Sac State comes home for a showdown against Southern Utah

Hornets return from a bye week following their latest victory against Idaho State


Graphic created on Canva by Brandon Bailey

Pierre Williams (84) attempts to elude Cal defenders (left) and Marcus Fulcher (9) receiving a handoff (right). The Hornets face off against Southern Utah on Saturday at 6 p.m.

Brandon Bailey

Sac State (2-2) faces off against Southern Utah (1-4)  on Saturday in hopes of building off the momentum from their first win of conference play.

Moving the ball down field hasn’t been an issue for head coach Troy Taylor and the Hornets since he’s been at the helm. 

They’ve had over 400 total yards in every game this season, but out of 1765 total yards, 1293 of them have come from the passing game. The numbers speak for themselves, and so far the Hornets have not been able to get the run game going . 

 There has not been a running back on the team that has rushed over 100 yards this season. As of right now junior quarterback Asher O’Hara is the only one who has, and leads the team in rushing with 216 yards.

Even with their struggles in the running game, junior quarterback Jake Dunniway said that what they lack in the rushing aspect of the game they can make up for in the air. 

“If the run game is struggling, I feel like our pass game is able to pick up for that and vice versa,” Dunniway said. “If the pass game is struggling, we need to have a run game able to keep us in games.”

In 2019 the Hornets were ranked sixth in rushing yards in the Big Sky, but this year they are 11th and Taylor attributes that to the lack of fundamentals and getting their young lineman valuable reps. 

“There’s a couple of young guys for sure,” Taylor said. “Jackson Slater is a true freshman and Ivan Garza obviously. Those guys are getting valuable reps, but we’ve got some experienced guys too. I think it’s just a matter of focusing on the details and doing it throughout the entire game. There are times we do it well. It’s just not enough times in a row.” 

Injuries have plagued the Hornets all season, and despite that Taylor said the Hornets are feeling good about their “gritty, short-handed” win on the road.

Rest and recovery was the focal point of the bye week. 

In their last game against Idaho State, the Hornets won 23-21 but it was without their starting tight end, sophomore Marshel Martin who was suffering from a low ankle sprain. 

According to Taylor, Martin’s recovery is “looking good” and the Hornets needed the rest provided during their bye week, which is allowing them to   become a healthier team. 

Martin said that he hopes his comeback will give the Hornet offense a spark of energy against the Thunderbirds. 

Kickoff is scheduled for 6 P.M at Hornet stadium. ESPN+ will live stream the game.

Read below for everything you need to know for game day against the Thunderbirds including: what to watch for, who has the advantage and our predictions. 

Three things to watch for: 

Will the Hornets be able to run the ball? 

The Hornets have had trouble running the ball all season and so far their leading rusher is junior quarterback Asher O’Hara. The Hornets are entering their fifth game of the season and have not had a running back surpass 100 yards. Junior quarterback Jake Dunniway said that it all comes down to the older guys on the offensive line teaching the younger guys with their experience. 

“I feel like we’re physically able to match up against any team, so there really is no reason why we shouldn’t be able to run the ball,” Dunniway said. “We’ve had a couple injuries up front with the O-line, so we’re filling guys in that are a little inexperienced. We’re trying to get the older guys to take the reins and push them along by just feeling comfortable, being gap sound and knowing their assignment. That’s really all it comes down to.”

Airing it out & spreading the wealth 

The Hornets have been exceptional at  getting their offensive weapons the ball. There are 14 different players that have had at least one reception this year and at least five different players who have scored touchdowns. The Hornets effort of spreading the ball around all comes down to the game plan and quarterback progressions.

The Hornets are averaging 323 passing yards per game which is second among the Big Sky teams, but they need to show improvement with finishing drives. The Hornets have had their way with opposing teams in the passing game, but they have not always been able to convert in the endzone, and so far they only have six touchdowns through the air this season. 

“I would say it’s the game plan and trusting the system,” Dunniway said. “Just finding the space and understanding being on the same page with your receivers. It comes with a lot of reps, a lot of practice and just feeling comfortable with your guys.”


Winning the turnover battle

In the Hornets last game against Idaho State, they managed to have their second game with zero turnovers. On the defensive side, they were able to force two turnovers by way of interception,and this week the secondary will have the opportunity to do it again. 

The Thunderbirds starting quarterback, redshirt sophomore Justin Miller, has thrown six interceptions in their first five games, and with the pass heavy offense that the Thunderbirds have it’s possible that the Hornets will have multiple opportunities to force turnovers. 

Keys to victory:

Sac State

In order for the Hornets to win they will have to find a way to establish the run and get the ball into the hands of their playmakers. Junior wide receiver Pierre Williams is coming off of his third consecutive game with over 100 yards receiving, and the Hornets will also be looking forward to the return of Marshel Martin who missed the last game with a low ankle sprain. 

Sac State’s secondary will have to capitalize on their opportunities like they have all season and force turnovers. So far the Hornets have given opposing quarterbacks trouble and have forced at least one interception in three out of their four games played. 

Southern Utah

Southern Utah has not found their rhythm on offense this season, and after coming off of back-to-back losses they will have to find a way to get things going. The Thunderbirds are great at protecting their quarterback and have only allowed four sacks this season. If they are able to keep Miller protected, they have the potential to be a dangerous offense but it all comes down to decision-making and not turning the ball over. 

On the defensive side, the Thunderbirds will have to force turnovers and get pressure on the quarterback. Sac State has been good at taking care of the ball with the exception of the six-turnover game that they had against Northern Iowa, so if the Thunderbirds are able to turn the tide and force pressure on the Hornet offense the game will be up for grabs. 


Football beat writer Brandon Bailey: 

When the Hornets find a rhythm in the air there is almost nothing an opponent can do. Dunniway and Williams have been a force all season, and it shows as Williams ranks fourth among Big Sky wide receivers in receiving yards. They will also be expecting the return ofMartin who makes their passing game even scarier. 

The only thing the Hornets will have to improve on is running the ball and finding ways to get their all-American running back Elijah Dotson more involved in the offense. If the Hornets can do all of those things and the defense plays the same way they played in the second half against Idaho State, they will cruise to victory. Sac State wins 24-10

Sports Editor John Cabales:

When Dunniway is connecting, the Hornets offense is hard to stop. Dominating through the air opens opportunities for when Taylor uses O’Hara in run plays. But what really needs to happen for us to dominate this game is for Dotson to get more carries.

Taylor has to find ways to use Dotson and get the ball in his hands. If they can do that, the defense dominates from the jump, and the special teams play solid the whole game through, then this game should be a big victory for the Hornets.

Sac State wins 27-13