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Video analysis: Up-and-down day vs. SUU reminiscent of early season struggles for Alex Kuresa

CEDAR CITY — Like BYU's starting dual-threat quarterback, the senior season hasn't gone according to plan through one month of play for Portland State quarterback Alex Kuresa.

Like Taysom Hill and the Cougars, Kuresa and the Vikings stand at 1-3 on the year following a 45-31 loss to Southern Utah on Saturday at Eccles Coliseum. Also like Hill, Kuresa threw an interception deep in the opponent's territory in the final minute over the weekend, sealing a third straight loss.

For Kuresa — who prepped at Mountain Crest High and also played at BYU and Snow College — the loss to the T-Birds was reminiscent of the team's early season struggles. He finished the day completing 15 of 33 passes for 264 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions while also rushing for 133 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries in Kuresa's first game in Utah since 2014.

While the shifty quarterback has shown flashes of ability both in the running and passing game, inconsistencies have cost the Vikings the past three weeks, including two blowout losses to FBS schools. Despite this, Kuresa's skill put his team into position to win Saturday night against the T-Birds.

What went right

Against Southern Utah, Kuresa found a way to overcome his first-half struggles — the Vikings trailed 31-10 at the break — and made the game go down to the wire.

That started with the first drive of the second half, when Portland State faced a third-and-8 at its own 12-yard line. Kuresa hit Maximo Espitia over the middle for a 42-yard gain, and that sparked a seven-play, 90-yard touchdown drive.

After forcing a Southern Utah punt, Kuresa and the Vikings took over on their next possession at their 4-yard line. Kuresa had his most impressive drive of the day, leading Portland State 96 yards on 12 plays — including two third-down conversions on passes — on a drive capped by a Kuresa 17-yard touchdown run to make it 31-24.

Video: Portland State QB Alex Kuresa of Mountain Crest, BYU and Snow College rushed for a third-Q TD vs. @SUUFB pic.twitter.com/ScGQ1wXDIw

— Brandon Judd (@brandonljudd) September 26, 2016

Kuresa — who passed the 1,000 career rushing yards mark vs. SUU — led the Vikings' rushing attack with a 7.4 yards-per-carry average and rushed for 114 yards and the touchdown on 13 carries in the second half. Through the first four weeks of the season, he is fifth nationally among FCS quarterbacks in rushing yards with 277.

During the second half, Kuresa led touchdown drives of 90, 96 and 86 yards as his team put up 429 of its 509 yards of total offense in the final two quarters. He was more efficient in the passing game in the second half, completing 13 of 21 passes — a 62.9 completion percentage — for 239 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.

Video: @viks_football QB Alex Kuresa who played at Mountain Crest, #BYU and Snow threw for 239 yards in 2nd half Saturday vs. @SUUFB pic.twitter.com/OsHs0ipPwz

— Brandon Judd (@brandonljudd) September 26, 2016

Kuresa helped Portland State convert 4 of 7 third downs in the final 30 minutes, including the first three all on passes as the Vikings scored 14 consecutive points to start the third quarter. After one of the failed third-down conversions, Kuresa hit Paris Penn for a 34-yard touchdown pass to make it 38-31 with 12:08 to play.

Video: Portland State QB Alex Kuresa pulled @viks_football within 38-31 of @SUUFB Saturday with this 4th-down, 4th-Q TD pass pic.twitter.com/zaBP3tr8Yp

— Brandon Judd (@brandonljudd) September 26, 2016

"It's very difficult (to contain Kuresa), especially when he flips around and runs the other way," Southern Utah linebacker Mike Needham said. "He's a very athletic player. He was the first person I shook his hand after the game. I just said, 'You're a stud. Keep working and you've got a bright future for you.'"

What went wrong

The 2015 Big Sky Newcomer of the Year has found the sledding a bit tougher so far in his second season with the Vikings. Through four games, he has thrown eight interceptions, already one more than he had all last season, and lost a fumble.

In the first two quarters Saturday, Kuresa completed just 2 of his 12 pass attempts for 15 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He also rushed for 19 yards on five carries and was sacked once.

Video: @SUUFB held Portland State QB Alex Kuresa to 34 total yards in the first half Saturday pic.twitter.com/rP7583IA0D

— Brandon Judd (@brandonljudd) September 26, 2016

Back-to-back interceptions, though, on Portland State's final two drives — not counting the last play of the game — were particularly costly when the Vikings trailed 38-31. After the Vikings took over at their own 14 with 5:31 to play, Kuresa was intercepted by Tyler Collett on the fifth play of the drive.

After Portland State forced a punt, the Vikings started a drive at their own 15-yard line with 2:06 to play and still down seven. Kuresa completed two passes for 36 yards, then rushed for 5 to get Portland State to the Southern Utah 44. Following an incompletion, Kuresa hit Espitia on third down for 20 yards to the SUU 24.

Another Kuresa pass marched the Vikings down to the SUU 7, and Kuresa ran for 3 yards on first and goal.

But then, facing a second and goal from the 4-yard line, Kuresa was hurried by the T-Birds' Mike Needham as he attempted to throw to Penn in the end zone. SUU's Jarmaine Doubs stepped in front of the pass and took the game-clinching interception 98 yards for a touchdown.

Video: This 98-yard pick-6 by Jarmaine Doubs sealed the win @SUUThunderbirds in a 45-31 thriller over @viks_football #BigSkyFB pic.twitter.com/Ysc5kVRgbn

— Brandon Judd (@brandonljudd) September 25, 2016

"Turnovers hurt. You can't go on the road against a quality football team like that and turn the ball over," Vikings coach Bruce Barnum told goviks.com. "We made those mistakes and we have to clean that up. I liked the fight in the second half. The first half was muddy, but I liked what I saw from my team in terms of how they reacted."

Two of Kuresa's four interceptions in the game led to Southern Utah touchdowns.

On the docket

Up next for Kuresa and the Vikings is a home game against Idaho State on Saturday before the team returns to Utah for a matchup with Weber State in Ogden on Oct. 8.

Last year, Portland State dropped an early season Big Sky contest before winning five of its last six to finish 6-2 in conference play. That helped the Vikings reach the FCS playoffs, even earning a first-round bye, and they'll need a similar type of bounce-back this season to have any chance at the postseason.

Email: bjudd@deseretdigital.com; Twitter: @brandonljudd