Hawaii Football: First Look at the Portland State Vikings
The Warriors will host FCS Portland State in their first home game of the 2021 football season.
The Vikings are ready to get back at it.
Hawaii Football: First Looks at Non-Conference Opponents
After opening 2021 with a Week 0 battle against the UCLA Bruins, the Hawaii Warriors will open their home slate this fall against the Portland State Vikings.
Unless many of the Mountain West’s other FCS opponents, PSU opted not to play in the spring season and instead capped their spring practice schedule with a single road game against Montana. Just because we haven’t seen the Vikings in a while, though, doesn’t mean the Warriors can expect to host a cakewalk.
Location: Portland, Oregon
Mascot: Victor E. Viking
Conference: Big Sky
2020 Record: 0-1
Head Coach: Bruce Barnum (seventh year, 21-37 overall). Historically, Portland State has been a tough place to win, but after bottoming out with a winless season in 2017, Barnum has done a solid job of making the Vikings competitive in one of the FCS’s toughest conferences. Two years ago, PSU rose to the middle of the Big Sky pack and proved they could both take care of business against teams they should beat and remain competitive against some of the conference’s best teams. While it remains to be seen how the COVID-19 layoff will affect the team’s overall performances, it couldn’t hurt that Portland State will be fresher than just about any other team.
QB Davis Alexander
Alexander ascended to the starting role as a freshman in 2017 and figures to leave Portland State in the conversation with Neil Lomax as perhaps the best quarterback in program history. In 26 career starts and 29 games overall, the senior owns a 56% completion rate and has averaged 7.8 yards on nearly 800 career attempts. PSU’s last full season in 2019 also happened to mark Alexander’s best season yet as he averaged 281 yards of total offense and threw 25 touchdowns.
S Anthony Adams
Portland State can boast one of the FCS’s best defensive backs in Adams, who is one of two returning Vikings from the 2019 team to have been named to the all-Big Sky first team. That year, he snagged five interceptions and contributed two tackles for loss and a blocked kick for good measure, meaning he’s a pretty safe bet to land on a number of All-American lists later this summer.
WR Emmanuel Daigbe
It takes a unique athlete to land on an all-conference team twice, but that’s exactly what the senior Daigbe did in 2019. He earned first-team honors as a special teams contributor and made the second team as a wide receiver after leading Portland State with 40 catches for 651 yards. He gives the Vikings a big-play threat for which Hawaii will need to account.
P Seth Vernon
If the Vikings find themselves in a position where they need to flip the field, Vernon could be prepared to take another step forward in 2021. He averaged a solid 43.2 yards per punt in 2019 and pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line on 13-of-50 kicks, but the early returns on his potential, which included six punts of over 50 yards against Montana back in April, are eye-popping.
LB Parker McKenna
Portland State has to replace a fair amount of production at linebacker in 2021, but McKenna looks like an early favorite to be a major factor in doing so. He started at middle linebacker against Montana and led the Vikings with ten tackles, so at minimum he’ll likely get a longer look in fall camp to see if he can hold down a starting role.
In his tenure as Portland State’s quarterback, a lot has relied upon the rugged Alexander. Two years ago, he also finished with 728 sack-adjusted rushing yards in addition to throwing for nearly 3,000 yards and, as it happens, Sirgeo Hoffman’s departure means that Alexander is PSU’s leading returning rusher this fall. Finding an adequate replacement for Hoffman is surely at or near the top of Barnum’s to-do list for fall camp.
The passing game will need to identify weapons around Daigbe, too, with the departures of All-American tight end Charlie Taumoepeau and wide receiver Davis Koetter, who combined for 74 catches and 1,100 receiving yards in 2019. Mataio Talalemotu could be in line for a big year after showing out in both spring practice and the Vikings’ clash against Montana, while a number of imports from the 2020 recruiting class — including transfers Darien Chase (Nebraska) and Job Dockery (Oregon State) — will get every opportunity to fill out the two-deep.
Portland State did a few things well in climbing the Big Sky standings two years ago, but there is still work to be done in some areas. Despite Adams’s presence in the defensive backfield, the Vikings allowed just over eight yards per attempt and 30 total touchdowns back in 2019, though reinforcements from the transfer portal like Xavier Bell (Arizona) and Broderick Harrell (UTEP) could give PSU a strong safety tandem. A return to form from Ryan Lesch, who started at free safety in 2018 and 2019 before succumbing to injury, wouldn’t hurt, either.
Lesch isn’t the only veteran who could come back strong in that way. Senior defensive end Noah Yunker had three sacks and five tackles for loss in nine games back in 2018, but his 2019 campaign was also curtailed by injury. He and Semise Kofe, who had 2.5 sacks and 7.5 TFLs two years ago, should replace at least some of the production lost by the graduation of both Kenton Bartlett and Anthony Del Toro, who combined for nine and 17, respectively.
Combined with a linebacker unit that returns all three 2019 starters — Nicolas Ah Sam, Dylan Hanley, and David Joseph — PSU is in a good place to take another step toward contention in the Big Sky.
One of the more unexpected surprises anywhere in the Mountain West last fall was the emergence of Victor Santa Cruz’s defense, so while Portland State looks like they should be a competitive bunch at the FCS level, it’s hard to see how they’ll find consistent answers against a unit that brings back nearly everyone from 2020’s leap forward. Even if the Warriors offense gets off to a slow start, they should be able to handle the Vikings at home pretty easily over sixty minutes.
Hawaii 28, Portland State 13