What: Western Oregon (1-2) at Portland State (2-0)
Where: Providence Park, Portland, Ore.
When: Saturday, 2:05 p.m.
TV/Radio/Internet: Rip City Radio 620 AM (Tom Hewitt, Mike Lund); Live video stream: www.GoViks.com; Live stats: www.ViksLive.com and www.ViksMobile.com
Western Oregon, an NCAA II member of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, may be just 1-2 on the season with a win over Simon Fraser (31-14) and losses to Humboldt State (29-20) and Central Washington (40-19), but Portland State head coach Bruce Barnum remembers the Wolves came close to knocking off the Vikings last season at Hillsboro Stadium.
Therefore, even though the Vikings are riding high in the FCS polls (No. 17 this week) following victories over Washington State and Idaho State, Barnum took steps this week to minimize distractions for his team as they prepare for the long-awaited home opener.
“They almost beat us last year,” Barnum said this week. “People look at this as Western Oregon, here we go. No way. We struggled last year to beat them. We have to get our guys ready.”
PORTLAND STATE OFFENSE VS. WESTERN OREGON DEFENSE
The Vikings have established themselves as a dominant running team in the first two games, averaging 234.5 yards per game on the ground. PSU has run the ball 101 times compared to 28 pass attempts. However, both games were on the road against favored opponents. Will Barnum, who also serves as PSU’s offensive play-caller, open up PSU’s attack at home?
Quarterback Alex Kuresa engineers Portland State’s balanced rushing attack. Kuresa leads the way with 156 yards on 30 carries, but close behind are David Jones with 149 yards on 25 yards (5.96 yards per carry) and utility quarterback Paris Penn with 102 yards on 19 carries (5.37 yards per carry).
Kuresa is completing just 50 percent of his passes, a figure Barnum acknowledges must improve. Besides the impressive rushing totals, one number stands out for the Vikings offense – one turnover through two games. Even though they have run the ball over 100 times, PSU has yet to fumble the football.
Western Oregon allowed 40 points in the first half in last weekend’s loss at Central Washington. WOU defensive back Danny Hankins was named GNAC Defensive Player of the Week 2. The Portland, Ore. native made eight tackles, broke up two passes and had a 99-yard pick-six in the final minutes to seal Western Oregon’s 31-14 home win over Simon Fraser.
“The inside of their defense, the core of the front four we try to split with the inside zone, which is what we live off of, those guys are cats,” Barnum said. “They play the game hard. They’re big and fast. I see that as the strength of their defense. Then they always have a safety back there that keeps it together. They have some guys running around.”
WESTEN OREGON OFFENSE VS. PORTLAND STATE DEFENSE
After dealing with Washington State’s Air Raid and Idaho State’s high-tempo offense, Western Oregon represents the third consecutive passing-dominated offense Portland State has faced so far this season.
Quarterback Trey Shimabukuro leads the GNAC and is 20th in Division II in passing with 298 yards per game. He has attempted 112 passes in three games (37.3 per game). He also ranks third with an average of 273.7 yards of total offense per game. In addition, Shimabukuro is 18th in passing yards (894), 27th in passing touchdowns (7) and 28th in completions per game (22.33).
His favorite receivers include Paul Revis (16 receptions for 231 yards) and Wesley Gray (16 receptions for 209 yards). Revis enters the week ranked fourth in the GNAC with 148 all-purpose yards per game and fourth in receiving at 77 yards per game.
“Their offense is a solid unit,” Barnum said. “In some ways, this is one of the scariest weeks of the season.”
WOU has scored 51 of its 70 points in the second half this season, while opponents have scored 17 points in the second half.
Portland State has allowed 488 passing yards in two games, but considering both Washington State and Idaho State love putting the ball in the air, that is actually a respectable figure.
“They (passing offenses) are all similar,” Barnum said. “Everybody tries to reinvent the wheel and do it faster or slower, huddle or no huddle, this or that formation, move the pocket. There are no secrets in this game. They just tag it and name it something different.”
The key is the Vikings have made their opponents one-dimensional by limiting them to 2.5 yards per rush with zero rushing touchdowns. The PSU defense has also been outstanding on third down with a 25 percent (9-36) third down conversion percentage allowed along with forcing six turnovers.
In short, the Vikings defense has been getting off the field and giving the ball back to the PSU offense, which had held the ball for more than 32 minutes in the first two games.
— Ranked 17th in the nation, PSU will attempt to improve to 3-0 for the first time since the 2000 season. The Vikings started 6-0 that year and were ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation.
— Portland State wide receivers coach Evan Mozzochi played quarterback for Western Oregon and graduated from the Monmouth-based school in 2012. He spent two seasons as WOU’s quarterbacks coach (2013-14) before joining the PSU staff.
— The head coach of Western Oregon is Arne Ferguson, who is in his 11th season with the Wolves. He has a record of 65-46.
— The Vikings are 15-4 in home openers since moving to the NCAA I FCS level and joining the Big Sky in 1996.
— Portland State is 13-0 against lower division schools since moving to the NCAA I FCS level in 1996.
— The winner of the annual Portland State-Eastern Washington football game will now be the only deciding factor in awarding The Dam Cup, which enters its sixth year of existence this fall.
— Game Day Assignments for the Portland State Coaching Staff are as follows:
Field: Bruce Barnum, Matt Leunen, Evan Mozzochi, Nick
Whitworth, Malik Roberson, Jason Belford, John Ely.
Booth: Steve Cooper, AC Patterson, Vernon Smith Jr., Ben Thienes, Justin Engstrom.
BIG SKY SCHEDULE (Sat. Sept. 26)
UC Davis at North Dakota, Noon*
Cal Poly at Montana State, 1:35 p.m.*
Weber State at Northern Colorado, 1:35 p.m.*
Northern Arizona at Montana, 2:00 p.m.*
Western Oregon at Portland State, 2:05 p.m.
Brevard College at Southern Utah, 6:00 p.m.
Idaho State at UNLV, 7:00 p.m.
Eastern Washington at Sacramento State, 7:05*
(All Times Local)
* Big Sky Game
— Portland State FB (@viks_football) September 22, 2015