QBs McDonagh, Penn bring different strengths to PSU offense

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF PORTLAND STATE UNIVERSITY - Returning starter Kieran McDonagh is battling former Grant High star Paris Penn at quarterback with the Portland State Vikings, who could use a mix of the two in different situations this season.As has been the case since coach Nigel Burton took the helm at Portland State five years ago, the Vikings go into the season with an open quarterback competition.

The two players going head-to-head this August for the starting spot are junior Kieran McDonagh and sophomore Paris Penn.

“They had a great run at each other last spring,” offensive coordinator Bruce Barnum says. “They’re both leaders. I’ve got confidence in both of them. It’s a great thing and a bad thing, because I have two guys who can play.”

Both McDonagh and Penn say they don’t mind the battle between them for the right to take the first snaps Aug. 30 at Oregon State.

“It improves both of us,” says Penn, a 6-1, 215-pounder from Grant High. “We’re competing against each other. He helps me,

I help him. There’s no real feud. There’s no problem between us. I feel confident with how I worked during the summer and how I run the offense.”

Says the 6-2, 230-pound McDonagh, from Skyview High in Vancouver, Wash.: “(Burton) has explained it (the open competition) to me multiple times. The competition just fuels more of the drive and makes us work harder. I try to spin it and compete with the old me and try to do better than I did last year. Whether I’m competing against the next guy, or another guy, I always think about how I can do better against myself. At the end of the day, I’m the one who’s trying to perform better.”

Barnum says he does not need whichever quarterback wins the job to be Joe Montana. He just wants the QB to do all the little things right.

“I need them to take control of the offense, run the offense,” Barnum says. “I don’t need a superstar. I don’t need a guy making every throw. I need them lining us up, getting the ball to the right people. I don’t need them doing too much.”

McDonagh is most likely the favorite to win the job. He has started most of the time since his true freshman season. Last year, he threw for 1,936 yards, 15 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions in 10 games. He also rushed for 369 yards and four TDs. McDonagh lost his starting job late last season, in part because of nagging knee and shoulder injuries. He says he is healthy.

Last season, Penn passed for 85 yards and one touchdown, going 10 for 14 with no interceptions, in six games. He also rushed 28 times for 188 yards and one touchdown.

Both Penn and McDonagh have the ability to leave the pocket and run, but they have different styles when they are carrying the ball — McDonagh is a bruiser, while Penn is a speedster.

“Paris is probably the fastest guy on the team,” Barnum says. “Athletically, he’s more like a cheetah and Kieran is more like a bulldog. Paris is going to run by you or around you. Kieran is going to run through you. That’s the difference.”

Penn says he worked in the offseason to become more of a dual threat.

“I’ve grown a lot, especially in terms of my pocket awareness and trying to stay in the pocket and throw the ball instead of just getting the ball and tucking and running,” Penn says. “I’m well-known on this team for my energy and how I run the ball. Now I want to add the element of throwing the ball to make it a complete package.”

McDonagh got up to about 250 pounds last season.

“That was a little heavy,” he says. Dropping about 20 pounds, “I feel like the tradeoff of speed and power has shifted. Before, it was more about power and less about speed. Now I’ve gained some speed. and it’s going to help with the way I run and the way I can move in the pocket.”

McDonagh, who completed 54.5 percent of his passes in 2013, also has worked to improve as a passer.

“I spent a lot of time this summer throwing with guys on the team and some guys who used to be on the team who went and played Canadian football,” he says. “I got some tips here and there, and worked with some quarterback coaches.”

Barnum says both of the QBs “have big arms. Both make great decisions. That’s my problem. Both can do the job. We grade every practice, because it’s that hard of a decision.”

A year ago, the Vikings occasionally rotated quarterbacks during a game. With Penn now having some experience, the Viks are likely to do even more of that this season.

“If Paris doesn’t win the job, I can’t have him off the field,” Barnum says. “I’ve got to get him on the field somehow and get the ball in his hands.

“It’s all the flow of the game and the offense. We’re all about production. Whoever is producing, that’s going to be who is on the field. It’s not a thing where someone wins the job, or they’re splitting the job. It’s who as a unit is scoring. Who is moving the football?”

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