Portland State still abuzz over big win vs. Washington State

September 9, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Portland State coach Bruce Barnum was temporarily distracted by the fact that a Gatorade shower had clogged up his ears and he couldn't hear a thing. But no words were necessary when he finally made his way to the locker room following the Vikings' upset win over Washington State.

His assistants were all grinning ear-to-ear.

''So I said to them, `That was kind of a big deal, wasn't it?''' Barnum said.

The Vikings were still abuzz this week after the 24-17 season-opening win over the Cougars in Pullman, Washington, on Saturday.

Portland State came back from a 10-0 deficit for the program's first victory over a Pac-12 opponent in 15 previous tries. And it was just the third victory for the Big Sky's Vikings over an FBS-level team: PSU defeated Hawaii in 2000 and New Mexico in 2006.

It was also the first game for Barnum, the offensive coordinator who was elevated last year when the Vikings dismissed Nigel Burton after five seasons. Portland State finished 3-9 last season, tied for 10th in the conference.

Barnum was given a one-year contract, largely seen as a try-out for the top job.

Burton's firing came at time of upheaval for the Vikings: The school was also without a permanent athletic director following the departure of Torre Chisholm. There were even whispers, though unfounded, that football was on its way out at Portland State.

But Barnum, who is a first-time head coach after assistant stints with the Vikings, Cornell and Idaho State, won over fans from the start. None of the players left the program when Burton was fired, and in fact, one came back.

Barnum said he found it easy to block out the outside noise for the chance to prove himself.

''It was something I've wanted to do for many moons,'' he said. ''I locked it down. The hardest part was hiring a staff, but they know me and knew the vision. And here we are: We beat Wazzu.''

The Vikings fully bought into Barny Ball, an original offense that Barnum describes as ''blue collar, tough, fundamental football.

''But every time I tried to say it, the team would make fun of me. So they named it Barny Ball and they ran with it,'' he said.

Last weekend was also the first NCAA-level game for Vikings quarterback Alex Kuresa, a transfer from Snow Junior College in Utah. Kuresa threw for just 61 yards, but led all players with 92 rushing yards in the pouring rain. Fellow quarterback Paris Penn was second with 57 yards rushing.

There is no quarterback controversy: Barny Ball, with its eclectic style that borrows a little from Mike Price and Dennis Erickson, employs both quarterbacks, and perhaps three.

The Vikings were 31-point underdogs. That made the win one of the top five biggest upsets, spread-wise, for a game involving an FBS team. For the privilege of traveling - by bus - to Pullman and beating the Cougars, the Vikings were paid $525,000.

''The bus didn't have wheels. It just flew,'' Barnum said about the ride home. ''The trip was five or six hours, but it felt like 30 minutes.''

Then on Monday, Portland State found itself nationally ranked for the first time since 2011. The Vikings came in at No. 24 on the STATS Inc. FCS poll after receiving no votes in the preseason poll. Portland State was picked to finish ninth in the preseason Big Sky coaches poll.

Still, the game probably showed as much - or more - about the Cougars as it did about the Vikings.

The loss snapped Washington State's 18-game winning streak over Big Sky teams, and 19-straight over FCS opponents. Afterward, Cougars coach Mike Leach was asked if he worries about job security.

''I don't, because all they have out of me is my best,'' Leach replied. ''I do the best I can every day and that's all I got. There's nothing else to give beyond that.''

Barnum is facing no such questions. It appears a safe assumption that his one-year deal will be extended.

Instead, he's focused on Portland State's next opponent: Idaho State, which is ranked No. 23 in the FCS. Barnum was an assistant for the Bengals from 1999-2006.

''I'll talk to them on Friday night before the game, about carrying the momentum. Just from the last drive, not from all the hoopla afterward and the celebration, but carry that feeling of that last drive on both offense and defense into the first snap of the next game. And then the next play,'' Barnum said. ''And we'll just go from there.''


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