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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 football opens Big Sky play with massive test

Hornets face up and coming Vandals in top 10 brawl
Aylssa Branum
Sac State senior running back Marcus Fulcher heads up field against the Idaho Vandals Saturday Oct. 29, 2022. Fulcher has led the Hornets’ running back room this season with 44 carries for 216 yards.

The No. 4 Sacramento State Hornets are hitting the road and heading north this weekend to face the No. 7 Idaho Vandals as Big Sky conference play begins.

Sac State is coming off the biggest upset victory since 2012 after taking down Stanford on the road last week. Now the Hornets have another huge test facing an electric Vandals offense in the Kibbie Dome.

RELATED: ‘They can have him’: Sac State chops down Stanford in a classic

The Vandals came into this season with high expectations and so far they’ve met them. They crushed Nevada 33-6 in week 2 and jumped out to a 17-0 lead over Cal last week before faltering late.

With a matchup of two highly rated teams in conference, this falls as one of the most important games on the calendar for the Hornets and Vandals alike. There is a good chance this game will be a potential tie-breaker for the conference championship later in the season.

Sac State has been road warriors as of late, bringing the nation’s best 12-game road winning streak into this game.

“I think it’s a mindset that we work really hard on in the offseason,” Sac State head coach Andy Thompson said. “No matter where we play, we are going to be really excited to play that game… We don’t try to change our routine.”

Let’s get into what you need to know before Saturday’s big game.

It’s like I’m seeing double

This game features a showdown of some of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation. Sac State’s junior Kaiden Bennett and Idaho’s redshirt sophomore Gevani McCoy.

“It’s one of the hardest things in football to stop a dual-threat quarterback,” Thompson said. “We’ve worked a lot with Bennett in fall camp and you have to have rush integrity; can’t be flying out of your lane.”

McCoy is coming off a breakout freshman season where he claimed the award for best freshman in all of the FCS. His ability to escape the pocket and keep plays alive rivals anyone in the country.

Bennett had his dual-threat abilities on full display against Stanford. Both players excel out of structure but are prone to mistakes because of it. McCoy threw his lone interception last week because he refused to give up the play.

To stop both of these dynamic talents, the teams have to keep, contain and get pressure. Somewhat antithetical, sure, but these players can score from anywhere on the field so the defenses are going to have to be almost perfect to prevent a shootout.

Aye, I’m crossing over here!

Idaho’s offense hangs its hat on deep crossing routes and with their talented wide receiving core — they are hard to stop. While McCoy has some struggles throwing outside the numbers, he is deadly accurate inside them.

“You gotta mix and match coverages,” Thompson said. “You can’t just stay in one thing with him because if he knows what you’re in it’s really tough. They are averaging seven yards a play.”

McCoy’s favorite target is All-American redshirt junior wide receiver Hayden Hatten. Hatten, a contested-catch mastermind, has caught at least five passes in every game this season.

The responsibility of stopping that duo falls on a Hornet defense that has had ups and downs versus the pass. Last week, Stanford went downfield a lot and found success. If Sac State wants to stop them they’ll have to vary their looks and play tight man coverage downfield.

Cal found success stopping the Vandals’ offense through a strong pass rush and physical defensive back play.

“You have to create negative plays,” Thompson said. “When the ball is in the air, it sounds easy, but we have to play the ball. We can’t let them have the ball in the air.”

The Hornet secondary will need help up front chasing down McCoy. Thompson has relied on senior linebacker Armon Bailey as a solid blitzer. Expect to see Bailey chasing after McCoy all game.

The Hornet defensive line was on another level in the fourth quarter against Stanford as senior defensive lineman Jett Stanley and the whole crew lived in the backfield. If they can carry that same juice to Moscow, they’ll force McCoy into crucial mistakes and control the game.

“It has to start in practice, you have to have fun,” Bailey said. “Everybody bring the juice, you have to if you want to be on the field. It makes the game fun, once the game is fun you want to do your job.”

Run through somebody’s face

The one weak point in the Vandal defense is their run stopping ability. Idaho played in a light box formation last week and Cal made them pay, punishing the Vandals for 256 yards on the ground.

Cal found a lot of its success running the ball down the middle, a strength of Sac State’s offensive line. The running back duo of senior Marcus Fulcher and junior Ezra Moleni should tote the ball quite a few times for Sac State.

“I like to hit, take contact,” Moleni said. “It’s my power, north and south running– that is my type of game.”

If the run game catches on early that will open up the Hornets to utilize the play action and roll out plays that Bennett killed Stanford with last week. When on the run, Bennett has shown nice touch on his passes downfield all season.

“When they have a free blitzer, he makes him miss and throws it to [Devin] Gandy down the field,” Thompson said in reference to a Bennett play action highlight against Stanford. “Those unplanned plays, he is really good at them.”

The Bears froze the Vandals’ defense a few times with play action shot plays. There should be a heavy dose of these when the Hornets need a big play.

Don’t let the Vandal’s flashy passing offense fool you. Their rushing attack with McCoy and sophomore running back Anthony Woods is quite potent.

“When their running back [Woods] gets 80 yards they are 8-0,” Thompson said. “When he doesn’t they are 2-6 in the last two years. Everyone thinks pass, pass, pass, but we gotta do both.”

Idaho loves the stretch and outside zone runs, so the Sac State linebackers will have to stay sound in their gaps and not over pursue to stop them.


Jack Freeman, Co-Sports Editor (3-0): If you flipped a coin, you might have better odds of picking this game correctly. In these moments give me the team on a 12-game road winning streak over an up and comer. If Cal can kill the Vandals with play action and running the ball, the Hornets will do the same. Sac State fights off the Vandals in a shootout and takes control of their own destiny in the Big Sky.

Sac State: 38, Idaho: 34

Myla Booth, Co-Sports Editor (3-0): It sounds like Sac State will have to set some high expectations for this game because it can go either way. Sac State always knows how to respond back and I think they will do just that.

Sac State: 42, Idaho: 39

Chris Woodard, Managing Editor (2-1): When two high-powered offenses square off, one thing is not talked about enough: defense. I expect Sac State to find ways to use their experienced defenders to push Idaho into second and third downs behind the sticks, negating their run game and building ideal man coverage situations where the secondary can shine. I expect the Hornets to win the time of possession battle, and the game.

Sac State 38, Idaho: 24

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About the Contributor
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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