BY STEVE BRANDON/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Davis Alexander gets Vikings offense untracked at Cal Poly, but now the winless team must face Big Sky contender Weber State

COURTESY: PORTLAND STATE UNIVERSITY - Davis Alexander, from Gig Harbor, Wash., got his chance to start last week and sparked Portland State's passing offense in a loss at Cal Poly.A lot of people get his name wrong.

"I get called Alexander Davis all the time, probably more than I get Davis Alexander. Or they call me Alex," says Portland State's new starting quarterback.

Vikings coach Bruce Barnum has a couple of other names for redshirt freshman Davis Alexander.

"He's 'The Gunslinger.' He's 'The Swashbuckler,'" Barnum says.

He certainly was last week. In his first college start, the former Gig Harbor (Washington) High star added zip to PSU's previously passing balky attack, throwing for 409 yards in a 35-28 loss at Cal Poly.

"I haven't been happy with our offense this season. We weren't clicking," Barnum says. "But we came together last week. We were able to pitch and catch. We'd been missing that element. Our offense looked like an offense, finally."

Alexander, a 5-11, 195-pounder, will get starting shot No. 2 at 2 p.m. Saturday, when Portland State plays its home finale at Providence Park against Big Sky co-leader Weber State (7-2, 5-1 in league). Then, on Nov. 18, PSU will wrap up its season at conference contender Eastern Washington (5-4, 4-2). Weber State is ranked 12th and 14th in the FCS polls. EWU is 19th and 21st. Weber State has allowed 17.7 points per game, fewest of any Big Sky team. "The best defense, outside of the FBS teams, that we'll see all year, by far," Barnum says.

Portland State is 0-9 overall, 0-6 in the Big Sky and has lost 11 games in a row dating to last season. But Alexander's performance in San Luis Obispo, California is a big reason why the Viks have hopes of pulling off one or two upsets.

"I'm very excited," Alexander says.

Five days before the Cal Poly game, Barnum called Alexander into his office and told him he would be PSU's third starting quarterback this season. The coach also said he wouldn't be out there just to hand off the ball.

"He said, 'We want to throw the ball 50-55 times.' It was a dream come true," Alexander says.

The Vikings hadn't been that wide open — or been able to be that wide open — in a long time.

"I was ecstatic," Alexander says. "All I've ever wanted to do was be the 'Air Raid' type of quarterback, where we throw the ball 50 times, because I want the game in my hands."

All went very well at Cal Poly, until the very end. Trent Riley caught a career-high 12 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns. Darnell Adams had six receptions. Josh Kraght had six (and threw a touchdown pass on a trick play). But Alexander's final throw was picked off at the Cal Poly 26-yard line with 48 seconds remaining.

"I thought I played well," he says, "but I feel like there is so much room for improvement, that I could have done a lot of things better. A lot of that comes from experience. It'd been about two years since I'd played a full game."

Alexander finished 30 of 51 passing. He was accurate, hung in well for the most part under pressure, and showed the ability to make touch throws as well as the long ball and quick darts.

"What it comes down to is that I've got to make a few more plays for us. And I can't turn the ball over on the last drive," he says.

Barnum wasn't complaining, though.

"We thought the kid was ready to go, and he was," the coach says. "All the pieces fell into place. He gave us a chance to win that football game.

"He was exactly what we hoped he was. We probably should have thrown it 20 more times."

Alexander was a prime recruit of Portland State coming out of high school, and he admittedly settled early on the Vikings for his college future. The PSU coaches liked his potential in a run-pass system, the approach that helped take them to the national playoffs two years ago with Alex Kuresa at the controls of the offense.

Alexander is a stronger passer than Kuresa, who excelled as a runner as well as a leader and competitor. But Alexander had to wait his turn, and was third string even much of this season, in the wings behind the initial starting QB, true freshman Jalani Eason from Los Angeles, and then Kraght, the versatile senior with a signal-calling background.

It was only a matter of time, though, till Alexander got more than a cameo look.

"He's very football-savvy," Barnum says. "He understands coverages. And he's got the biggest arm out there."

Enough in his repertoire, it would seem, to make a name for himself on the Park Blocks and that soon more people will come to know he's Davis Alexander.

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