Fresno State Football: First Look At The Sacramento State Hornets
After squaring off with USC and Minnesota, the Bulldogs will host FCS Sacramento State. Here’s a first look at the rebuilding Hornets.
The woeful Hornets will hope to put up a fight.
After starting 2019 with back-to-back Power 5 opponents, the Fresno State Bulldogs will get a reprieve when they host Sacramento State. The Hornets were among the worst teams at the FCS level last fall, forgettable enough to prompt a reboot of a program that has just four winning seasons since 2001.
Is it likely that Fresno State wins in a walk? Yes, but you never know what a program will look like with a new staff and a new mandate.
Location: Sacramento, CA
Mascot: Herky the Hornet
Conference: Big Sky
2018 Record: 2-8 (0-7 Big Sky)
Head Coach: Troy Taylor (first year). Jody Sears was let go after the Hornets took a step back from 2017, when Sac State finished 7-4, and replaced with Taylor. He spent the last two years as part of Kyle Whittingham’s staff at Utah, where he doubled as the Utes’ quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.
In those two seasons, Utah ranked 53rd and 45th by Offensive S&P+, overseeing Tyler Huntley’s growth as a dangerous running quarterback. Before that, however, he helped shepherd the FCS’s most explosive passing game at Eastern Washington in 2016, where Gabe Gubrud set a record with 5,160 passing yards.
His track record of developing quarterbacks goes back even farther, though, to his days as a head coach at Folsom High School, where he guided former Washington star Jake Browning to one of the most illustrious careers in state history. Needless to say, he’ll probably have a positive influence on an attack that ranked just 60th among FCS teams in passing yards per game.
QB Kevin Thomson
Thomson figures to be the primary benificiary of Taylor’s arrival in Sacramento, as he’s proven to be an adequate passer who knows how to play mistake-free football. In 15 games, he owns an interception rate of just 1.3% while averaging ten yards per attempt. There is room for him to improve, though, as he also possesses a career completion rate of 55%.
RB Elijah Dotson
The 6-foot, 190-pound Sacramento native was a bright spot on an uneven offense in 2018, becoming the first Hornets running back to earn first-team all-Big Sky honors since program legend Charles Roberts in 2000. He ran for 1,164 yards, averaging 6.2 yards per carry, and chipped in 14 catches for 160 yards, as well.
DL George Obinna
Obinna’s 2018 was one to forget, as he appeared in just two games because of injury, but a clean slate of health means he’ll probably spearhead Sac State’s pass rush once again. After all, Obinna was a first-team all-Big Sky selection in 2017 after collecting 8.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. He already ranks fourth in program history with 19.5 career sacks (including one in the last meeting between these two teams in 2016), so he might surprise if a retooling Fresno State offensive line takes time to come together.
CB Daron Bland
With plenty of young receivers in the wings ready to step up, it seems likely the Bulldogs will test this junior cornerback early and often. After earning playing time late in 2017, he started all ten games for Sac State last fall and led the Hornets with five passes defended. Bland also finished with three tackles for loss and a forced fumble, so he’s the kind of defensive back who can do a little bit of everything when the occasion calls for it.
K Devon Medeiros
Given the long odds facing Sacramento State, it’ll be crucial for the Hornets to take advantage of every opportunity they get, which means that they’ll hope for a rebound from the kicker from Hilmar. Medeiros ranks fourth all-time with a 70.3% field goal conversion rate, but he connected on just 10-of-15 attempts in 2018.
The Hornets leaned heavily on the running game in 2018, racking up 383 carries against 258 passing attempts, but its efficacy behind Dotson was a mixed bag. Bryant Perkinson lost three fumbles on just 46 attempts, but Montaz Thompson averaged 5.5 YPC in a limited sample size of 19 carries. They have at least one weapon in the backfield, but Taylor’s history suggests it is likely they’ll lean more on Thomson’s arm.
If that’s the case, the passing game will at least have an opportunity to grow together even if they take their lumps against the ‘Dogs. Pierre Williams returns after leading the Hornets with 31 catches as a freshman, and both he and Johnnie Rucker averaged over 16 yards per catch. They do have six tight ends and nine wide receivers listed on the current roster, so there’s a chance Sac State might roll out a few guys to see what they can do.
The short version of this first look is that last year’s Hornet defense was… not good. Sac State ranked 115th among FCS teams in total defense, allowing 489 yards per game, and 100th by coughing up 35.4 points per game.
Granted, the defense was also never at full strength last year, either, so the returning reinforcements probably signal some regression to the mean. Obinna is the big name to watch in this regard but linebackers Marcus Bruce, another 2017 all-conference selection, and Michael Garcia will also be back to help anchor a solid front seven if they’re healthy.
A lot of questions remain on the back end of the Hornets defense, though, where Bland and free safety Caelan Barnes have two spots locked up but the competition remains open elsewhere. there could be opportunity for newcomers like junior college transfer Isaiah Butler or three-star recruit Daniel Fortune to make an impact.
If all you did was look back at the final score from the last meeting between Fresno State and Sacramento State in 2016, you’d think that nothing had changed between the two programs. That game, which was actually a one-score affair through three quarters, was really a harbinger of things to come.
Thankfully, things have changed for the better for the Bulldogs and, despite the challenging start to the season, it doesn’t seem likely that they’ll sleepwalk against a clearly inferior opponent after going toe-to-toe with USC and Minnesota. Maybe it won’t be as lopsided as last year’s game against Idaho, but don’t be surprised if it’s in the neighborhood. Get those “Sac State sucks” chants ready in the meantime. Fresno State 52, Sacramento State 10