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PREVIEW: Sac State opens Big Sky play against Southern Utah

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Sacramento State freshman wide receiver Jeremiah Foster runs down field after making a catch during training camp Aug. 21 at Hornet Stadium.

Sacramento State freshman wide receiver Jeremiah Foster runs down field after making a catch during training camp Aug. 21 at Hornet Stadium.

Matthew Nobert - The State Hornet

Matthew Nobert - The State Hornet

Sacramento State freshman wide receiver Jeremiah Foster runs down field after making a catch during training camp Aug. 21 at Hornet Stadium.

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After a 1-2 start to the season, Sacramento State will kick off the Big Sky Conference portion of its schedule against an opponent that defeated the then-No. 18 ranked team in the country last week.

The Southern Utah Thunderbirds (2-1) will strut into Sacramento after a 24-21 victory over Northern Iowa — which is currently ranked No. 24 in the Football Championship Subdivision coaches poll — Saturday night at Hornet Stadium.

 “Honestly, I don’t really pay attention to (the rankings),” said Joseph Ajeigbe, a Sac State transfer graduate running back. “I watch film on their last game and (our coaches) gave us a breakdown of a few games to watch, teams that are similar to us. I just watch that, I really don’t pay attention to what people are saying about us or what people are saying about our opponent.”

Meanwhile, Sac State is coming off a 31-24 loss to the No. 18 ranked Weber State Wildcats. The Hornets offense — which ranks last in the Big Sky with an average of 315 yards per game — finished with 220 yards of total offense, nine first downs and went 4-for-13 on third down.

“They came out and they punched us in the mouth early and when you go down 16-0 to a really good ball club, and then the next thing you know it’s 24-0, you find out the character of your program,” said Austin Clark, the Hornets junior safety. “You find out where your guys’ heads are and if these guys are willing to fight or throw in the towel, and we fought.”

Matthew Nobert – The State Hornet
Sacramento State junior quarterback Kevin Thomson looks for an open receiver during a scrimmage Wednesday, Sept. 20 at the practice field. The Hornets will finish their three game homestand Saturday at Hornet Stadium.

Sac State will have to battle against a Southern Utah team that ranks first in the conference in total offense (465 yards per game) and third in offensive touchdowns scored with 12. The Thunderbirds second-ranked Big Sky passing attack (309 yards per game) is led by senior quarterback Patrick Tyler, who has thrown for 811 yards with six touchdowns and five interceptions.

“(Southern Utah looks) a lot like Weber (State): they’re big, physical on both sides of the ball, they’ve got a very elusive quarterback that can make plays and hurt you,” said Jody Sears, the Hornets head coach. “We’ve got to do everything we possibly can to keep (Tyler) contained, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to be able to create some turnovers on defense.”

The Hornets have excelled at taking the ball away from opposing teams after grabbing seven interceptions this season, which leads the Big Sky. Sac State also ranks second in total defense (315 yards allowed per game), second in sacks (12) and third in points (27) allowed per game in the conference.

“Our focus all offseason and into the season has been stop the run and create turnovers, and that is what we’ve been doing,” Clark said. “We’ve got a great turnover margin right now, one of the top in the conference, as well as one of the best run stop defenses in the conference. We’re just going to keep pounding that.”

However, Sac State will also need to score points against a Southern Utah defense that allows 37.3 points per game, which is the 11th worst in the Big Sky. To do so, the Hornets will need to find consistency with an offense that is tied for last place in the conference with only 34 first downs total and last in rushing offense at 114.3 yards per game.

“We can’t get off the field too quick offensively,” Ajeigbe said. “Our defense has been playing great all year. I feel like a lot of times we put them in tough situations because we get off the field too early, so if we can stay on the field a little (longer), put points on the board at the end of every drive — whether it be a field goal or touchdown — I think that will put us in good position to win this game.”

Sac State will get this opportunity as it ends its three game homestand by hosting Southern Utah at 6:05 p.m. Saturday at Hornet Stadium.

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