What: Portland State (1-2) at Southern Utah (1-1)
Where: Eccles Stadium (8,500), Cedar City, UT
When: Sat., Sept. 24, 5 p.m. PT
TV/Radio: No TV; Rip City Radio 620 AM (Tom Hewitt and Mike Lund).
Technically, Saturday’s road contest for Portland State at Southern Utah does not mark the first time Vikings quarterback Alex Kuresa has represented PSU in his home state.
After all, he participated in Big Sky Media Days over two months ago at Park City, UT.
But Saturday’s game marks the first time he will step onto the gridiron in the state where he was a high school legend. His last appearance there came in 2014 when he was a quarterback at Snow Junior College, where he played after spending two seasons at BYU.
Thus, in order to lead Portland State to a much-needed win against the defending Big Sky champions, Kuresa must keep his emotions in check with all the excitement of his homecoming swirling around him.
“Alex and I have talked,” Barnum said earlier this week. “He’s comfortable with the game plan. We like how practice has went. Alex is a smart kid. He has played a lot of football. He knows what it takes to win and that we can’t turn the football over. Now it’s conference play. This is what the guys work all year for. They are focused. I like the attitude of the football team.”
Kuresa starred at Mountain Crest High School and was the 2010 Utah Gatorade Player of the Year and the Deseret New Mr. Football in 2010. He was a first-team All-state player in Utah’s Class 4A. He threw for 3,983 yards and 38 touchdowns as a senior, and set numerous state career quarterbacking records, including total offense (12,917 yards), passing yards (10,951), passing touchdowns (101), completions (751) and pass attempts (1,154).
Little wonder in the State of Utah he is referred to as “Alex Football.”
Barnum said he experimented with some new things offensively during the non-conference portion of the 2016 schedule, but he insists the Vikings will rely more on their bread-and-butter during Big Sky play – the ground game that worked so well last season.
“We’re back to who we are,” Barnum said. “We tried some things in those first three games in the pass game. There was some new stuff. We wanted to see how fast we could score. Alex learned his new personnel in the first three games. He’s ready to go. We have to put it together and be great when we go down to Cedar City.”
Southern Utah had a bye last Saturday after opening the season with a loss at Utah (24-0) and a victory at home over Southeastern Louisiana (28-23). Thus, the Thunderbirds had an extra week to prepare for PSU, one of five Big Sky foes that will enjoy the weekend off before facing Portland State in 2016.
Former defensive coordinator Demario Warren was named SUU head coach following the departure of former head coach Ed Lamb.
Patrick Tyler took over at quarterback against SLU, completing 18-28 passes for 188 yards and three touchdowns. Malik Brown had a big day running the ball with 32 carries for 146 yards.
“Like everybody else in the country, they’re going through injuries,” Barnum said. “The new quarterback (Tyler) appears to be more of a runner than a thrower. We’re curious how they’re going to use him. They’re playing a quarterback I’m sure they didn’t think would play much this season. He’s a good football player. He changes who they are offensively. There are some unknowns there.”
Southern Utah rallied from a 17-7 deficit in the second quarter to win the game, outgaining SLU, 437-411. In a loss to Utah, the Thunderbirds managed only 158 yards of total offense.
Brady Measom is SUU’s top receiver this season with six catches for 58 yards and two touchdowns. Mike Sharp has five catches for 78 yards and a score. Taylor Nelson leads the defense with 19 tackles in two games.
Barnum expects Southern Utah will ‘straight up” try to stop the run on defense.
“That’s how they align, that’s how they play,” Barnum, said. “That’s their thinking, that’s their mindset and their philosophy. They don’t blitz a lot. They just load the box. They want you to throw the football. They are the same on defense (from last season) I like our package and how we’re going to attack them.
“We are going to run the football. But I also like what we have put together for Alex. We’ll take some shots. But there are some ways to nullify what we believe they plan to do defensively and we have incorporated those things into the run game. They are a tough team.”
Unlike the last two weeks when Portland State faced bigger, stronger and faster FBS schools, the start of conference play means the two teams will now be fairly equal in distribution of talent.
“The game slows down,” Barnum said. “Their Jimmies are like our Joes. If we all lined up and raced, it would be one big mess.If we did that last week (at UW), we would have been beaten by 69 yards by half the football team. Now it’s real. We’re playing for a ring and the playoffs.You can lose the non-conference games and win the conference and you’re there (in the FCS playoffs). So, there’s a different attitude.”
— Mike Lund (@mikelund65) September 23, 2016
— Portland State FB (@viks_football) September 23, 2016
— AC Patterson (@coachapatterson) September 23, 2016