Statistically, Portland State is ranked in the top five of the Big Sky Conference in two key categories – rushing offense and rushing defense.
The Vikings raised their average rushing yards per game from 180.0 to 202.3 as a result of gaining 336 yards on the ground in last Saturday’s frustrating 21-17 home loss to Northern Arizona, including a career-high 253 yards on 16 carries by Steven Long.
But Long isn’t the only running back/quarterback capable of getting the job done on the ground as the Vikings feature four players with 100-yard rushing performances on their 2014 resumes: Paris Penn (112 yards at Oregon State), Shaq Richard (151 yards vs. Western Oregon), Nate Tago (106 yards vs. UC Davis) and Long.
The impressive depth pleases Burton.
“It’s awesome. It’s a great tribute to recruiting and a really great tribute to our running backs coach John Ely and our players,” Burton said. “You can only do that when guys stay locked in and are unselfish. If a kid is selfish. . .If Steven Long had been a selfish kids, by game two or three when he wasn’t getting 15 or 20 carries a game, he would have checked out and would have never had that breakout 253.
“These guys don’t care about how many carries they get. They want to win and they want to compete. They support each other. That’s what has allowed all those guys to run for so many yards in different games.”
Defensively, the Vikings allowed only seven points in the first 56 minutes of last Saturday’s game as one NAU touchdown scored on a Pick-6 by the Lumberjacks. The Vikings defense allowed only 17 points to North Dakota since one touchdown scored on a punt return. A week earlier, they allowed only 14 points to UC Davis.
Not surprisingly, PSU has risen to seventh in the Big Sky in scoring defense (32.4 ppg) and sixth in total defense (435.4 ypg). The Vikings are second in rushing defense among the 13 Big Sky teams, allowing 140.9 yards per game.
“We’ve done a nice job, but it’s just been that critical moment, that critical third down that we have to find a way to make that one play. You’re going to have to win some games 14-7 if you want to win a championship. You can’t always rely on the offense to score 21, 24, or 30 points.
“That’s what we have to do if we’re going to go from being a good defense to a great one.”
— Burton on the significant reduction in the number of PSU penalties from last season: “Honestly, we’ve been doing the same stuff we’ve been doing. We do our reminders at the end of practice distinguishing between penalties we don’t mind arising out of aggressive things and then there are other penalties you can’t have that are dumb and hurt your football team.”
— Burton on what concerns him about Weber State: “Everything. Offensively, they’ve done some nice things. They’ve run into the same stuff we have. You’re right on the verge and feel you’re going to have a breakout game. Then, one little thing goes wrong where a guy misses an opportunity to make a play. Weird things have happened to them. But they are a very good football team. Our guys have been watching film. People say they haven’t won a game, but when you watch the film, you’d think they’re lying.”
— Portland State is ranked No. 201 in the Jeff Sagarin Ratings (combined FCS/FBS) and No. 74 amongst FCS schools.
— First year Weber State head coach Jay Hill was Utah’s special teams coordinator from 2005-13, as well as coaching cornerbacks (2005-06, 2010-11), running backs (2012) and tight ends (2007-09, 2013). During his time at Utah, Hill was invited by Burton in 2010 to come to Portland to offer instruction on special teams. “I have known him for a long time,” Burton said. “He is a great guy, a great leader. They are always dangerous at home.”
BIG SKY TIDBITS: The Big Sky Players of the Week are Idaho State quarterback Justin Arias (Offense),Idaho State linebacker Mario Jenkins (Defense) and Eastern Washington’s Zackary Johnson (Special Teams). . .The Big Sky continues to have three teams in the major national polls (The Sports Network and Coaches poll): Eastern Washington (No. 2 in both polls), Montana (No. 6/7) and Montana State (No. 10/11). . . Idaho State has won multiple conference games in a season for the first time since 2007. From 2008-2013, Idaho State compiled a 4-44 record in Big Sky Conference games. Idaho State is now 4-3, marking the most wins for the program since winning five games in 2005. . .ISU Head coach Mike Kramer, now in his fourth season of the program, was rewarded with a three-year contract extension last week. . .Idaho State leads the Big Sky and ranks second nationally in the nation in total offense with an average of 569.7 yards per game. The Bengals lead the nation in passing average per game at 367.3 yards per game. . .Despite missing several major weapons on offense (QB Vernon Adams Jr., RB Quincy Forte and WR Cory Mitchell), Eastern Washington earned its 14th straight conference win and 16th straight win over a Big Sky team with a 26-18 home win over Northern Colorado last Saturday. The Big Sky record for consecutive conference wins is 25 by Montana from 1999-2002. . .Home teams won four of the six conference games last Saturday. Home teams are now 14-9 in conference games…Eastern Washington has blocked a punt in three straight games…Cal Poly linebacker Nick Dzubnar tied his career high with 19 tackles in the win over Sacramento State. Dzubnar leads the nation with an average of 14.6 tackles per game. . .The final football Saturday in October features the lightest schedule of the regular season with just five conference games on the docket as three teams take the week off. . .Idaho State will try to pick up its first road win since 2006 when it travels to Northern Colorado. The Bears are 2-1 at home this season
BIG SKY SCHEDULE (Sat. Oct. 25)
Eastern Washington at Northern Arizona, 12:40 p.m. (ROOT Sports)
Portland State at Weber State, 1:05 p.m.
North Dakota at Southern Utah, 1:05 p.m.
Idaho State at Northern Colorado, 1:35 p.m.
Montana at Cal Poly, 6:05
(All times local)
BYES: Montana State, UC Davis, Sacramento State.