When it comes to talking about injuries, Sacramento State coach Marshall Sperbeck usually goes to his “next man up” mantra.
But the Hornets have been hit so hard by injuries this season that Sperbeck couldn’t hold back after practice earlier this week.
“We’re starting to run out of men,” Sperbeck said.
Heading into today’s game at Portland State, seven positions have changed starters since the Hornets’ first game against San Jose State on Aug. 29. Several positions have had multiple starters because of injuries, including running back, where Brandon Kellermann, Ezekiel Graham, Jordan Robinson and Demetrius Warren all have started.
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The newest Hornet to start today will be junior Dexter Alcala at nickel back.
The special-teams standout replaced the injured Markell Williams in last Saturday’s 42-7 loss to Cal Poly and was one of the few bright spots for the Hornets. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Alcala had eight tackles.
Williams had made 22 consecutive starts, second only to senior linebacker Todd Davis’ 32, before suffering an ankle injury.
Tough losses take a toll – Sperbeck said the physical and emotional toll of losing three close games at home played a factor in Sac State’s flat performance at San Luis Obispo, where the Hornets historically haven’t fared well.
“You get chipped away when you have games like that,” Sperbeck said of overtime losses to No. 8 Montana and Southern Utah, and a one-point loss to No. 13 Northern Arizona. “We didn’t play up to our expectations against Cal Poly. It’s frustrating because we have had a lot of good games and lot of good moments leading up to that game.”
Even resilient junior quarterback Garrett Safron struggled against the Mustangs after taking several punishing hits against Montana.
He took some more licks against Cal Poly’s fast and physical defense in the first half and was a shell of himself in the final two quarters.
He finished 24 of 43 for 204 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions and rushed for 25 yards on 10 carries. His 15-yard scoring strike to DeAndre Carter was his 23rd of the season, which ties him with Jeff Fleming (2010) for Sac State’s single-season record. Carter’s touchdown catch was his 13th of the season, moving him to within one of Mike Carter’s mark of 14 in 1969.
Davis’ new fan – Portland State coach Nigel Burton, a renowned hitter while at Jesuit High School and Washington, likes the challenge of game planning for Sac State senior linebacker Todd Davis, the Big Sky Conference leader in tackles.
“He has a nickname among our staff of ‘Man Dude,’” Burton said laughing. “He’s a man and a dude all in the same.”
The 250-pound Davis has 107 tackles this season after compiling 14 against Cal Poly. That puts him No. 8 in the Football Championship Subdivision at 10.7 tackles per game.
With 327 career tackles, the Palmdale native is 10 shy of moving up to second all-time on the Hornets’ list. No. 2 Cyrus Mulitalo had 336 from 2005-08.
Hang time – Senior punter Justin Weldon continues to excel this season. He is averaging 44.6 yards on 57 kicks – fourth nationally among FCS punters – and could challenge the single-season record of 44.05 by Steve Thorns in 1997.
He’s also on pace to set the Sac State career punting average. The current record is 42.27 yards per punt set by Doyle Brunson from 1968-69. Weldon is averaging 43.89 yards for his career and had his longest punt of this season last week against Cal Poly, a 53-yarder.
Today, he’ll try to match punts with Portland State’s Kyle Loomis, the national leader at 47.8 yards.
SACRAMENTO STATE (4-6, 3-3 BIG SKY)
AT PORTLAND STATE (6-4, 3-3)
Where: JELD-WEN Field (18,627)
• When: 1:05 p.m. • Radio: 1380
• Vikings at a glance: After a promising start and midseason lull, Portland State has caught fire in beating North Dakota, Weber State and Idaho State. The Vikings have had rushing games of 281, 350 and 395 in those three wins. With Maryland transfer DJ Adams (1,207 yards rushing) leading the way, the Vikings average 275.5 rushing yards per game. Despite playing three different quarterbacks this season, they also average 241.5 passing yards. They are second in the Big Sky in total offense (517 yards). Defensively, the Vikings have 22 sacks. But they also are the conference’s most penalized team (85.9 yards) and are minus nine in turnover ratio. Former Casa Roble standout Jaycob Shoemaker, a senior linebacker, leads the team with 82 tackles, including seven for loss, and David Edgerson has nine interceptions.
• Hornets at a glance: Sacramento State hopes to rebound from its 42-7 loss at Cal Poly and finish strong with wins in its last two games. Quarterback Garrett Safron ranks third (293 yards per game) in the Big Sky Conference in total offense and leads the team in rushing with 416 yards. He is within two touchdowns of tying Ryan Leadingham (2001-04) for the career passing touchdowns with 48. Safron has four strong targets in wide receivers DeAndre Carter (59 catches, 801 yards, 13 touchdowns), Morris Norrise (68 catches, 643 yards and three touchdowns) and Shane Harrison (35 catches 396 yards, one touchdown) and tight end Cole Hikutini (16 catches, 173 yards, four touchdowns).
• Series: After playing for 18 straight seasons, including 16 straight in Big Sky Conference contests, Portland State and Sacramento State did not play in 2012 because of league expansion. Portland State ended a three-game Hornets’ winning streak with a 29-20 win in 2011 and leads the series 22-9.
– Bill Paterson
UC Davis: vs. North Dakota, 4 p.m., 1140
Stanford: at USC, 5 p.m., Ch. 10, 1050
Cal: at Colorado, 2:30 p.m., PAC12, 810