GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) — Portland State coach Nigel Burton made a bold claim this week when asked about why his special teams have been so strong.
"I think we spend more time on special teams than, I would venture to say, anyone in the country," Burton said. "It's an important phase to us. I think that's why we see results."
The Vikings special teams are a weapon that concerns the University of North Dakota as the teams prepare to meet in Saturday's 47th annual Potato Bowl at the Alerus Center.
UND led the country with 11 blocked kicks last season, while Portland State had nine (seven blocked punts).
The Vikings picked up another extra-point block in the team's season-opening 38-20 win over NAIA power Carroll College last week.
Burton said that in scrimmages he doesn't let his special teams starters off the field until they block a punt or kick, even if that means 20-some reps.
"It's about effort, focus and time," Burton said.
Portland State also has one of the best kickers in the country in preseason All-American Zach Brown, who has connected on 60 career field goals. He owns 10 school records.
But Brown's status for Saturday's game is unclear. He was rolled into during Portland State's first extra-point attempt against Carroll College and didn't return. Sophomore Nick Fernandez relieved Brown against Carroll and connected on his only attempt from 34 yards out.
Portland State has led the Big Sky in rushing each of the last two seasons. Although the Vikings have a pair of newcomers in the backfield, the team doesn't expect to skip a beat.
PSU is expected to start true freshman Kieran McDonagh at quarterback, a position that does a lot of running in the Vikings offense. Last year, senior quarterback Connor Kavanaugh rushed for more than 1,000 yards.
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