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Portland State’s alignments could produce quandary for Cougars’ defense

WSU opens football season at home

PULLMAN – Football has no triple play or perfect 10 on a balance beam. There is no play that is seen as rarely as a white whale and is decisive enough to have a major impact at a critical juncture in the contest. But two quarterbacks scoring a touchdown with one pass comes pretty close. Portland State nearly pulled it off with its first offensive play at Washington State last season. Kieran McDonagh dropped back and fired a bomb to Paris Penn, who snuck behind the WSU secondary, but quarterbacks aren’t recruited for their sticky fingers, and Penn dropped the pass. Because the Vikings have a unique offense, one that will certainly again see multiple pass-throwers on the field at the same time Saturday, they should provide an interesting test for WSU’s defense in the first game coached by defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. Four of PSU’s best athletes who play on the offensive side of the ball play or have played quarterback in college. Against a bigger, more athletic Pac-12 team like WSU – or against any team – it would be a waste to not play those athletes. “We actually named a 12th guy, we have what we call a ‘utility quarterback,’” explained PSU coach Bruce Barnum. “We actually have some personnel groups – you’ll see three (quarterbacks) on the field against Washington State as far as Paris (Penn), Josh Kraght and Alex (Kuresa) at quarterback.” Barnum was the offensive coordinator for the Vikings in that game and, based on some of his recent comments, it seems he believes the aforementioned play didn’t work because there was an insufficient number of quarterbacks involved. Barnum has a QB meeting room full of mobile hurlers: Neither McDonagh, last year’s starter, nor Penn won the starting job, which will instead go to junior college transfer Kuresa. Kraght, of Lynden High, threw for 521 yards and two touchdowns last season and has been moved to wide receiver, but could still be used as a passer to catch the Cougars off-guard. Penn will play “utility quarterback,” a position that could encompass quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end. Kuresa was a running threat in junior college. “Not dissimilar to a lot of mobile quarterbacks that we’ll see in our conference, and they have several,” Grinch said. “The fact that they’re able to move them to other positions around the field speaks to their athleticism.” Being forced to cover players who can either catch or throw a pass will be a good test for WSU’s new base-nickel defense. Grinch has put particular emphasis on improving his defenders’ eyes – their knowledge of where to look and when. The Vikings will make the Cougars think and may embarrass WSU’s defense a few times. That’s ideal in a situation in which the Cougars are likely to win every mano-a-mano matchup. Barnum knows his team is athletically overmatched – he told Portland’s Rip City Radio 620 that, “from watching the video, it looks like Coach (Mike) Leach went to the underworld and recruited a bunch of lycans to run up and down the field. They are fast as the dickens and fun to watch.” But with a unique scheme, the Vikings may be able to fool WSU’s better athletes. And that will give the Cougars a stiffer defense later in the season.
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