The student news site of Sacramento State University

The State Hornet

Student news without fear or favor
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’s explosive offense meets South Dakota’s stonewall defense

The Hornets visit a Dakota school’s hostile environment for the second week in a row
Senior+running+back+Marcus+Fulcher+runs+downfield+against+Cal+Poly+Saturday%2C+Nov.+11%2C+2023.+Fulcher+was+held+to+just+48+yards+on+10+carries+against+North+Dakota
Alyssa Branum
Senior running back Marcus Fulcher runs downfield against Cal Poly Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. Fulcher was held to just 48 yards on 10 carries against North Dakota

Sacramento State football outdueled North Dakota last week to keep their season alive, now they take on the #3 seeded South Dakota Coyotes for the first time in program history with both teams’ seasons on the line.

The Hornets’ 42-35 win last week was the first time the program has won a road playoff game in the FCS and the first time the Fighting Hawks lost a game in their dome this season.

This week is no different, the Coyotes have proved a fearsome opponent for almost everyone in their way. They tout a 9-2 record and the fifth best scoring defense in the nation.

These two teams will find common ground as they both took down the Fighting Hawks this season but in contrasting ways. Sac State played in a shootout, while South Dakota won a 14-10 barnburner.

Only 16 teams remain in the FCS playoffs and these two teams are fighting for a shot to be one of eight after Saturday. Let’s get into the three keys to watch for in this colossal matchup.

RELATED: Sac State’s high-powered offense lifts Hornets over Fighting Hawks


Cool guys don’t look at explosions

Sac State’s offense was firing on all cylinders due to the play of junior quarterback Kaiden Bennett who led the offense in rushing and passing yards and got in the end zone three times.

“If something wasn’t there he didn’t hesitate at all, he took off and was really a weapon with his legs,” Sac State head coach Andy Thompson said of Bennett. “His decision making in the passing game, getting the ball to his playmakers was really good.”

South Dakota’s defense is stingy and close to one of the best in the FCS. They only allow 14.6 points a game, the fifth best in the country. The most comparable defense the Hornets have faced was Montana’s defense who allows 14.45 points per game and they only put up seven points in that contest.

The Coyotes are led by senior linebacker Brock Mogensen who boasts over 100 tackles this season and junior cornerback Myles Harden, a player with NFL draft stock and six pass breakups in 2023.

“A great week of preparation and all units working together,” junior wideout Anderson Grover said concerning the offense’s turnaround. “College football, you gotta put a lot of hours in, so it feels good to get paid in a way on Saturday.”

Thompson also attributed their success to their ability to stay ahead of the chains by gaining chunks of yards on first and second down. The Hornets were an excellent 8 of 10 on third down last week, with both non-conversions coming on third downs of over eight yards in distance.

“We’ve been working hard and we’ve got to go out, have fun and let it rip,” Thompson said. “That’s what we talked about last week, just compete on every play and see what that looks like.”

The Hornets can’t let the Coyotes turn this stinging match into a dogfight in the trenches, they’ve got to keep them on their toes and put the pressure on their offense.

Stoppable force meets movable object

As good as South Dakota’s defense has been, their offense has left much to be desired. The Coyotes haven’t put up over 20 points against a team with a win since Oct. 14 and only average 23.7 points per game.

Sac State’s defense has also seen its fair share of struggles, giving up 35 points last week and allowing an average of 26.7 points per game.

“We need to stay in our assignment, stay in our gaps,” junior pass rusher Ben Ahio said. “After watching the film against [North Dakota] the score should not have been that high if everyone was doing their job. If everyone stays in their assignment, we will be able to stop them.”

The Coyotes are led by their sophomore quarterback Aidan Bouman, another low attempt, but high completion percentage player. Bouman only averages 22 attempts a game, but with those, he has thrown 12 touchdowns and only four interceptions.

“We just gotta put pressure on him,” Ahio said. “He’s a good quarterback, but he wasn’t comfortable when guys were getting close to him. Once you get pressure on him, he starts to run around and we can stop him from throwing the ball.”

South Dakota will surely try to exploit Sac State’s run defense that has struggled on early downs and allows almost 162 yards a game. Thompson has stressed this week that the Hornets can’t allow 4-6 yards on first and second down runs, allowing the offense easy conversions.

“We are trying to do some things with our personnel to be better against the run on first and second down,” Thompson said. “While not giving up those explosive pass plays or quarterback runs on third down and long. We gotta win those downs.”

A Zebra’s stripes are unique

Sac State was not called for a single penalty for the first time in school history last week against North Dakota. While impressive, it most likely won’t happen again this week.

Both of these teams share near identical penalty statistics, with South Dakota only committing two more penalties this season than Sac State. Where they differentiate is in the yardage where the Hornets have 67 more penalty yards than the Coyotes.

Those penalties have killed Sac State, especially on offense where pre-snap penalties have ended numerous drives by sending them hurdling behind the sticks. If the Hornets want a chance in this one, they’ll need to keep those to a minimum and stay disciplined after the play.

Predictions:

Jack Freeman, Sports Editor (7-3): Last week I said at their best Sac State could beat North Dakota and they gave their best and more. It’s going to prove difficult to play your best game of the season in back to back weeks, but this Hornet squad looks to have turned a page thanks to a healthy Bennett and Martin. The Hornets proved me wrong last week and showed up for a big game, so I’ll roll with them this week.

Sac State: 30, South Dakota: 27

Myla Booth, Sports Editor (7-3): Sac State should be proud of themselves for beating North Dakota for the first time this season at their home. I have a feeling the Hornets will once again continue to give their all and best, even if they aren’t playing at home.

Sac State: 35, South Dakota: 29

Chris Woodard, Managing Editor (5-5): The South Dakota defense is scary, Raggedy Ann doll scary. But this defense is not ready for the jump scares that Kaiden Bennett’s offensive prowess brings to the turf. Similar to last week, the speed of this Hornets team will lead them to another tough victory on the road.

Sac State: 28, South Dakota: 17

Leave a Comment
Donate to The State Hornet
$685
$1000
Contributed
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists of Sacramento State University. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Jack Freeman, Managing Editor
(he/him)
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.
Donate to The State Hornet
$685
$1000
Contributed
Our Goal

Comments (0)

View our comment policy here.
All The State Hornet Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *