arizona at Northern Colorado, noon
UC Davis at Eastern Washington, 1 p.m. (ROOT Sports)
Southern Utah at Montana, 1:30 p.m.
Idaho State at Portland State, 2:30 p.m.
Montana State at Sacramento State, 6 p.m.
(All times Pacific)
(All games streamed at watchbigsky.com except for games televised by ROOT Sports)
— Portland State FB (@viks_football) September 28, 2016