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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 seeks steady home opener against Texas A&M Commerce

Hornets look to extend the longest regular season win streak in FCS
Alyssa Branum
Junior quarterback Kaiden Bennett looks toward the sideline during practice on Sep. 21, 2022. Bennett was named the starting quarterback this week by Sacramento State head coach Andy Thompson.

The No. 9 Sacramento State Hornets will host the Texas A&M-Commerce Lions in their home opener on Saturday night.

Sac State might be missing one of their top players for the matchup, senior tight end Marshel Martin IV, who was limited against Nicholls after a thigh injury. Sac State head coach Andy Thompson said Martin was “doing better,” but was “not sure” if he’d be playing Saturday.

Thompson named junior quarterback Kaiden Bennett the starting quarterback for the Hornet’s matchup against the Lions.

“It feels good, a long time coming,” Bennett said. “To be named starter by my teammates, my coach, it really means the world to me. It can’t get any better than that.”

These two teams have never played each other, but thanks to the Lions’ last matchup against the No. 15 UC Davis Aggies, there is a measuring stick to how well the Hornets can play. Commerce was squashed by Davis last week at home 48-10. Davis ran all over Commerce, totaling 279 yards on 45 attempts.

Sac State should take this game handily, but it’s crucial they clean up some mistakes from last week. Here are my key things to watch for in Saturday’s matchup.

Turnovers, more than a dessert

The turnover battle will be key in this matchup as it might be the only hope for Commerce. Sac State was fairly careful with the ball against Nicholls, but with a team looking for every opportunity to make a play, they’ll have to be careful with the ball to avoid an upset.

The Lions’ defense found success getting turnovers in their first game. They forced four turnovers against the Aggies, including three interceptions.

Commerce will need to be even more careful with the ball as they’ll need to answer the juggernaut that is Sac State’s offense. They must avoid another three turnover performance against an aggressive Sac State secondary.

Sac State senior cornerbacks Dillon Juniel and Caleb Nelson will be tested all night and could have big nights if they can break on some passes from Commerce’s junior transfer quarterback Josh Magana.

RELATED: Sac State football: Secondary maintains mentality of a shark

“The shark mentality is that we are all out there moving together like sharks in a tank,” Juniel said. “Whenever we are on the field together, we attack, we attack. Attack the ball, attack everywhere. It’s the standard.”

The Hornets’ secondary continued to struggle against stopping the deep ball in the fourth quarter against Nicholls. Look for the Lions to attack that area of the field early and often looking for a big play.

“We did a good job of that for three quarters, but that fourth quarter, we gave up two explosive passes,” Thompson said. “We are going to try to eliminate that… if we can do that it’s 0 yard gains if it’s incomplete.”

How do you stop a hydra?

The Hornets’ biggest offensive strength is their running back room. A hydra of quality running backs consisting of senior Marcus Fulcher, sophomore Elijah Tau-Tolliver and junior Ezra Moleni.

“We want to improve our blocking in all aspects,” Thompson said. “We need to make sure our talented backs have room to run. I thought they ran really hard, but we want to keep improving.”

Expect to see Sac State light it up on the ground and punish Commerce up front. Much like Nicholls, Commerce will probably answer by bringing pressure. A successful running game will free up Bennett and his weapons outside to look deep and make some big plays.

“That’s the kind of player I am, an explosive player,” Bennett said. “Being able to do the routine things and when those explosive plays come, be ready.”

The key for Commerce is stopping the run early and forcing a potential Martin-less Hornet offense to switch to a pass-first approach. If the Lions’ secondary can hang deep, they’ll reign in the juggernaut, at least for some time.

Stopping the Hornet’s hydra is something much easier said than done. Sac State’s offensive line didn’t give up a sack against Nicholls, and the rotation of backs will keep the group fresh.

Home is where the heart is

Sac State opens their home schedule up this week, and they won’t return until Sept. 30, which makes this game crucial for establishing excitement in Sacramento.

Thompson has stressed the importance of the Hornets being Sacramento’s team and there’s no better way to do that than winning. One way he wants the team to embrace the school is by learning the fight song.

“The fight song is something you only get to do one time in college,” Thompson said. “You gotta know the fight song.”

If the Hornets can get big plays early, they’ll energize the crowd, which could lead to the game snowballing early.


Jack Freeman, Co-Sports Editor (1-0): Sac State has to clean up a lot on both sides of the ball and it’s been a point Thompson has stressed this week. It’ll be difficult for Commerce to keep up with Sac State’s raw firepower, especially on the road. Fulcher and company will have a big day carrying the Hornets to 2-0.

Sac State: 41, Texas A&M Commerce: 17

Myla Booth, Co-Sports Editor (1-0): Sac State has been doing lots of preparing for this first home game. After beating Nicholls, I think they are confident in knowing what they can do and what they need to continue to watch out for.

Sac State: 45, Texas A&M Commerce: 21

Chris Woodard, Managing Editor (1-0): After a relatively scary opening for Sac State, I expect the Hornets to come out swinging on Saturday. Last week’s matchup against Nichols gave the team a much-needed wake-up call, and this Saturday’s game against Texas A&M Commerce offers Sac State another opportunity to answer questions and dive deeper into their big play-driven playbook.

Sac State: 38, Texas A&M Commerce: 21

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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.
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