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The State Hornet

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The student news site of Sacramento State University

The State Hornet

The student news site of Sacramento State University

The State Hornet

Student news without fear or favor

Sac State starts new climb up to the top of Big Sky Conference

Hornets dropped first in-conference game since 2019 last week
Siany Harts
Sac State is hosting Northern Arizona for their second home game of the season on Sept. 30, 2023 at 6 p.m. This game is Sac State’s pink out game, where fans are encouraged to wear pink in support of breast cancer awareness. (Photos courtesy of NAU Athletics and James Fife, graphic made in Canva by Siany Harts)

Sacramento State stumbled in their Big Sky Conference opener last week against Idaho, now they’ve got a chance to get back into the title conversation against Northern Arizona at home.

Last time the Lumberjacks made the trip up to Sacramento, the Hornets were less than welcoming, shutting them out 44-0 in the 2021 season. Sac State would love another cruise down easy street and get the team back on track.

RELATED: Sac State’s upset hangover looms large against Idaho

While NAU is coming off an upset of No. 18 Montana, the season hasn’t been all upsets and roses. The Lumberjacks dropped their first three games, including a home loss to FCS-newcomer Utah Tech.

In many ways, this game is the opposite of last week’s game, as the Hornets are returning home looking for a win after a disappointing road loss. NAU will have to stave off the upset hangover while they travel into the Hornet’s nest.

“Guys like sleeping in their own beds,” Sac State head coach Andy Thompson said. “They like seeing their families, eating the food that we are accustomed to and being on that night schedule we like to play at.”

Here are the three key things to watch for on Saturday during the Hornets’ quest to reclaim their destiny in the Big Sky.

Why are you stinging yourself?

Sac State hurt themselves against Idaho with self-inflicted wounds. Early in the game last week, a penalty turned a punt into a Vandal’s field goal that gave them a two-score lead.

In the second half, two would-be pre-snap penalties burned two crucial timeouts and a horse collar tackle allowed Idaho to roll into the game-winning field goal. If the Hornets want any chance at the Big Sky title, they have to avoid hurting themselves with mental errors.

“You really focus on the technique,” Thompson said. “I try to show them plays, ‘Hey this a good play, this is a 15-yard penalty’, we do try to play aggressively, but we gotta play smart.”

Coming off a loss is not an easy thing to do, in fact there are some Sac State players who hadn’t lost a game in conference before last week. Leadership was critical at this junction and players like senior defensive lineman Jett Stanley stepped up.

“We had a couple people ask me and my brother, ‘What’s next week going to be like?’” Stanley said. “It’s gonna be the same, prepare the same and set our sights on the next opponent. You can’t let the same team beat you twice.”

Sacramento runs on (Dink) and Dunkin’

The Hornets didn’t see the best version of junior quarterback Kaiden Bennett against Idaho when the Vandals stole the Hornets’ rushing attack by holding them to 69 yards on 29 attempts.

The lack of a running game forced Bennett to sling the rock, which resulted in his lowest completion percentage of the year. Bennett excels at play-action shots and short passes. Against Stanford, Bennett was 15-20 for 191 yards on passes within nine air yards.

“Without the run game, there really is no pass game,” sophomore wide receiver Devin Gandy said. “The run game for me is everything, for us to go out there and block for the running backs helps us. It all comes back.”

In order to keep Bennett in areas he is comfortable in, they’ll need to run the football with senior running back Marcus Fulcher and company. A one-dimensional offense won’t get it done going forward in conference.

The Hornets will need a tasteful run game to allow Bennett to cook up a five-course meal for Hornet fans to enjoy.

Turnover a new leaf

NAU and Sac State are both looking to start off the fall on the right foot. For the Lumberjacks, that means limiting turnovers, something they’ve failed to do to start the season. They are averaging two turnovers a game.

On the other hand, the Hornets have been outstanding at forcing turnovers this season, averaging two a game. These plays are critical and their ability to force turnovers kept them in the game against Idaho.

“Pursuit for downfield errors,” Stanley said. “We had one against Idaho where you could see three or four defensive linemen running down the field to make a play and that’s how Armon [Bailey] got the ball.”

If the defense can take advantage of NAU’s quarterback struggles, then they can feast and help Bennett and the offense. Pairing up defensive turnovers with the play-action run game, the Hornets should be able to leave the game with a beauti-fall stat line.


Jack Freeman, Co-Sports Editor (3-1): In my preseason predictions I had the Hornets here at 3-1 and so I’ll be sticking with my guy this week. Sac State should handle NAU with ease at home and get back on track in the Big Sky. I think the whole trio of backs will have stellar days and both lines will dominate up front. The Hornets roll into their bye week back to .500 in the conference.

Sac State: 45, Northern Arizona: 21

Myla Booth, Co-Sports Editor (3-1): The Hornets should be able to get this win especially if they’ve beaten them before then they should be able to do it again. Sac State will need to just make sure to sharpen up any moves they make for less errors then they should be good.

Sac State: 40, Northern Arizona: 14

Chris Woodard, Managing Editor (2-2): I do not believe this is the week that Sac State’s run game starts grinding at full speed again, but I cannot imagine a Saturday evening where NAU can consistently stop the big plays from the Hornets’ offense. I expect Bennett to regain confidence as the day’s top rusher and top scorer as the Hornets equalize their Big Sky record.

Sac State: 31, Northern Arizona: 21

Ryan Lorenz, Staff Writer (0-0): This matchup should be a slam dunk with the Hornets having a bitter taste in their mouths from last week and the Lumberjacks’ struggles as a whole. NAU will have to pull off another upset, which I do not see as likely, especially with a hungry Hornet team ready to get their season back on track in conference play. Stick with the run game and make plays on defense and the Hornets will be back on track.

Sac State: 38, Northern Arizona: 17

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About the Contributors
Jack Freeman
Jack Freeman, Managing Editor
Jack Freeman joined The State Hornet in spring 2022 as a staff writer and is currently a junior majoring in journalism. He returns as a Managing editor, resident Indoor football aficionado, and Kellen Moore fan.
Ryan Lorenz
Ryan Lorenz, Sports Staffer
(he/him) Ryan Lorenz is in his second semester at The State Hornet. He is a former Sports Editor for Cosumnes River College's publication, The Connection. He has a strong passion for sports and plans on having a career in sports media.
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