Portland State 101: A circus comes to the Palouse

PORTLAND STATE IS a mess. Their Athletic Director quit in October. Their head coach was fired in November. The interim Athletic Director promoted offensive coordinator Bruce Barnum to interim head coach in December in a futile effort to hold together recruiting. Essentially, the Vikings enter the 2015 season with a thin roster and a head coach on death row.

Things don't get much more dysfunctional than that.

Barnum was not offered a new contract, but PSU never hired a replacement either, so he effectively remains the Vikings Head Coach for this season. If you didn't understand any of that, don't worry, PSU fans don't either.

Cougars (0-0) vs Vikings (0-0)
11 am Pacific Time

Martin Stadium (32,952)

Pac-12 Network

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None, FBS-FCS matchups are generally offline in Vegas.

WSU won 59-21 in Pullman last year.

WSU leads 2-0.

Cougs 66, Vikings 14


Players to Know
QBs Alex Kuresa, Kieran McDonagh and Paris Penn: Quarterback is by far PSU's deepest position and Coach Barnum appears to be leveraging it as best he can. On any other team, the quarterback situation would have been a no-brainer. Kieran McDonagh returns from last year; a senior with 29 career starts under his belt. He ranks No. 5 all time in total offense at PSU, and was the obvious choice to lead the team again this year. Barnum opted to hold open tryouts this fall and ended up giving the starting job to JC transfer Alex Kuresa.

Kuresa is a former all-everything quarterback from the state of Utah. He got a scholarship out of high school to play for BYU, but they largely coveted him as a receiver. After his mission he decided to try to restart his career as a quarterback through the JC ranks. He is undersized but very athletic. Not so athletic though as junior Paris Penn.

Penn is probably the best athlete on the team and showed flashes of brilliance (112 rushing yards and two touchdowns against Oregon State) in spot duty last year. Barnum has moved him over to a position he labeled “utility quarterback.” What the final arrangement will entail remains to be seen – some think Barnum will try to surprise the Cougs by playing more than one.

Barnum says he will continue to run the West Coast offense, with elements of the Pistol. He lacks top receivers but has some very athletic quarterbacks to work with. Kuresa's high school highlight reel is 45 minutes long on youtube, but last season at Snow College was the first time he'd played the position since 2010. He is a roll of the dice by a desperate coach looking for a spark in my view.

PSU is playing for their coach’s life and with little to lose, expect them to be aggressive -- and to try and run until WSU stops 'em. With Kuresa under center, the Cougs need to defend the run mixed with controlled passing and scrambles. If Penn is on the field, they'll need to concern themselves with trick plays. The Cougs' nickel spot featuring starter Isaac Dotson and Darius Lemora (pictured above last year vs. PSU) should be busy.

Key Stat
PSU has rushed for 2,000 yards or more each of the last five years.


Players to Know
CB Aaron Sibley: Thanks to injuries and experimentation, PSU actually returns 19 defensive players who stated a game in 2015, but Sibley is the only one who started all 12. He was the lone Viking on the All-Big Sky Team.

S Walter Santiago: was the Vikings' top safety in 2014 fall camp before a collarbone injury knocked him out for the season. Santiago won the starting position again for ’15 over a group of returners.

PSU's 4-3 defense may look sadly familiar. Cougar fans might remember defensive coordinator Malik Roberson from his stint as Paul Wulff's defensive line coach. Roberson was the defensive line coach last season and was elevated to DC by Barnum for ’15. The Viking Defense was a catastrophe last year.

WSU had over 700 yards of offense against PSU last year. Strategy? Just go.

Key Stat
The Cougs averaged 9.8 yards per pass attempt in last year's match.

The Cougs can do a lot to alleviate fan fears with sound special teams play out of the gate. PSU returns both their kicker and punter from last year and should deliver competent play. WSU’s new look on special teams, particularly featuring Kyrin Priester and Tavares Martin as return men, should provide needed speed and dare I say it, the Cougs could even break their long TD return drought in this game on a punt or kickoff.

-You don't want to set the bar too high, but this game should be a rout. PSU was no match for the Cougs last year and enters 2015 with highly diminished prospects. Week 1 can always be strange – last year Portland State outplayed Oregon State, led 14-13 at the half and fell 29-14 after four third quarter turnovers. But this game should be no contest. That said...the Cougs have lost eight of their last nine season openers. Getting the season off to a strong start would be a dramatic change from the norm.

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