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ISU football: The good and the bad — Deciphering the pluses and minuses from the Bengals’ loss to Portland State

October 4, 2016 GMT

Portland State’s first offensive play Saturday was a handoff up the middle to Nate Tago. The Vikings running back bolted downfield for 35 yards, and a short time later was approaching 200 yards rushing.

Tago and the Vikings rushed for a school-record 531 yards in their 45-20 win. The mark crushed the old school record of 465 yards, and PSU’s 9.2 yards per carry obliterated the old mark of 6 yards per rush.

The Viks were eight yards shy of the Big Sky single-game rushing record and scored on runs of 69, 72 and 56 yards.

PSU’s rushing onslaught happened without completing a single pass.

“They were just way better than us,” Bengals head coach Mike Kramer said after the game.

Idaho State (2-3, 1-1 Big Sky Conference) is off until Oct. 15, when it travels to Flagstaff to take on Northern Arizona.

Here are the pluses and minuses from Saturday’s loss to Portland State.

MINUS: Rushing defense.

See above.

PSU’s offensive line severely outsized ISU’s defensive front, and ball carriers were able to slip through huge gaps all day. Defensive linemen combined to tally 16 of ISU’s 60 tackles and had one tackle for loss.

“We were out of gap control. We didn’t get off the blocks up front,” Kramer said. “They did a masterful job of disguising their intention (on offense).”

The Bengals entered Saturday giving up 176.5 yards rushing per game. They now rank last in the league with 247.4 yards rushing allowed — good for 116th in the 122-team FCS.

MINUS: Rushing offense

Idaho State was unable to take advantage of Portland State’s previously league-worst rush defense, which entered Saturday yielding 259.5 yards rushing per game. The Bengals’ offense was balanced with 40 passes and 38 runs, but ball carriers combined to pick up 158 yards on those 38 carries (4.2 yards per attempt).

The 158 yards are the second-fewest PSU has given up in a game this season. Only Division II Central Washington rushed for fewer yards.

“They outnumber you in the box, you can’t run the ball in the middle,” Kramer said.

The Bengals’ longest run of the day was a 16-yarder by freshman Michael Dean. Senior Jakori Ford led the unit with 78 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.

PLUS: Brian Fineanganofo

Idaho State finally got its starting left tackle back Saturday.

Sophomore Brian Fineanganofo tore his ACL against Weber State in the 2015 finale and saw his fist game action against Portland State. Fineanganofo was slated to be ISU’s starting left tackle to open this season but wasn’t able to practice until two weeks ago.

“Brian played good,” Kramer said. “Got beat one time. That was it.”

Fineanganofo played nine games a season ago as a redshirt freshman and earned his first start against Weber State. He’s one of several ISU linemen to miss action this season, resulting in a fluctuating front full of inexperience.

MINUS: Skyler Phillips, Chase Collins

As the health of ISU’s O-line improved, it simultaneously declined.

Senior Skyler Phillips and junior Chase Collins both missed Saturday’s game. Phillips, the projected starter at center who moved to left tackle to replace Fineanganofo, left the Sacramento State game midway through and did not return. Collins, a penciled-in starter who got hurt early in fall camp, saw his first action of the season against Sac State but got residelined a week later. Neither’s status is clear heading into the Bengals’ bye week.

MINUS: Long bus ride

Idaho State traveled over 1,300 miles roundtrip by bus last week — about 10 hours each way from Pocatello to Portland and back.

The Bengals will also bus to Cheney to face Eastern Washington — 1,150 miles roundtrip — and Missoula to play Montana — 726 miles roundtrip — making last weekend’s trek the farthest of the season.

“We got a real nasty thing to get taken care of and that’s a bus ride home,” Kramer said. “Longest bus ride I’ve ever had in my career. I’m not happy about it.”

Athletic budget constraints limit how many flights ISU’s teams can take. Soccer and women’s basketball, for example, bus to most road games. Sports that bring in more revenue, like football and men’s basketball, can fly to certain locations.