Sacramento State football coach Jody Sears insists he isn’t interested in the numbers game.
But there are some intriguing figures surrounding the Hornets entering their Big Sky Conference opener Saturday afternoon at Idaho State.
The Hornets are 3-1, their best start since 1999, after routing NAIA Menlo College 59-14last Saturday at Hornet Stadium.
A win over the Bengals at the indoor Holt Arena in Pocatello would match the 4-1 start of the 1992 team coached by the late Bob Mattos.
Then there is 4-14. That’s Sac State’s win-loss record in Big Sky Conference openers.
“That means nothing,” Sears said. “Those things you can’t control. It could be a motivating factor in our preparation. But those stats can’t make plays for you.”
Other than a disappointing performance in a 55-14 loss at Cal on Sept. 6, the Hornets have made plays.
Among the highlights:
• Sac State averages 41 points a game, tied at No. 8 nationally among Football Championship Subdivision schools.
• The Hornets are plus-seven in turnovers, ranking seventh nationally. Their 11 takeaways have resulted in 38 points.
• Linebacker Darnell Sankey had 17 tackles against Menlo, his fourth consecutive game with double-digit tackles. He is averaging 13.8 tackles, tied for second nationally and tied for first in the Big Sky.
• Sac State averages 193.8 rushing yards per game, nearly 59 better than last season. Sophomore Jordan Robinson has rushed in back-to-back games for 130 yards (vs. Weber State) and 114 (Menlo), respectively.
“You have to play to your strengths,” Sears said. “We’ve got a veteran offensive line and a pretty darn good quarterback (Garrett Safron) that can play the read zone. So you play to your strengths and go.”
Idaho State has been among the bottom feeders in the Big Sky in recent years. The Bengals’ three wins last year was their best win total since going 3-8 in 2007. That also was the last year they had more than one win in conference.
Idaho State was 1-7 and tied for 11th in the Big Sky last season. It was picked to finish 12th of 13 this year by the coaches in the preseason poll.
This year, Idaho State is 1-2, losing 56-14 to Utah and 40-20 to Utah State before beating Division II Chadron (Neb.) State 39-34.
Even fourth-year coach Mike Kramer, who had previous success at Eastern Washington and Montana State, doesn’t mince words about his struggling program.
“I wouldn’t buy a ticket to watch a 2-9 team or a 3-9 team,” Kramer told the Idaho State Journal after the Bengals held off Chadron State in front of a smallish crowd of 4,838 in their home opener Sept. 13. “I don’t care if you charge me a buck or $100.”
Sears believes Idaho State is improving under Kramer, making the Bengals a dangerous matchup for the Hornets.
Idaho State senior quarterback Justin Ariasaverages 260.7 passing yards per game and has eight touchdown passes and three interceptions. Xavier Finneyaverages 126.3 rushing yards and has two touchdowns running behind what Sears says “might be the best offensive line we face all year.”
“We’re going into a hostile environment,” Sears said. “Pocatello is a hard place to go in and win. We’ve got four nonconference games under our belt with the good, the bad and the ugly. We’ve got to be hitting on all cylinders.”
That includes 1-1 ties against Air Force on Friday and Grand Canyon on Sunday in the Copa de Causeway, co-hosted by the Aggies and Sac State.
The Grand Canyon draw was the school-record fifth of the season and came only after UCD’s Lucas Mohageg scored in the 88th minute to force extra time.
Still, the Aggies have a long way to go to tie their own NCAA record-tying 11 extra-time matches in 2011. Saint Louis (2003) and San Diego State (2009) share the record.
The Aggies (2-0-5) are at USF (4-2) Friday at 7 p.m., then host Saint Mary’s (5-2) Sunday at 1 p.m.
Last year, the Aggies had their biggest win in program history by beating the Rainbow Wahine in five sets in Davis.
The Aggies are 5-8 under new coach Dan Conners after losing to Wyoming and Northern Colorado before beating Hampton in last weekend’s Northern Colorado Classic.