Mixed bag for Vikings as they overcome 'silly stuff' to beat EOU
By the middle of the second quarter Thursday night at Jeld-Wen Field, it wasn't which team was going to win. It was by how much.
Portland State flexed its FCS muscle against NAIA opponent Eastern Oregon in the season opener for both teams, the result a 57-17 blowout that didn't reveal a whole lot about how the Vikings will fare this season.
That mystery won't begin to be solved, really, until the fourth week of the season, when Portland State faces one of its Big Sky brethren, Cal Davis, in a non-conference game.
Before then, the Vikings go up the ladder to face Pac-12 foe California at Berkeley, then play host to Division II Humboldt State. It's three hard-to-tell games for the local lads before they tee it up against a foe at their level.
There were plenty of big plays but enough fumbles and defensive blunders that Portland State's fourth-year coach, Nigel Burton, will surely have a few harsh words for his players during Sunday's video session.
"It's perfect," Burton said of PSU's opening-game performance. "They're not going to be drunk with success. They understand we have to play a lot better to have any chance next weekend" at Cal.
Portland State, coming off a 3-8 season, amassed 31 first downs, 405 yards rushing and 672 yards total offense against an Eastern Oregon team that went 4-6 a year ago. New PSU punter Kyle Loomis didn't get the call until there were 9 1/2 minutes remaining.
The Vikings had plenty of things on the negative side of the ledger as well: six fumbles, losing four; 16 penalties for 139 yards and soft enough defense at times to allow the Mountaineers 26 first downs and 438 yards total offense, more than half of that in the first half.
"I would classify a lot of those as first-game things -- live-action things you can't simulate in practice," said senior running back DJ Adams, who rushed for 107 yards and three touchdowns while playing little more than a half.
Portland State, which lost a fumble on its first play from scrimmage, got on the board first with Aaron Sibley's 64-yard interception return. With six minutes left in the first period, Eastern Oregon had run 18 plays to PSU's one, and the Vikings still led 7-0.
"There are certain things that you don't mind, but there were a lot of silly mistakes that will get corrected one way or the other," Burton said. "We have a lot of first-year, first-time players. They're very talented, but they're new to it. Their hearts were racing, and they got a little googly-eyed. But they pulled out the victory, and that's all that matters."
That's true only to a point. Portland State's offense cut through the visitors' defense with relative ease. At the other end, though, Eastern Oregon moved the ball at an alarming rate at times against a PSU defense that was porous last season.
"We did a lot of silly stuff that got us in trouble, but we were able to clamp down in the red zone," offered Burton. "What matters is the score. You don't lose games because of yards. (PSU defenders) tightened up when they needed to."
The Vikings jumped ahead 36-0 at halftime, and Burton -- who substituted liberally in the first half and gave all 60 players ample time by game's end -- sat quarterback Kieran McDonough and several other starters after intermission.
The Viks struck big early with interception returns by Sibley and Corey Crowder (44 yards) and receptions by Roston Tatum (80 yards for a TD, 58 yards).
"That's going to be our m.o. this year," Adams said. "Big plays are what we need. We'll keep it going."
Ball security and limiting penalties was not so much an issue against the outmanned Mountaineers. It will be a different story next weekend, though, in Bear country.
The Vikings say they will take on the challenge of California no differently than that of any road opponent.
"We'll play it like any other game," Crowder said. "We're not doing anything different -- getting on a bus, going to an airport, getting on a plane, staying in a hotel, playing a game."
Can the Vikings win?
"Of course," he said. "We have a good team. I'm not going to doubt our team at all."
Problem is, Cal isn't Eastern Oregon. Or Cal Davis, for that matter.
The Vikings will have to make a quantum leap from week one to week two or they'll know exactly how the Mountaineers felt Thursday night at Jeld-Wen.