It’s time for our weekly Five Questions, Five Answers segment on this week’s UW opponent, which is Portland State, a game that will be played Saturday at CenturyLink Field at 1 p.m.
The Vikings, a member of the FCS Big Sky Conference, are coached by former Husky safety Nigel Burton (1996-98), pictured at right in a school file photo. Burton took over for Jerry Glanville following the 2009 season and led the Vikings to a 7-4 record last season, including a win at Eastern Washington, a five-game improvement from 2010.
The Vikings come into the game 1-1, having defeated Carroll College in their opener, 38-20, and losing at North Dakota last week, 45-37.
Our guest this week is Ian Ruder, who covers the Vikings for The Oregonian.
Question 1: Can you give us a little scouting report on Portland State’s offense?
A: There was a lot of hype when Burton came over three years ago about bringing the Pistol offense and it was definitely a big factor the last couple of years. They were one of the leading rushing teams in the nation and they ran out of the Pistol and didn’t really throw the ball very much, mainly because that didn’t fit the strengths of their quarterback. This year so far with the new freshman quarterback starting (Kieran McDonagh) who has a much bigger arm than the quarterback who used to be here they set up in the Pistol but you are going to see a lot more throwing. They still can run the ball with a couple of good running backs, including D.J. Adams, a transfer from Maryland. But so far it’s been much more pass-heavy than anything we’ve seen from Burton in his first two years.
Question 2: And how about their defense? (And editor’s note that this was done before Portland State fired defensive coordinator Eric Jackson on Wednesday).
A: They are still a 4-3. It’s been a little rough this year. They’ve brought in a bunch of new guys on the defensive front. There is one returning starter along the defensive line and then the other three are all new, and a couple of guys behind them on the depth chart are new, too. I think there is a lot of talent there but it hasn’t really shown that yet. I think the linebacking corps is really the strength of the defense. They have a senior (Ian Sluss) who is a pre-season All-Big Sky pick, really solid player, he’s got a couple of good guys around him. They were confident enough in the way those guys played and the depth that they had that they were able to move one of the stars of last year’s linebacking corps, Joel Sisler, out to safety to shore up what has been really the big question mark of the defense, and that’s the whole secondary. Both years under Burton they have really struggled and that was the story last week in the 45-37 loss to North Dakota, just guys getting beat, mistakes in coverage, missed tackles. It was not a pretty picture.
Question 3: So is the defense the biggest issue for the Vikings right now?
A: “Last Saturday they came out and got a stop on the first drive and then the first play was a flea flicker for 65 yards and a touchdown and then they kicked the ball off and the first play of North Dakota’s drive was a little bubble screen on which Portland State missed two tackles and it went for 66 yards, so pretty quickly it was 7-6 North Dakota and it kind of just got worse from there for Portland State. McDonagh the true freshman is really solid for a true freshman. A big arm and a big guy, 6-2-, 240, maybe he is a little bigger than that. And he can throw the ball and he can surprisingly move with the ball pretty well with his legs.”
Question 4: Can you talk about how Burton has changed the program since taking over?
A: He took over a program that was about as low as you can be. Jerry Glanville left things in a pretty bad state, not only talent-wise but morale-wise and just everyone around the program was kind of disappointed. And I think Nigel came in with a real fresh perspective, a real positive attitude and a vision for what he could do as a head coach. And so far I think he has delivered on a lot of the promises with a few exceptions, like the secondary which has continually struggled. He had a great recruiting year last year bringing in more talented guys from the Northwest then I think has ever happened at Portland State. The offense has been really successful, they’ve not had problems putting up points at any point the last couple of years. And it’s just a real positive attitude. He refers to it as a family attitude around this team and I think it is genuinely there. The guys seem to like each other, there seems to be a much better quality of person and player than there was at the end of the Glanville era. And I think they have a positive attitude about where they are going. I don’t know if it’s going to be there this year, but next year or the year after they are building toward something that wouldn’t have been possible a couple of years ago.
Question 5: What do you think Portland State fans view as a realistic expectation for this game?
A: After last weekend I think most Portland State followers are just hoping that the Vikings don’t get torched by Keith Price the same way they did last week by a quarterback who hadn’t started a game in three years. So I think there are some worries among Viking faithful about how the secondary can hold up. But there is some optimism about being able to put some points up on the scoreboard. I think if they are within 30 points they would be pretty happy.