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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 readies for top 5 brawl against Montana State

The Hornets make their return to national television
Siany Harts
Sac State hosts Montana State on ESPN2 for the school’s second appearance on national television. The Hornets beat Montana on ESPN2 last year in overtime. (Photos: (L-R) James Fife, Graphic created in Canva by Siany Harts)

The No. 3 Sacramento State Hornets have their most significant game of the season this Saturday against the No. 2 Montana State Bobcats on perhaps the biggest stage the Hornets will see all year.

ESPN2 rolls back into Sacramento for the second year in a row to broadcast this top 5 matchup to a national audience. Sac State played in an overtime classic against Montana on ESPN2 last year, the Hornets look to show out when the lights are the brightest again this year.

“My little kid self would have went crazy,” junior quarterback Kaiden Bennett said about the opportunity to play on ESPN. “I would have been screaming, trying to come to the game. Football is everything to me so he would have been excited for sure.”

That won’t be an easy feat, the Bobcats were inches away from defeating the No. 1 South Dakota State Jackrabbits early this season and have been as dominant as any team in college football this season.

“Not sure there’s too many teams out there with the combination of that explosive offense, with the defense being elite,” Sac State head coach Andy Thompson said.

These two teams shared the Big Sky conference title last season, but haven’t played each other since 2019. The Bobcats haven’t been to Sacramento since 2016.

RELATED: Sac State escapes own mistakes to beat Northern Colorado

With so much on the line for this matchup, the game itself needs no introduction, so let’s jump right into the three things you need to watch for this Saturday.

“We are still searching for that game where we do everything, all three phases, together,” Thompson said. “I’m hoping it’s Saturday when we put it all together and play our best game.”

Get it at the Gap

Montana State is the best rushing offense in the FCS, averaging 325 yards on the ground a game. A staggering 25 touchdowns on the ground and an average of 7.9 yards an attempt is enough to strike fear in the hearts of any opponent.

The Bobcats hang their hat on a two quarterback system with senior quarterback Sean Chambers and junior quarterback Tommy Mellott as the engines of the machine. Chambers has been their starter for most of the season and his rushing numbers are insane. His 11 rushing touchdowns are fourth most in the FCS.

All this combines to an offense that scores 45.5 points per game, another mark that leads the FCS. This isn’t a good offense, this is a juggernaut and the toughest test Sac State will see all year.

The Hornets’ run defense did have a bounce back performance against Northern Colorado, only allowing 75 yards on the ground. Sac State has to build off that performance and take that into this week.

“I think the tackling was much better,” Thompson said. “We worked on that a lot during the bye. Credit to the guys, they were aggressive, tackled well and were in the right spot. Going to be a big part of this week.”

The Hornets will have to fill the run gaps especially well to ensure Montana State doesn’t get any of the back breaking runs they are known for.

“The key factor for me on the defense, knowing they are a running offense is playing the run first and pass second,” junior safety Cameron Broussard said. “I can always fit the pass late, I got the speed to do it.”

Sac State’s senior linebackers Armon Bailey and Brock Mather will be critical in this matchup, being the first players to meet the runners on the majority of plays. They’ll need career days in order to slow down Montana State’s rushing attack.

Play smarter, not harder

Sac State’s offense struggled mightily against Northern Colorado last week, only putting up 21 points. A large part of that was penalties that Thompson said were technique errors.

“Be smarter,” Bennett said. “The penalties were keeping us back. Every game we have a lot of good things that happen and we can score every drive. It’s all about keeping those penalties off the board and the rest comes with that.”

Needless to say, that can’t happen this week. Montana State only allows 16 points a game, which is 15th best in the nation. Sac State has to find their offensive identity this game and go back to what worked so well against Stanford.

Bennett excels when he is out of the pocket making plays with his legs and it’s time for the Hornets to lean into it on Saturday. A healthy dose of play action and some crossing routes should do the trick to get the Sac State offense moving again.

They’ll get some help with the return of senior running back Marcus Fulcher. Fulcher is not only a stellar runner but an excellent pass blocker in play action.

“I think Marcus Fulcher helps our team in every way,” Thompson said. “He’s a great player, a leader, one of our guys.”

If the Hornets want to keep up the Bobcat offense, they’ll need to get Fulcher going and air it out deep using play action.

Climbing to Mount Olympus

After Sac State’s loss to Idaho, they needed a Vandals loss to get them back into contention in the Big Sky conference. Last week, the Montana Grizzlies gave the Hornets just what they needed, taking down the Vandals 23-21.

Now the Bobcats are the only remaining undefeated team in the Big Sky and the Hornets have an opportunity to reclaim their chance at a fourth straight Big Sky title. A win on Saturday would far from guarantee anything, but it would level the playing field immensely in the conference.

Sac State still has Montana and UC Davis on the schedule, two Big Sky teams that they’ll need to beat to keep the Big Sky in reach.

A loss would all but put an end to Sac State’s title chances as it’s highly unlikely both Idaho and Montana State would lose three games in conference. The Hornets can’t afford any slip ups if they want to climb the mountain and rest atop the Big Sky.


Jack Freeman, Co-Sports Editor (5-1): After last week’s performance it’s safe to say that Sac State will need to play absolutely perfect to stay in this game. Montana State’s offense is too strong for a Hornets’ defense to slow down and Sac State’s offense is trending the wrong way. It’ll be close, but I’ll take the Bobcats in this Big Sky showdown.

Sac State: 28, Montana State: 34

Myla Booth, Co-Sports Editor (5-1): Sac State will need to put all their working forces together to keep this game against Montana State close. The Hornets will need to make sure they sharpen up their defense when it comes to how Montana State will move offensively and vice versa. Montana State is on top right now in the Big Sky, but that doesn’t mean Sac State can’t try to slow them down and make this a close game to have fans on the edge of their seats in the stands.

Sac State: 30, Montana State: 35

Chris Woodard, Managing Editor (4-2): After an ugly win against Northern Colorado, Sac State will have to answer a lot of questions to secure a W against Montana State. The Hornets have continued to give up big plays all season long and a few too many on Saturday will lead to their downfall. Bennett and company will need to be at the top of their game to secure a victory Saturday, and I expect them to make ESPN-ready highlights.

Sac State: 38, Montana State: 31

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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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