GAME 3: SACRAMENTO STATE AT CAL
Date: Saturday, Sept. 18
Sacramento State 2020 record: The Hornets opted out of playing a spring season after the 2020 Big Sky Conference fall schedule was canceled
Sacramento State 2019 record: 9-4 overall, 7-1/tied for 1st in Big Sky Conference; lost 42-28 to Austin in their first-ever appearance in the FCS playoffs
Series record: Cal leads 2-0, outscoring the Hornets 96-17 in wins in 2005 and ‘14
Hornets coach: Troy Taylor (9-4 in 2nd season)
Top players: Senior RB Elijah Dotson (2-time, 1st-team All-Big Sky); junior WR Pierre Williams (54 receptions, 931 yards, 7 TDs in 2019); sophomore TE Marshel Martin (39 receptions, 550 yards, 7 TDs in 2019); senior LB Marcus Hawkins (81 tackles in 2019); sophomore LB Jeremy Harris (64 tackles in 2019)
Strengths: Sac State has loads of talent and experience at running back and receiver. Dotson, who also is a sprinter on the Hornets' track team, had 742 rushing yards and 702 yards on 70 receptions in 2019, totaling 11 touchdowns. Fellow running back B.J. Perkinson added 729 yards rushing and receiving and scored six more touchdowns. Isaiah Gable, just 5-foot-4, 150 pounds, caught 36 passes, including seven that went for 25 yards or more. Johnnie Rucker, who hasn’t played since 2018 after sitting out 2019 with a knee injury, adds another threat at wide receiver.
Weaknesses: Quarterback is the team’s big unknown. Junior Jake Duniway has the inside track to the starting job but played significantly in just one game in 2019, passing for 385 yards and four TDs in a comeback win over Northern Arizona. No one else has any game experience. The Hornets must replace two starters in the offensive line. The defense suffered significant losses since 2019, with the departure of three front-seven players who combined for 24 sacks in ’19, along with defensive back Daron Bland, a first-team All-Big Sky pick, who transferred to Fresno State.
What you should know about Sacramento State: Taylor begins his second season as head coach after helping execute a turnaround from a 2-8 injury-plagued season in 2018 to 9-4 in his debut campaign. The Hornets won a share of the Big Sky title — their first ever since joining the league in 1996 — and their nine victories were the most since the program moved from Division II to FCS in 1993. Taylor, who set Cal records (since broken) of 8,126 passing yards and 51 touchdowns through his senior season in 1989, was named FCS national coach of the year after the Hornets set school records with 464 points and 3,832 passing yards. Taylor operates a versatile and creative attack, fast-paced and determined to get the ball to playmakers in space. . . . Taylor made the decision last October to opt out of 2020 season not specifically because of COVID-19 issues but because he was concerned about the short recovery time from a spring season to a fall schedule. . . . Sac State’s athletic director, Mark Orr, was a defensive back at Cal in the mid-1990s . . . Quarterback Kevin Thomson, the 2019 Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year, transferred to Washington last fall for his final college season. Thompson threw 27 TDs and ran for 12 in 2019 but never threw a pass for the Huskies last fall.
Sacramento State spring football status: The Hornets held 15 spring practices through the end of April but emerged without a clear starter at quarterback. Duniway and run-oriented Kaiden Bennett, a redshirt freshman transfer from Nevada, dueled at quarterback through spring ball. It’s possible both could play roles in the Sac State offense next fall.
Sacramento State 2021 season projection: The Hornets figure to compete in the upper division of the Big Sky, but quarterback and a defense that must replace key players up front remain question marks.
Cal-Sacramento State game prediction: Cal 42, Sacramento State 10