Prior to last Saturday’s proceedings in the Palouse, Portland State senior wide receiver Alex Toureen had caught 23 passes in 24 career games dating back to his freshman season in 2011.
Within a span of 3-1/2 hours in Pullman, the Cottage Grove, OR native increased his career receptions total by almost 31 percent with seven catches for 100 yards against Washington State, including a 24-yard touchdown grab of a Kieran McDonagh midway through the third quarter.
His previous career high for receptions in a game? Three. The last time he caught that many passes in one game? Sept. 22, 2012 vs. Southern Utah at home.
So, what led to Toureen more than doubling single game high for receptions? He contends the Cougars’ defensive scheme opened the door.
“I don’t think it was me personally playing any better football than I normally have,” Toureen told Viking Tales Wednesday. “It’s all about what’s out there. The defense they were running, they were giving us the opportunity to throw. I just happened to be the open man. With another defense, it may have been Kasey Closs wide open down the middle of the field or Thomas Carter on the other side of the field.”
Toureen, a four-year letterman in football and track at Cottage Grove High School, also credits Portland State offensive coordinator Bruce Barnum with designing a game plan that played to his strengths and the offense executing the plan, especially in the second half.
“The success came primarily from the game planning,” Toureen said. “Our offensive coordinator did a great job with that. The coaching staff reiterated what they wanted to see from us. We made a few adjustments. The offense played fairly well in the second half. We played a lot better in the second half than we did in the first half. It had a lot to do with the preparation and game planning and great execution by our quarterbacks.”
Based on his performance last weekend, Toureen might have taken an important step towards becoming Portland State’s No. 2 receiver behind Kasey Closs, who has clearly established himself as PSU’s top pass catcher in the past two seasons.
Behind Closs, Toureen is reluctant to stamp himself with a number.
“I try not to think of it as there is a No. 1, a No. 2 or a No. 3 receiver,” Toureen said. “Oregon State and Washington State really keyed in on Kasey because of the year he had last year. They were scheming him knowing he is our big-time guy and that we would try to get the ball to him and let him make plays. So, when you have all your focus and attention on a single guy, it’s easy to leave the other two guys wide open and that was a big part of my success I had on Saturday.”
Cal Poly allowed 171.0 passing yards per game in their first two contests against New Mexico State and South Dakota State. Toureen looks less at the numbers or specific defensive players and more at an opponent’s scheme. Based solely on that, he is able to predict how the Vikings will fare throwing the ball.
“It doesn’t really matter who we’re playing,” Toureen said. “It’s the defense they’re running (that’s important). We’re going up against that defense. We don’t really look at the personnel and say we have to run away from this guy or we can’t throw it towards that guy. It’s another game. If we come out every week and we’re not worried about who we’re playing against and focusing instead on how well we can perform against that defense, we’ll have a lot more success.”
Understandably, a thought-provoking question in the wake of Toureen’s outing last weekend was this one: Why haven’t we seen this before? For an answer, you must start with Toureen’s freshman campaign when he had two catches at TCU.
“It’s been a rough journey, you could say,” Toureen said. “My true freshman year, I played in the first three games and I was looking to have a great career.”
However, injuries ended his 2011 season prematurely. In 2012, he was stuck behind a group of senior receivers and injury woes again cropped up, so he saw only enough action to make seven receptions for 99 yards. Last year, his playing time increased as he caught three touchdowns among his 10 receptions.
After two disappointing seasons in terms of production, Toureen says the 2013 campaign was an eye-opener.
“That was when I realized I had a chance to become a part of the offense and I could become a target for the quarterback and the coaches could rely on me,” Toureen said of the 2013 campaign. “This year, I think I’ve finally earned the trust of the offensive coordinator and the receivers coach and the quarterback. They know they can rely on me.”
Part of Toureen’s maturation process involved realizing he could not rely purely on physical talent at the Division I level as opposed to high school when he could just outrun opponents.
“In high school, there wasn’t a lot of technique or this is how it’s done,” Toureen said. “In order to get on the field in college, you can’t just do what you want. You have to play assignment-sound football because if you mess up on a play and don’t do your assignment, people get hurt and it’s detrimental to the entire team.”
Three games into the 2014 season, Toureen has already set a single season high for receptions with 11. He is 28 yards and two touchdowns from season highs in receiving yardage and TD catches, respectively. Saturday, he’ll battle a Cal Poly secondary that employs a smart, safe scheme that emphasizes success through simplicity.
“They are a sound defensive football team and they don’t do a lot of crazy stuff,” Toureen said. “They’re not doing stunts or blitzes or changing up their formations. They don’t do a lot of extra stuff to confuse the offense. They focus on playing their few coverages and playing them hard and fast and perfecting the details.
“We have to mimic that on offense and take what they give us with as few mistakes as possible. We know they’re not going to make too many mistakes.”