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Coach: Viking defense needs to get physical

Heading to Southern Utah, PSU hopes to regain momentum


Another season, another Portland State defense that is struggling to keep the Vikings in football games.

The sound of this broken record is even more grinding for PSU, though, given that until the second half of the Cal Poly game on Sept. 26, it appeared as though Portland State had turned the corner defensively. Then the Vikings gave up 31 points in the second half to Cal Poly and got stomped last weekend at Montana in a 55-27 loss.

“We had too many errors in the back,” coach Nigel Burton says, about the defensive performance against Montana. “It was also our worst defensive performance tackling that we’ve had all year. A lot of things that shouldn’t have been big plays became big plays because of poor tackling.

"We’ve tackled really well over the course of the year, so that was an anomaly. We also weren’t put in the best position because of turnovers. So it was kind of a perfect storm of nonsense.”

Before the second half of the Cal Poly game, Portland State had given up just 77 points in 4 1/2 outings, including 37 points to Pac-12 California.

PSU senior linebacker Jaycob Shoemaker says the decline is because “people stopped trusting one another to be there for their jobs and started trying to go off the reservation and do things they shouldn’t.”

Shoemaker is the leader on the linebacker corps, but PSU’s backers have had a difficult time staying healthy.

“We’ve had guy after guy getting nicks and this and that,” Burton says. “We need to settle into a core group.”

Burton also says the defensive line, led by senior end Bryant Long, needs to begin playing physical football again.

“The 'D' line was amazing until the second half of the Cal Poly game,” Burton says. “They’ve got to get back to being physical at the point of attack throughout the course of the game and being ferocious pass rushers.”

Burton says the secondary, led by senior safety Dean Faddis, has done well most of the time, but has given up big plays at inopportune moments.

“We have a saying that you can cover a guy 99 times, all that matters is the one time you don’t, and everybody notices,” Burton says. “All around, we’ve been playing better in the secondary, it’s just when you make a gaff back there, it’s enormous. Everybody knows.”

Shoemaker says the Vikings need to play loose.

“We’ve got to get back to the basics and start having fun like we used to,” he says. “We started playing defense as opposed to having fun with it. We started playing the scheme as opposed to going out there and trying to make plays. We also have to make sure we’re perfect in practice and get extra time in the film room.”

Portland State’s defense will have a very good opportunity to get back on the right track this week when the Viks travel to play Southern Utah. The Thunderbirds lost to UC Davis 21-3 last week, and the Vikings beat UC Davis 41-10 earlier this year.

“If we were to play four quarters of football like we know we can play, it’s going to be bad for the team we’re playing," Shoemaker says.