The Portland State Vikings run a style of offense that Huskies defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski has seen before.
It’s “pretty close to identical” to the run-heavy “pistol” formation made popular by the University of Nevada and star quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Kwiatkowski said, and UW coach Chris Petersen said on Monday that it’s unlike anything the Huskies have seen in his first two seasons here.
“A lot of the plays up front are blocked the same,” Kwiatkowski said, asked how PSU’s offensive scheme compares to the Nevada teams he coached against while at Boise State. “The philosophy of how they stay on doubles, looking for movement, it’s a downhill run game, and they have outside zones and stuff like that, but that’s more of a change-up, because they want to get the ball downhill.
“The quarterback is not Colin Kaepernick, but he’s a very similar style. If it’s not there, he doesn’t like the look – when they’re throwing the ball – he’s going to scramble and he’s elusive and breaks tackles and the best compliment I can give him is the guy’s a competitor. He just keeps coming and fighting and clawing. He’s a good little player.”
The quarterback is Alex Kuresa, a 6-foot, 190-pound fifth-year senior who began his career at Brigham Young, spent two seasons there as a receiver, transferred to Snow College to play quarterback, then transferred to Portland State last season and won the starting quarterback job. Last year, he led PSU to a season-opening upset of Washington State, a 9-3 overall record and a berth in the FCS playoffs. He threw for 1,975 yards, 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions, and rushed for 755 yards and seven touchdowns.
Both Kwiatkowski and defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake marveled at Kuresa’s ability to buy time with his legs on passing plays.
“This guy, it’s amazing. He gets out of some stuff,” Kwiatkowski said. “These guys don’t remember Fran Tarkenton, but he’s like that guy back there. He’s got the Elway roll – he’s in the pocket and he’s going to roll over his backside shoulder. He’s a little Houdini back there.”
Said Lake: “No. 7 stays alive. He’s back there, he looks downfield, and then he starts running all over the place, almost Vernon Adams style. Keeps the play alive, keeps the play alive, you’ll see a couple of d-linemen fall off of him, he runs around to the other side of the field, and then he hucks it up for a 50, 60-yard touchdown, and those are the ones that cause us a lot of headaches that keep us up Friday night before the game.”
The Huskies must also account for Paris Penn, who is listed as a quarterback but is more accurately described as a utility player. For example: he hasn’t attempted a pass this season and threw only five last year, but currently leads Portland State in rushing through two games (with 164 yards and an average of 8.6 yards per carry) and last year rushed for 209 yards and caught 11 passes for 184 yards.
“He’s Mr. Everything. He does everything,” Lake said. “He plays quarterback, he plays running back, he plays receiver. He plays tight end. He could probably play corner for them. He does everything. He is a phenomenal athlete, and we are always going to have to know when he steps on the field where he is.”
The Vikings are a run-oriented team -- in last year’s upset of WSU, for example, they finished with 48 rushes and only 12 pass attempts -- but Lake said they’ll use that identity to set up timely play-action passes.
“You’re so intent on stopping the run, because the run causes so many issues,” Lake said, “that now, all of a sudden, everybody’s a little bit closer to the line of scrimmage, and now when they do that play-action pass, those guys are a little bit more wide open. You hear the saying over and over in football, at any level: you run the ball, run the ball, run the ball to set up the big pass. And that’s what Portland State does.”