PROVO — For the past two seasons, a former BYU quarterback was at the controls of Portland State’s offense.
Alex Kuresa returns to LaVell Edwards Stadium Saturday (1 p.m., MDT, ESPN) when the Vikings visit the Cougars in one of the first college football games of the 2017 season.
But he won’t be playing.
Kuresa, who graduated last year and is a former Mountain Crest High star, was invited by PSU coach Bruce Barnum to serve as an honorary captain and participate in the pregame coin toss.
Kuresa spent the 2011 season as BYU’s scout team quarterback and caught four passes as a wide receiver in 2012 before transferring to Snow College. Eventually, he found a home at Portland State as a QB.
As for the quarterback that will start for the Vikings, it’s Kuresa’s successor — true freshman Jalani Eason, a 5-foot-11, 185-pounder from Junipero Serra High in California.
“I didn't think he was going to play this year. I thought (senior Josh) Kraght was going to be the guy, but he got beat out. Jalani showed he can do it,” coach Bruce Barnum told the Portland Tribune. "In the end, Jalani showed the poise and the play-making ability with his feet and his arm. He can run. He's got breakaway speed. That's why people wanted him out of high school. We were his eighth or ninth offer. The read-zone offense is a totally different deal with him out there."
Barnum brings a Big Sky program to Provo that will display a style of play dubbed “Barny Ball.”
"'Barny Ball' is blue-collar, fundamental and tough," Kuresa once said. "It's an attitude."
When asked about “Barny Ball” this week, BYU defensive end Corbin Kaufusi was caught off-guard, having never heard of the term.
“I just think of the big purple dinosaur, man,” Kaufusi said.
But Kaufusi understands the game plan against Portland State.
“Their quarterback is pretty mobile,” he said. “He’s a young guy. He’s smaller but he’s very mobile. That’s going to be one of our things — containing him.”
Barnum’s offense features elements of the spread option and the pistol offense.
What does defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki expect to see from the Vikings?
“It’s hard because they have a young quarterback that can run. I think offensively, they want to protect a young quarterback,” he said. “You don’t want to do too many five-steps. Sprint outs and run the heck out of the ball is the way to protect a young quarterback. That’s what we’re expecting. We’ll have to adjust accordingly as we see how the game’s going.”
During practice this week, speedy players like Austin Kafentzis and Morgan Unga played the role of Eason on the scout team.
“We’ve got some guys that give us a good look that way,” Tuiaki said.
“They run a lot of downhill runs. They’re not trying to stretch it out too far,” Kaufusi said of PSU. “They’re trying to get straight through the gap as fast as they can and come downhill with speed. That’s going to be a big thing with us, to make sure the middle is taken care of and make them bounce it outside.”
BYU coaches and players have been saying for months they aren’t overlooking the Vikings, who posted a 3-8 record in 2016.
They are well aware that in 2015, Portland State and Kuresa opened the season by knocking off Washington State, 24-17, in Pullman, Washington. It was Barnum’s first game as head coach of the program and the Vikings’ first victory over a Pac-12 foe.
Portland State entered the game as 32-point underdogs. The Vikings left Pullman with an historic victory and a $525,000 payday.
“They know how to be ready right away,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake. “We know that.”
The Cougars don’t want to the victim of a major upset in the season’s opening weekend.
What are Barnum’s expectations of his team heading into Saturday’s matchup?
"I want to see a fast football team that runs smooth. I want to see that the machine is working right,” he said. “We might get beat on some plays — we're going up against a bigger, faster program — but if we do it just gives me a chance to see how we respond to some adversity."
Portland State Vikings at a glance
Conference: Big Sky
Head coach: Bruce Barnum (12-11, third season)
Offense: Senior running back Za’Quan Summers rushed 29 times for 214 yards and one touchdown in four games last season.
Defense: Senior free safety Beau Duronslet recorded a team-high 73 tackles and four pass breakups last year.
Special teams: The Vikings are breaking in freshmen on special teams — placekicker Noah Brosio and punter Hayden Cowden.
Series with BYU: First meeting.