PSU football: Tough lessons from loss at Montana
In a regular football season, a loss like the 48-7 one the Portland State Vikings suffered on Saturday, April 17, at Montana would stick with everyone for a while.
But, in a regular season, a team wouldn't be getting a pep talk from the opposing head coach at their Friday walk-through as the Vikings did from Montana coach Bobby Hauck.
In a regular season, there would be more than one coach in the press box helping coordinate the PSU offense and the defense.
In a regular season, teams would have the same amount of preparation time.
But, in the case of this one game, just getting to play was a win as far as Portland State coach Bruce Barnum was concerned. Barnum said he felt relieved to see his team on the field preparing for kickoff, that after working hard to maintain COVID-19 safety protocols, the Vikings actually were playing a football game.
Yes, Barnum was steamed that his team didn't play well — that, other than a 73-yard touchdown pass from Davis Alexander to Mataio Talalemotu, the Vikings struggled for every yard and had a difficult time stopping the Montana offense. But, the sixth-year PSU coach got what he wanted from the experience.
"I saw it as a win just getting there and playing the game," Barnum said.
At halftime, after Montana scored three touchdowns in the second quarter and led 27-0, Barnum's message to his team focused on uncharacteristic mistakes. He pointed out that the Vikings looked like a group that had not played a game in 17 months trying to compete with an opponent that looked in midseason form.
"(The Griz) were a well-oiled machine, and good for them," Barnum said.
When he looked for an opponent for a single contest this spring, Barnum wanted to face a playoff-level FCS team or a FBS team. He wanted an honest assessment of his team heading into a 2021 season slated to begin Sept. 4 with a game at Hawaii.
Barnum said playing a less-challenging opponent might have felt good, but would not have set his team up for success next season.
"I don't need a confident team right now," Barnum said. "I need a team that knows what they need to do to get better."
Montana certainly provided that. The Griz led 7-0 after one quarter, then scored three touchdowns in the second quarter including a 40-yard scoring drive in the final 52 seconds of the half that included a fourth-down conversion.
Montana outgained Portland State 511-293, rushing for 248 yards and passing for 263.
Alexander completed 15 of 25 passes for 193 yards and one interception, along with the TD. Talalemotu had four catches for 93 yards and Beau Kelly five receptions for 61 yards.
Alexander netted 33 yards on 10 rushing plays to lead PSU ball carriers, as the Montana defense kept the Vikings to less than three yards per carry. PSU was 2 for 13 on third downs and 0 for 4 on fourth downs.
On defense for Portland State, freshman linebacker Parker McKenna was in on 10 tackles (five solo). Junior defensive back Anthony Adams (Newberg High) and freshman linebacker Justice Pagan (Clackamas High) each were in on nine tackles.
Sophomore safety David Joseph had an interception in the end zone to stop a first half Montana drive.
It was the second big win in as many weeks for Montana, which beat Central Washington 59-3 on April 10.
"Physically, we're not ready to play football," Barnum said, noting that Montana has been allowed to do football activities since last summer whereas the Vikings were not allowed to do anything until January.
Still, Barnum said he saw enough good things to be excited about as his players turn their focus to preparing for the 2021 season — a process that begins this week with strength training after three days off for the players.
Among the positives Barnum listed was seeing Talalemotu, a Beaverton High grad, healthy for the first time since arriving at PSU and watching him sprint past Montana defenders for the lone Viking touchdown.
PSU punter Seth Vernon averaged 54.8 yards on six punts and put two of them inside the 20-yard line.
A number of inexperienced players saw significant action, which should motivate them to prepare their bodies for the 2021 season that will arrive quickly.
"This isn't us," Barnum said, summing up the Viking's performance at Missoula. "With bad taste in our mouth, we'll be extra motivated to put in the work that needs to happen between now and September."
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