Bruce Barnum has already lost a heartbreaker to the Ducks.
Before Justin Herbert was a household name and a potential Heisman Trophy candidate, the under-recruited Sheldon High quarterback and his mom, Holly, made a visit to Portland State.
“We met him as a high school senior. He was in our office. Him and his mother were up, and we were wooing him,” Barnum, the Vikings’ loquacious head coach, recalled this week. “But good for him. He blew up, and the Pac-12 discovered him. He ended up at Oregon and he’s having a great career.”
No. 23 Oregon hosts Portland State on Saturday at Autzen Stadium (11 a.m., Pac-12 Networks).
This is the college football equivalent of David vs. Goliath. Except David doesn’t have a sling, and Goliath has Herbert’s NFL arm.
The Vikings (0-1) are coming off an 0-11 season and lost 72-19 at Nevada in their opener, which was the program’s 14th consecutive defeat.
The Ducks (1-0) began Mario Cristobal’s first season as head coach with a 58-24 victory over Bowling Green.
Oregon has the quarterback and perhaps enough defense to contend with Stanford and Washington in the Pac-12 North Division.
That doesn’t mean Barnum is just coming down to Eugene to pick up Portland State’s $550,000 guarantee from Oregon.
“You’ll see some effort out of our football team,” Barnum said. “Oregon’s going to have to beat us. We’re not going to lose that game before we get there.”
During the 2015 season, Portland State stunned Washington State 24-17 and went 2-0 against FBS competition with a 66-7 win at North Texas en route to a 9-3 finish an an appearance in the FCS playoffs.
Since the magical run, the Vikings are 3-20 and searching for their first win since Nov. 5, 2016.
But last September, Portland State had Oregon State beat until the Beavers pulled off a great escape and a 35-32 victory at Reser Stadium.
Cristobal and his staff have tried to use Barnum’s recent history of going toe to toe with Pac-12 competition as motivation for the Ducks.
“We showed them how Portland State had Oregon State on the ropes last year. It took the last drive to change that game,” Cristobal said. “I don’t think that (motivational) part is difficult, but I will say this, you always have to work on the mentality.
“If it feels comfortable for a second, you’re probably not doing it right.”
Herbert began his junior campaign by completing 10 of 21 passes for 281 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran for 41 yards and another score.
Oregon’s top six running backs had at least one carry and seven different players caught a pass.
“It definitely was efficient with the score,” said running back Taj Griffin, who only had one carry for four yards and took his lone reception for an 83-yard touchdown. “We kind of had a slow start, but as we got going and started playing the ball we know that we can, everything was flowing very smooth.
“I’m just trying to capitalize on every opportunity that I get and go from there.”
After falling behind 10-0, Oregon reeled off 37 consecutive points. Conversely, Portland State had a quick 9-0 advantage and trailed 30-19 at the intermission in Reno., Nev., before the Wolf Pack outscored the visitors 42-0 in the second half.
Vikings quarterback Davis Alexander was 13-for-32 passing for 224 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Tight end Charlie Taumoepeau had three receptions for 130 yards and two touchdowns.
Jim Leavitt said Alexander reminds him of his former quarterback, Matt Grothe, who passed for 8,669 yards and rushed for 2,206 yards with 75 total touchdowns at South Florida. Oregon’s defensive coordinator also said Taumoepeau could play for any Pac-12 program.
Barnum, who calls his own plays, is excited about the game plan he has prepared.
“Don’t get me wrong, Oregon is going to have to make some mistakes because they’re a very talented football team,” Barnum said. “Who knows where it’s at in the fourth quarter. That’s the goal going into these games. If we’re close going into the fourth quarter, within two scores, we think we have a shot in that game. And that’s what happened a few years ago at Washington State.”
Leavitt’s defense forced three turnovers, including a 38-yard interception return for a touchdown by safety Ugo Amadi, that led to 21 points against Bowling Green.
Portland State’s defense got worn down in the opener and gave up 636 yards of total offense.
Barnum said his young team, which has 57 true freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores on the 93-man roster, is ready to regroup and compete on the big stage at Autzen.
“Kids are invincible, they are resilient, they see the plan. It’s not a whoa is me,” Barnum said. “We had some me-guys and some situations where I had to cut bait as the head coach and make those tough decisions.
“But right now my locker room, you wouldn’t know that we lost to Reno.”
Oregon has won 21 consecutive home nonconference games and is 4-0 all-time against Portland State, including a 69-0 romp in the last meeting on sept. 18, 2010.
Cristobal noted that he “used to be in that locker room” during his days as the Florida International coach building a program in the shadow of the Miami Hurricanes.
It sounded like the message Oregon’s coach preached about respecting the opponent was getting through.
“You’ve just got to prepare every week like you’re playing the Green Bay Packers,” Griffin said. “You just never know what can happen, so you don’t even want to set yourself up for failure. You’ve just got to prepare like it’s your last game every time.”