Burton poses question to his PSU Vikings: Are you confident because you're winning, or winning because you're confident?
You can feel it on the Park Blocks. The Portland State football team, once dead and buried, is filled with excitement and confidence.
Three games into the season, the Vikings already have equaled the total number of wins - two - they had last year. The only loss came as a moral victory, when PSU played 20th-ranked TCU dead even through almost the entire first half last week at Fort Worth, Texas.
In the end, the 2010 season Rose Bowl champs dismantled Portland State 55-13. But, the Vikings are still riding high from taking a 3-0 lead into the second quarter and keeping the game knotted 3-3 until the final two minutes remained of the first half.
'It gives us confidence,' defensive tackle Myles Wade says. 'Overall, everybody was pleased with what we did that day against TCU up to that point. But we know that we just can't play 28 minutes of football every game.'
The Vikings (2-1, 1-0 Big Sky) now go into what figures to be a much more evenly matched game on the road against Idaho State on Saturday.
'Our goal at the start of the season was to win the Big Sky,' quarterback Connor Kavanaugh says. 'Whether we beat TCU or not, we still have that goal. We're 1-0 on the Big Sky, and our sights are set on going 1-0 each week in the Big Sky. It starts with Idaho State.'
The game against TCU proved to Vikings coach Nigel Burton that his team can compete with anybody on the road.
'I was really impressed with how we attacked that environment,' Burton says, of playing in Texas. 'The heat, the amount of people that were there ... they even put their song girls behind you to distract you. And the way our team started that game focused, and even after we went through (TCU) scoring those points in such a short amount of time, we went back and played again. The players didn't hang their heads and stop playing.'
Portland State has not won at Idaho State since 1999. This year, the Bengals (2-2, 1-1) are vulnerable. They lost to Northern Arizona 20-3, after Portland State beat NAU 31-29.
Idaho State has an improved defense from last season, with active linebackers and different pass rushes.
'They're greatly improved from last year,' Kavanaugh says. 'They do a lot of different things. They're just a solid defense.'
The Vikings have the advantage of making the Bengals prepare for two different quarterbacks. Kavanaugh has torn it up on the ground this season, rushing for 232 yards and a touchdown. And backup quarterback Drew Hubel is starting to become more comfortable as a passer after missing last season due to injury.
'It's just a matter of getting the muscle memory and flowing within the offense, making your decisions quicker and in turn making efficient and good decisions faster and getting the ball in the right hands,' says Hubel, who is 20 of 38 passing this season for 254 yards and a touchdown.
Another advantage the Vikings will have is that running back Cory McCaffrey will be back on the field after sitting out the TCU game as a precaution because of a dinged-up shoulder and knee - the result rushing for 222 yards and four TDs against NAU.
The week off has McCaffrey feeling as ready to go as he has been all season.
'I feel really, really well-rested,' McCaffrey says. 'My legs are feeling fresh. I've been in the training room a lot. So I feel more prepared than I did against NAU.'
McCaffrey has rushed 43 times for 293 yards and seven TDs. He says that having to sit out against TCU will make him extra motivated this weekend.
'It's been a lot of build up,' McCaffrey says. 'I've been waiting. It's hard, especially going down to Texas and playing the biggest team we're going to play this year and having to sit there and watch. So it's a lot of motivation to go out this week and let everyone know that, 'Hey, I'm good to go, game is on, so let's take care of business.''
Offensively, Idaho State is a pass-oriented team. Surrounded by an offensive line that likes to cut block, freshman quarterback Kevin Yost has tossed up more than 53 passes per game, completing 71 percent of for 1,346 yards and nine touchdowns.
That gives the Vikings defensive line a chance to fire off the ball and try to get to Yost before he releases.
'When you know a team passes a lot, it's going to give you more urgency to get to the ball because you know it's pass,' Wade says. 'You know to pin your ears back, narrow up your stance and just go.'
The Bengals are second-to-last in the nation in rushing with 38 yards per game. But Yost is mobile, which means the Vikings defense still has to have some respect for the run.
'Teams that pass a lot, they'll anticipate the defense catching on, so they'll throw something like a draw or a quick screen that'll try to throw off the D-linemen,' Wade says. 'We have to stay in our rush lanes as defensive linemen. We've got to make sure that the quarterback stays front and center in the pocket and allow him no lanes to escape.'
The Vikings go into October with high expectations intact, something that hasn't happened in a while. The attitude of the team has caused Burton to pose a question to his players: Are they confident because they are winning, or, are they winning because they are confident? Burton hopes that the answer is the latter.
'I hope that eventually we get our program to the point where we're winning because we're confident,' Burton says. 'There's going to be things that go south in every game and during every season. And are they going to have the confidence to push through those situations? That's kind of the part that's still to be determined with this team.'