Ross D. Franklin The Associated Press Quarterback Garrett Safron and the rest of Sacramento State's offense have come up empty in the Hornets' 0-2 start this season.

Sacramento State football notes: Hornets become target for upset

Published: Thursday, Sep. 12, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 8C
Last Modified: Thursday, Sep. 12, 2013 - 5:34 pm

Sacramento State enhanced its football reputation the last couple of years by upsetting Oregon State and Colorado.

Southern Oregon, an intriguing team from Ashland, Ore., hopes for a similar boost when it plays Saturday at Sacramento State in the Hornets' home opener.

The Raiders (0-2) are a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics school with a spread offense that averaged a national-best – at all levels – 642 total yards in going 9-3 last season. They are coached by Craig Howard, who coached Tim Tebow in high school in Florida.

"This is their opportunity to come in and play up," Sac State coach Marshall Sperbeck said. "It's their big game of the year. We've got to be the best version of Sacramento State we can be."

Both teams have yet to win.

The Hornets (0-2), facing Football Bowl Subdivision schools San Jose State and Arizona State, have been outscored 79-0.

Southern Oregon lost 35-30 to Rocky Mountain College and 38-34 to Montana Western, two Frontier Conference rivals.

Junior quarterback Austin Dodge is back after throwing for 5,076 yards and 42 touchdowns last season. Even though the team's five top receivers from 2012 have departed, the Raiders are averaging 518 total yards.

"They're a pretty good team," Sac State senior linebacker Todd Davis said. "They run a lot of hurry-up like Arizona State. So having played an Arizona State will help us this week."

The Raiders have made heavy recruiting inroads into the Sacramento area. They list 11 former area players on their roster, including seven freshmen.

Former Bee All-Metro first-teamers Sean Tow, a running back from Union Mine, and Abnor Toma, a linebacker from Grant, are contributing as freshmen.

No excuses – While Sac State beat Oregon State in 2011 and Colorado last season, Arizona State made sure there wouldn't be a three-peat in its 55-0 mauling last Thursday in Tempe, Ariz.

The Sun Devils outgained the Hornets 523-167 in total yards, forced four turnovers while committing none and limited the Hornets to six first downs while compiling 27.

Sac State opened the game with a drive that covered 59 yards on 16 plays and lasted 7:45, only to see Jesse Aguilar's 33-yard field-goal attempt blocked.

Sperbeck said the Hornets can't yet compete with upper-echelon FBS teams.

"We go into every game trying to win it," Sperbeck said. "Our kids played hard, so we felt good about that. But we ran into a very good football team who, in my opinion, will be a Top 20 team by the end of the season. They were fast and physical, big and strong."

Freshman's big numbers – The Hornets' decision to start former Del Oro standout Russell Smith at linebacker as a freshman looks like a good one.

The 215-pound Smith, who played defensive back in high school, led the Hornets in tackles with 14, 10 solo. That was the most solo stops by a Sac State player since Mike Brannon (Cordova) had 11 solos and 16 total against Eastern Washington in 2007.

Turnovers, please – The Hornets, who ranked 12th in the Big Sky Conference in turnover margin with minus-10 last season, are still finding it difficult to get a fumble or an interception. They have none in their first two games while throwing four interceptions and fumbling twice.

Boom time – If there is a Hornet who has shined through the first two games, it's senior punter Justin Weldon, who has gotten plenty of practice.

Weldon is averaging 44.5 yards in 14 attempts. He has placed five punts inside the 20-yard line and has forced four fair catches. He had a 67-yard punt against Arizona State.

Call The Bee's Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.

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