Viks show room for improvement

Portland State’s football season began with a big turnover for the Viks: Three-year head coach Jerry Glanville was out after recording a 2-9 last season—the Vikings’ worst record in 27 years.

Portland State’s football season began with a big turnover for the Viks: Three-year head coach Jerry Glanville was out after recording a 2-9 last season—the Vikings’ worst record in 27 years.

First-time head coach Nigel Burton was in, and he brought with him new offensive and defensive schemes as well as a new coaching staff. Unfortunately, this season’s campaign ended with the same record of 2-9.

The team faced several challenges that were unique to this season. The Vikings had to change their game day venue to Hillsboro Stadium due to construction at PGE Park. This also meant they would only play four games at home. They also played two of their first three games against Pac-10 opponents, in which the smallest point deficit was 45.

Then there were the same challenges that they had been facing under their former head coach: the seemingly endless losing skids, the inability to finish games and letting games slip away in the final moments.

The Viks lost two back-to-back games in the final minute to conference heavyweights Montana and Weber State. They also lost their final home game to Northern Colorado, a team they should have beat, in the same manner.

“Obviously, the biggest thing we struggled with was how to finish games, and I think that in the end leaders need to step up at those critical moments…playmakers have to step up when it’s critical plays and critical drives. But it was nice to see us put ourselves in those situations, which hadn’t happened in the past couple of years,” Burton says.

Burton feels his biggest personal challenge this season was “changing the culture.”

The Viks’ offense was successful in several ways this season. Burton says the team did a good job in buying into the running game. The running game totaled 2,236 yards this season, more than 1,000 yards beyond the team total last year.

Behind a much-improved offensive line, running back Cory McCaffrey rushed for 1,287 yards and 10 touchdowns. McCaffrey finished the season as the team’s MVP and his performance is “one of the positives” of the season for Burton.

Even when the Viks got behind in games, McCaffrey had a never-say-die attitude and found a way to get them back in it. Despite an injury in the opening minutes of the final game of the season, he finished as the conference’s second leading rusher and ranked 12th in the nation. McCaffrey cemented his status as MVP when the Viks lost the game he was injured in by 48 points, their worst conference loss. Luckily, as he is only a junior, he will be back next year for more.

Burton, with his youth and direction, has a solid plan for improving the record next year.

“One thing we need to do is spend a lot of time developing the leadership among this football team…It’s a little different when you only have nine seniors and this next class will be somewhere in the 20s,” Burton says.

Burton is also counting on a larger number of players and the continued, deeper understanding of the 4-3 defense and pistol offense he has installed. Recruiting will also play a large role in what he is planning for next year. Not having much separation in the talent and knowledge of the game plan between the “ones and twos” on the roster is an important part of the team’s progress.

“Across the board we need to increase the competition at the linebacker and wide receiver positions,” Burton says.

Quarterback is also an area of concern for him as there will be three senior quarterbacks on the roster come next season.

Burton feels the new facilities at PGE park as well as the improved coaches’ offices will make his recruiting job easier as new recruits will get to see the progress the team is making in facilities. One can’t help but think though that the 2-9 record will have an effect on the recruiting possibilities, though.

It’s easy to get caught up with the possibilities of next season, but the bottom line is that this football team struggled mightily this season. In fact, they have not had a winning season in at least four years and in his first year, Burton was not able to fix the defensive mess that Glanville left behind.

After one particularly hard loss this season Burton said there were no such things as “moral victories” and it is important to keep this in mind when evaluating the season. However, seeing as Burton has such a clear plan and such an air of confidence, it is impossible not to feel some elation when looking forward to the coming season.?