It’s challenging enough that Sacramento State is trying to bounce back from one of its most uninspiring losses in recent seasons.
But up next for the Hornets (1-2) in their Big Sky Conference home opener Saturday night is three-time defending champion Eastern Washington (1-2) and Jordan West, the Football Championship Subdivision passing leader.
The junior quarterback completed 21 of 24 passes for 410 yards and six touchdowns in the Eagles’ 55-50 win over visiting Montana State in a nonconference game last Saturday. The performance earned West co-national FCS Offensive Player of the Week honors.
410 Passing yards by Eastern Washington’s Jordan West in 55-50 win over Montana State last week
It was a different story for Sac State sophomore quarterback Daniel Kniffin last Saturday in Ogden, Utah. The former walk-on, making his third start, threw three interceptions and struggled with his accuracy in the Hornets’ 32-14 loss to Weber State.
But coach Beau Baldwin of the No. 11 Eagles isn’t expecting a walkover against the Hornets and coach Jody Sears, his former coaching colleague when they were assistants at Eastern Washington under Paul Wulff.
“Just knowing coach Sears ... we are going in there and going to have to fight against a team that is going to play with incredible effort,” Baldwin said.
The Eagles’ offense has had a seamless transition with West taking the reins from Vernon Adams Jr., the 2014 Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year who’s now at Oregon. The Eagles have a stellar offensive line, solid running game and arguably one of the best players in the FCS in junior wide receiver Cooper Kupp. He is averaging a national-leading 12.0 catches and 208.7 yards per game.
They should keep Sac State senior linebacker Darnell Sankey and its young defense even busier this week than they were at Weber State.
Sankey shattered the school record for tackles with 27 against the Wildcats. The previous mark was 22 set by Ryland Wickman against Eastern Washington in 1997.
27 Tackles, a school record, by Sacramento State’s Darnell Sankey in 32-14 loss to Weber State last week
“Darnell was spectacular, absolutely awesome,” Sears said. “I would have preferred our defense take 20 fewer snaps, and I know that Darnell, being the selfless player he is, would have traded that record for a win.”
Sears stuck with Kniffin despite his struggles. Baylor transfer Alexis Robinson, a running threat, took a few snaps and rushed twice for two yards. He did not throw a pass.
“With Daniel, there are going to be some days like that, so we need to stay the course,” Sears said. “There are going to be speed bumps, just as there were when Garrett (Safron) was a sophomore.”
On the road, again – UC Davis (0-3) will open its Big Sky schedule indoors at North Dakota (2-1) and make its fifth attempt at the 500th win in program history.
UCD is 499-401-33 since 1915.
The game also will mark the third on the road this season for the Aggies, who fell 47-27 Saturday at Hawaii.
UCD coach Ron Gould said the Aggies played much better than they did the week before in a 27-17 home loss to South Dakota.
“The execution was a lot better,” Gould said. “We played for four quarters, but it still wasn’t good enough for us to win. We had some costly mistakes.”
Junior wide receiver Chris Martin continues to excel for the Aggies. He had four catches for 123 yards, including a 69-yard touchdown, against Hawaii. The week before, he had four catches for 121 yards and a 75-yard touchdown against South Dakota.
North Dakota is coming off a 34-9 loss at four-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State last Saturday but has a 24-13 win over Wyoming of the Football Bowl Subdivision to open the season.