Portland State gave Wazzu its first win of 2014, and the Vikings look to be as generous this season. They return a veteran defensive backfield and some weapons on offense, but really they should do little more than give the Cougs a different colored jersey to pop for a few hours on Saturday.
The Vikings offer some unique challenges on offense, but the Cougs should have an offense that puts things out of reach toward the end of the game.
What has me concerned about Portland State
Not a lot really. Bowl quality FBS teams shouldn't be that worried about FCS match-ups. If you think WSU is a bowl team, you should also think this game won't be particularly close.
Injuries. Injury concerns are always lingering around should be a win games, and Portland State has a crazy history of putting WSU QBs on the sideline. Collect the W and keep the roster healthy.
A "UQ". The Vikings have tagged their best athlete on offense -- Paris Penn (above) -- as a "utility quarterback", and plan to get him involved in the offense in some highly variable, non-standard ways. He can throw the ball a bit, so double passes will happen. Reverse passes. Read options from a slot back. Head coach Bruce Barnum will try things you don't see other teams trying, because building your offense around low-percentage trick plays is probably bad idea, but it could lead to some big plays if the defense doesn't read their keys right.
A mobile QB. PSU announced Alex Kuresa will be the starter at quarterback. Last season at Snow Junior College, Kuresa completed 62.7 pct of his passes for a little over 2300 yards and 25 TDs. He was also the leading rusher, gaining 592 yards and eight TDs on 99 carries. The Coug D has spent months going against an Air Raid that doesn't feature a true mobile threat at QB. Falk and Bender can move all right, but not to the level of a truly mobile QB. I'm sure Hilinski gave them some good looks on scout team, but facing a QB that can run a bit will be a new challenge for the defense.
What are you most confident in about the Vikings?
"Barnum is well-liked, so the energy and enthusiasm on PSU this year is significantly higher with plenty of weapons on offense. The matchup between the PSU offense and WSU defense should be an intriguing one. The Vikings could score in the 20's. But WSU should reach the 50's again."
What has me confident in WSU
Jimmys and Joes. The roster at WSU is just a lot more talented, and bigger, than Portland State this season. They don't play the games on paper, but winning off the bus is never bad either. From the defensive line, to the offensive line, to the wide receivers, the talent disparity is probably just too large for Portland State to overcome over the course of a full game.
Xs and Os. Wazzu should have a scheme advantage. Nigel Burton had his squad prepped well for the Air Raid last season. It took Halliday and the Cougs a little while to get going, but Barnum is an offensive guy and Burton is sitting next to Yogi Roth at PAC-12 Networks. PSU should get real familiar with the system, with in-conference opponent Montana Grizzlies now running it under Bob Stitt, but for now there's a not a lot about giving up 630 yards through the air last year that suggests they'll handle it better this year.
What scares you about Wazzu?
"Obviously, the Air Raid offense comes to mind first. Depth in the secondary could be a concern for the Viks as the game goes along. Eventually the 85 scholarships vs. 63 schollies will show itself. The Cougs have so much talent on offense. This should be the most talented offensive team the Vikings face all season by a wide margin. WSU scored 59 pts last year. They could surpass that number this year."
How I think it'll play out
Luke Falk might take a while to get going with the offense, or the Cougs could come out like gangbusters. It's kinda hard to tell how aggressive this squad will be before we see them. Falk was a more methodical QB last season, taking runs when they were available and calculated in when he took shots deep. He also unloaded deep to Dom Williams on a fade route off H-stick on his first pass attempt last year.
Either way, the offense will roll eventually. I'd expect YAC to be what's most impressive. Any, or all, of Wazzu's wide receivers can be real dangerous in space and I think they're ready to put on a show.
I'd also look for crazy jump in run game stats. The offensive line is ready to get after a not-scout team defense, and Gerard Wicks might be able to crack 100 yards on the ground.
Special teams gets a return TD. This has been too much of an emphasis for too long, between the end of last season and all off-season, for it not to pay off for them. Ky Priester is probably the most dynamic return man WSU has had in quite some time.
The Cougs should get between 12 and 14 possessions and should score on 8 or 9 of them. The offense should break 60, and it'd be nice to see them make it through the game without throwing an interception. All eyes will be on the defense though. What it looks like. How well it handles the variable tactics Portland State will throw at them, the mobile quarterback ... can the Cougs create some turnovers? Having the starters keep the Vikings under two touchdowns would be a good step in the right direction.
Hey Scott ...
How do you see the game playing out?
With Kuresa at QB, I don't see PSU getting shut out in the first half as they were last yr. I think PSU will be within 10-14 points at halftime. However, in the second half, I expect WSU's superior depth to shine through on both sides. Cougs pull away over the final 30 mins for a 30-40 point win. Simply too much talent on offensive side for Viks to deal with over a 60-min game.