Portland State has a third-year starter at quarterback, and Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams has some clamoring for him to be the first FCS player invited to New York as a Heisman Award finalist.
But it’s the Vikings’ backup quarterback, sophomore Paris Penn, that Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh might be most impressed by.
“I think the backup quarterback may be the most exciting player in our league right now,” said Walsh, likening Penn to two-time Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year and former Montana State quarterback DeNarius McGhee.
“When Paris is in the game, they’re trying to manufacture ways for him to be effective with the ball in his hands. And you put him with Kieran McDonagh, a three-year veteran, and we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
McDonagh beat out Penn for the starting job when the two arrived on campus two years ago, and McDonagh takes the majority of the offensive snaps.
But so far this season Penn had touchdown runs of 58 yards and 11 yards in a 29-14 loss to Oregon State and one for 48 yards in a 45-38 victory over Western Oregon.
“Our philosophy here as a team,” Vikings head coach Nigel Burton said, “is if there’s not a significant drop-off between our ones and our twos, and the twos are grading out in a fashion where they deserve to play, then you play a guy. Quarterback’s no different.
“It’s not a knock on Kieran because we really feel as though he’s one of the premier quarterbacks in the conference. It’s really a tribute to Paris and what he brings.
“And it’s given us some options and ability to do some different things. That’s the reason he’s playing on Saturdays, because he deserves it.”
Portland State has also shown it’s willing to have both quarterbacks on the field at once. Penn has lined up as a running back and receiver, too.
“He’s made so many plays with his feet this year, it’s fun to watch him until you realize you have to coach against him,” Walsh said. “You have to know where 15 is in the game.”