The Vikings were dominated in their last non-conference game of the season Saturday, losing 55-12 to the University of Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium. It was the Vikings’ third pay-to-play game, earning PSU a $350,000 appearance fee.
The Ducks would certainly get their money’s worth. After Oregon scored 14 quick points in the first quarter, PSU quarterback Sawyer Smith hit senior wide out Tremayne Kirkland for a 19-yard touchdown to pull the Vikings to 14-6 after a blocked point-after attempt. It would be the closest Portland State would get for the rest of the afternoon.
Second-string Ducks quarterback Brady Leaf’s run made the score 21-6, and not even Mu’Ammar Ali’s 57-yard touchdown run could save the Vikings from a disheartening blowout going into a critical two-game stretch to end the season. Ali was the lone bright spot running for 139 yards on 23 carries and the long score.
”Our kicking game killed us and two turnovers killed us,” Vikings head coach Tim Walsh said. “That’s 28 points and we’re already a 28-point underdog.”
An aggressive pass rush by Oregon and poor protection forced Smith into several bad situations. The fifth-year senior finished the game 5-15 for 45 yards with four sacks and three interceptions, including an interception returned for a touchdown in the third quarter.
With the game well out of reach, Walsh benched Smith to give newly added backup quarterback Brian White some playing time. White joined the team mid-season after leaving the University of Colorado and almost led the Vikings to an improbable comeback against Montana three weeks ago. He finished Saturday’s game completing four out of seven passes, for 48 yards.
”Brian will be the first to admit that when we call a play, he isn’t 100 percent sure what play we called,” Walsh said. “The opportunity to play for 22 minutes is only going to help him down the road.”
The Vikings must regroup as they head to a must-win match-up against Big Sky foe Northern Arizona. The Lumberjacks are 4-4 (3-2 Big Sky) and possess the best offense in the conference. Led by quarterback Jason Murrietta, NAU is averaging 32 points a game and 369 yards of offense. However, they also give up 30 points a game and over 400 yards of offense.
The Lumberjacks lead the series 7-4, including a 4-1 advantage in Flagstaff. Portland State fell 21-20 the last time the two teams played in Arizona, though the Vikings ran away with a 45-0 victory at PGE Park last year.
”They’re saying the same thing we’re saying, that they are a four-loss team that can go to the playoffs,” Walsh said. “We have to make sure our players forget about last week, mentally. We need to play well, period.”