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Burton calls on PSU defense to step up as 'real run' begins Saturday versus Southern Utah

Portland State’s defense has been poor and porous.

The Vikings (1-2) have given up 1,173 total yards and 39 points per game versus NAIA Carroll, North Dakota and Washington.

The PSU offense has been efficient at times, but if the Vikings want to get their season back on track, the defense needs to make more stops.

Coach Nigel Burton fired defensive coordinator Eric Jackson after the 45-37 loss to North Dakota in game two. The “hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in coaching,” Burton says. But a necessary decision, the third year head coach says.

“The biggest thing is, I just felt as though we needed to make a change in some way to get ourselves to a championship level of play on that side of the ball,” Burton says. “And there were some other factors involved and that was the decision I made and it was a hard one.”

Burton says that the players — who will open Big Sky play at 5 p.m. Saturday at Jeld-Wen Field against Southern Utah — had a difficult time the day after Jackson was fired, but that after the initial shock wore off, they adjusted.

“It’s not like they had a choice,” he says. “It’s not like they don’t have more games to play and more opportunities to get things turned around.

"Kids are pretty resilient. You can put them in a lot of different situations and usually, if you have the right guys, they’ll find ways to be successful.”

Burton, who was the defensive coordinator for Nevada before he came to the Park Blocks, is taking on a bigger role in handling the defense in practice and games.

“We’ve always had shared responsibilities, so that hasn’t changed at all,” he says. “Obviously, being down a coach at the present time, my responsibilities have increased.”

Running the defense is not a job he wants permanently, though.

“I still have other responsibilities as the head football coach,” he says. “It’s nothing I want to do long-term. But in the short term, we all have to pick up and keep moving.”

Burton says the Vikings have made no schematic changes defensively. He has, however, increased his demand that every player on that side of the ball does his “one-eleventh” on every play.

“That has been our mantra, and they’re hearing it full force this week,” Burton says. “It just (means) execute responsibility, stop trying to do everybody else’s stuff, and things will be good.”

Southern Utah began its season with a 34-3 loss to Utah State, but then showed well against California, losing 50-31. The Thunderbirds got their first win of last week, defeating New Mexico Highlands 45-23.

Burton says Southern Utah has a balanced attack, with a productive quarterback in Brad Sorensen, talented receivers, a well-coached offensive line and difficult-to -tackle running backs.

“They’ve got a great quarterback in Sorensen,” Burton says. “They have three or four very good wide receivers. Their running backs don’t get the credit they deserve. They’re real small, tight, compact, hard to bring down. They’re coached very well on the offensive line.

"Top to bottom, they’re going to give us some issues. But, if we execute, we always have a chance to win. If we don’t, as strong as this conference is, it will always be tough.”

What the Vikings want to accomplish the most is in the games still to play, not the three-game nonconference schedule behind them.

“We’ve talked to the guys about the fact that the first three games are nice, it’s great to see where we are, but in the end, it’s irrelevant to our goals of winning the Big Sky and getting into the national playoffs,” Burton says. “This week is the beginning of the real run.”

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