College Sports

No nerves this time as Troy Taylor starts new era as Sac State football coach in record-setting opener

Troy Taylor didn’t pace this time. He didn’t run, fret or agonize.

Anxiety was at a minimum Saturday night for the Sacramento State football coach as he took the field at Hornet Stadium as a first-time college head coach.

This was unlike 1986 when anticipation kept Taylor antsy before his first start at quarterback for Cal.

“I was pretty nervous for that one,” Taylor said of a home game against Oregon State all those years ago. “I couldn’t sleep. We stayed in the Claremont (in the Bay Area). I was running up and down the hall way to get tired.

“Now I sleep pretty well. I’m pretty calm before games. I’ve come a long way!”

One aspect that remains fixed for Taylor is relentless preparation, attention to detail and execution, and that combination played out spectacularly during Sac State’s 77-19 steam job of Southern Oregon.

Taylor didn’t win a ton of games at Cal but it was never for lack of effort as the Bears were mired in an era of mediocrity. And it was during his time in Berkeley that Taylor learned to appreciate any measure of triumph.

The Cordova High School graduate was voted by his Cal teammates as MVP three times, and Taylor captained Sac State out of the gate with encouraging if not emphatic signs of a program revival. We know this. Sac State will not be dull, and it will score.

Sac State set off gametime fireworks with a flurry of touchdowns that led to postgame fireworks above the stadium. Some perspective is needed here. Southern Oregon is not to be confused with Arizona, or even Arizona State, which Sac State visits Friday in a whopper of back-to-earth game.

The Raiders of Ashland have 6,200 students and are an NAIA powerhouse, small-college ball. But Southern Oregon in 2013 pushed Sac State to the brink before falling 63-56 in overtime, and the motto Saturday was it was their best 11 against our best 11.

“It was great to see our guys respond in all three phases of the game, but the guys know there are lots of areas to improve,” Taylor said after the game. “Overall it was a great evening, with a great crowd and a great environment and I had a lot of fun.”

Fun was pushing the pace in a glimpse of what to expect once the Big Sky Conference schedule hits.

Sac State scored touchdowns on its first nine possessions and reached the end zone 11 times to break the previous school record of 75 points set against the University of San Francisco in 1968. The Hornets allowed no sacks, which delighted Taylor’s best friend, Kris Richardson, his former co-coach at Folsom High, and the team came up with four interceptions for defensive coordinator Andy Thompson.

Kevin Thomson looked like his old self, the third-year starting quarterback washing away the grime of last season’s 2-8 campaign with a dazzling effort.

He passed for 303 yards and four touchdowns and showed burst by rushing for 90 yards and and a score. Thomson hit Pierre Williams for touchdown strikes of 36, 75 and 14 yards, and Elijah Dotson rushed for two scores and caught a 59-yard touchdown in showing his complete-game skills.

“We’re not done yet,” Dotson said after the game before heading into the locker room, his grin undeniable.

Thomson was giddy, too. Taylor is heaven sent for the quarterback.

“I love playing in this offense,” Thomson said. “It’s really quarterback friendly. It was a fun offense to learn and we’re starting to get really comfortable with it.”

Taylor said the goal is to gas defenses.

“The tempo is going to be fast, especially if we get a first down,” Taylor said. “It’s really a mentality for our whole team and what we want to do. We want to play without fear and with a lot of confidence, but with humility too.”

Sac State athletic director Mark Orr has known Taylor for years, including one year at Cal when Orr played in the secondary and Taylor was a Bears assistant coach.

“I know Troy loves to go high-tempo, and as a former defensive back, I wouldn’t enjoy playing against his offense,” Orr said. “I think we’re going to see some good things this year.”

Ideally, Sac State wouldn’t jump right into a PAC-12 opponent in Tempe on a short week with the high on Friday projected to be 108 degrees. But this schedule was put in motion years ago, and there are immediate payoffs for playing up. Sac State also plays at Fresno State on Sept. 21, another tall task. The ASU and Fresno State road games will reap the Hornets athletic department some $1 million.

Sac State’s goal is to compete and to improve, a trademark for all Taylor teams, including his offensive coordinator stints in recent years at Eastern Washington and Utah. The realistic goal is to win games in the Big Sky against opponents the same size and skill set as the Hornets, punctuated by the Causeway Classic against UC Davis to cap the regular season Nov. 23.

Sac State has not won a conference championship since 1995 and it has not reached the postseason since 1988. The burden has been on every coach over the yeas to boost the program.

It’s Taylor’s task now, and you’d have to like the Hornets’ long-term chances.

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Joe Davidson has covered sports for The Sacramento Bee since 1988 and is award-winning authority on high school sports, specializing in going behind the scenes. Davidson was a high school athlete in Oregon, where he participated in football and track.