On paper, this weekend’s bout between the Portland State Vikings and Idaho State Bengals looked like a shootout. Two offenses that have both been rolling recently and topping 400 and 500 yards per game, respectively. Instead, the Bengals’ defense stole the show and the game.
The Vikings’ defense got off to a quick start by forcing a punt on ISU’s first drive and then stuffing a fake punt attempt on their opponent’s second possession. Unfortunately, PSU’s offense couldn’t match the defensive intensity. The Vikings fell flat on their first two drives by going 3-and-out and then turning it over on downs during a failed fourth-and-11 attempt.
Idaho State struck twice in the first quarter, when quarterback Justin Arias hit KW Williams for a short 6-yard touchdown grab. Later, running back Xavier Finney snuck into the end zone on a 5-yard scamper that marked the drive’s first rushing call.
PSU faced an uphill battle down 14–0 after the opening quarter. On their fifth possession they were able to put it together, as Kieran McDonagh found Kasey Closs in the end zone. The grab marked Closs’ fourth touchdown reception of the season and brought the Vikings within one score of their opponent.
Each team was able to tack on a field goal before halftime, leaving the score 17–10. With the Viks receiving the ball first in the second half, they were well within striking distance of tying the game up.
PSU opened the third quarter with a bang when wide receiver Thomas Carter hit fellow wideout Closs for the 28-yard gain down the right sideline. This completion brought the Viks into Bengals territory and ignited a spark from the home crowd at Providence Park.
Hopes were dashed when, just two plays later, McDonagh went for it all, but was picked off in the middle of the end zone by lurking Bengals’ corner Erik Collins. This turnover turned into six points for ISU when Arias tossed his second touchdown of the afternoon.
On the very next Vikings drive, McDonagh was again intercepted by Collins. Luckily, PSU’s defense held and we were able to regain the ball, down two scores, with time quickly dwindling. The offense put together a drive that ended in Jonathan Gonzales’ 13th field goal of the season and pulled the Viks within nine.
After the PSU defense stepped up and blocked a Bengals field goal, the offense, led by McDonagh and junior WR Thomas Carter, battled for a first-and-goal at ISU’s 1-yard line. Offensive coordinator Bruce Barnum dialed up a quick pass in search of the score, but McDonagh was intercepted for the fourth time.
Again, the Vikings’ defense held strong and gave their offense another opportunity to score, but fumbled at their own 22-yard line and gave ISU a short field to push the game out of reach. Finney turned two carries into another Bengals score and pushed the lead to 18.
On their final three drives, PSU wasn’t able to get anything going and was forced to punt twice and was intercepted for the fifth time in the day’s battle. ISU was able to run out the remainder of the clock and push PSU back below .500 in conference play.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier, as the Viks look toward their final three weeks of the season and two opponents with a combined record of 14–4. They must work to slow down the Montana State Bobcats, a team that averages 44 points a game, as they hit the road on Nov. 8.
Offensively, PSU was able to go stride for stride with their Big Sky rival. Even down to play call, the teams were almost identical. The Viks were able to outgain the Bengals in rushing yards and only fell 6 yards short in matching ISU in total offense. PSU’s defense was able to hold their opponent 100 yards below their season average, while PSU’s own offense outgained their normal season totals by 50 yards.
PSU constantly and consistently shot themselves in the foot, both on offense and defense. The Viks were penalized 13 times for 131 yards, compared to just four penalties and 48 yards for their opponent. On the Bengals’ first scoring possession, PSU extended their rival’s drive with a pass interference call on third down, and later set them up with first-and-goal with a second interference flag.
In fact, PSU was penalized a total of six times on drives that ISU scored. A multitude of the flags being pass interference and roughing the passer calls. The other four flags bogged down an offense that had been ripping off yardage at will and backed the Viks up a total of 40 yards on holding calls throughout the game.
Like so many games, this matchup was dictated by turnovers, as PSU gave the ball away a shocking six times. Against a defense that had picked off opposing quarterbacks a total of 10 times in eight games, the Vikings gifted the Bengals with five interceptions in one short game.
QB Kieran McDonagh tossed four balls to Bengals cornerbacks, and freshman QB Josh Kraight threw one in his first extended playing time of the season. The real story was PSU’s inability to match ISU in scoring. Out of 15 possessions, 12 of the Vikings’ drives ended in either a turnover, punt or on downs (6–5–1).
Barnum utilized three quarterbacks in the loss. This game marked the return of Paris Penn from injury. He completed one pass for 11 yards and ran the ball three times for 18. QB Kieran McDonagh turned the ball over a total of five times in, by far, his most frustrating game in collegiate play. PSU would need to win out in order to notch a winning season.