If PSU’s offense looks a little different next season, that will be because it is.
An influx of unproven but potentially exciting talent, coupled with some new plays, promises to reshape Portland State’s offense for the coming season.
Two new wide receivers, a new quarterback and a newly installed formation give new offensive coordinator Mike Fanger a plethora of options last year’s team didn’t have.
Last year’s offense struggled to find balance. The Big Sky’s most potent rushing attack was undermined by the league’s worst passing attack. PSU frequently dominated time of possession only to fail to put points on the board. A conservative offensive approach was one of the key factors that sunk the Viks in back-to-back heartbreaking losses to Montana State and Northern Arizona.
To restore some balance and bolster the wide receiver position, head coach Tim Walsh brought in Nic Costa and Jordan Carey. Both are excellent athletes with Pac-10 experience and the potential to quickly turn a weakness into a strength and one of the shallowest positions into one of the deepest. A foot injury to Costa and compliancy issues for Carey kept them out of spring practice but both should be on the field when practice resumes in August. The prospect tantalizes Fanger, a former wide receivers coach.
“We know they’re both very good athletes,” said Fanger. “They both bring similar things to the table as far as their strength. They don’t look like receivers walking around in a T-shirt, they look more like strong safeties.”
Costa and Carey join Shaun Bodiford, the leading receiver last year, and Brendan Ferrigno to form an enviable receiving corps.
“Athletically, we’re not going to turn onto the field very many times this year and say they’re better than we are,” Fanger said.
Fans should get a chance to see those athletes streaking down the sidelines more frequently than last year thanks to Walsh and Fanger’s decision to utilize the shotgun.
“It’s going to be brand new to fans who’ve been watching Portland State for the last 10 years or so,” Fanger said. In addition to new targets, new quarterback Sawyer Smith will have an expanded set of plays taking advantage of the abundance of talent outside.
“It’s exciting to see all those guys out there,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of speed – a lot of talent – not just with the wide receivers but with the offense as a whole.”
A big part of that whole is the top-notch running game PSU used to control the tempo last year. A dominant offensive line and two good running backs bruised opponents even though they often knew what was coming.
Two seniors from that line and one of the backs are gone, but the ground game could still be strong behind a young O-line and senior back Joe Rubin. Rubin has spent his off-season preparing to carry the extra load.
“Truly I’m just excited about being the running back and being the guy and showing that I can carry the load and also be a leader, both on and off the field,” he said.
The team will need Rubin and others to adopt leadership roles and fill the holes left by the legion of departed seniors. All the new pieces look good on paper but Fanger is aware that without leadership they won’t amount to wins.
“We have an opportunity to be very good,” he said. “Now we’re going to see how hard these guys want to work and how much it means to them.”
We’ll see when they take the field Sept. 3 in Corvallis against the Beavers.
Will they be ready?
“Oh yeah,” Rubin said. “It can’t come quick enough.”