FOOTBALL OPENS SEASON ON THURSDAY AT NEW MEXICO STATE
A BRIEF PREVIEW
The Sacramento State football team will make its 2012 debut on Thursday, Aug. 30, when it faces New Mexico State at 5 p.m. PDT at Aggie Memorial Stadium.
There will be multiple ways to follow this week’s game. Hornet fans can tune in to Classic 93.1 FM and KAHI 950 AM in the foothills to hear the radio call of Jason Ross, Steve McElroy and Danny Sullivan. Live audio streaming is also available via www.hornetsports.com and on the iHeart Radio application for mobile devices.
The game will also be televised by the Altitude network and Fox Sports Arizona and air online on ESPN3. Glen Cenry will handle the play-by-play with color commentary coming from Danny Knee.
Sacramento State is coming off a 4-7 season which saw the team record wins over Oregon State and Montana for the first time in school history. However, injuries plagued the team during the final half of the season, resulting in four losses by nine points or less over the final five games.
Thirty-three letterwinners, including 11 starters return from last season’s squad. The offense is led by sophomore quarterback Garrett Safron, senior running back Sam McCowan and junior wide receiver Morris Norrise as well as three returning starters on the offensive line.
On the defensive side of the ball, the top three tacklers (linebackers Todd Davis and Jeff Badger and safety Ryan McMahon) each return after combining for 267 tackles.
New Mexico State was 4-9 in 2011. The Aggies lost six of their final seven games of the year with the exception being a 48-45 win over Fresno State. NMSU boasts 16 returning starters, including quarterback Andrew Manley. The redshirt sophomore started the first three games of year before being sidelined with an injury. During his brief time, he threw for 892 yards and helped the team to a 28-21 win at Minnesota.
Defensively, the top eight tacklers for the Aggies in 2011 are no longer with the team. Linebacker B.J. Adolpho has the highest total of tackles among returners with 41 stops.
Sacramento State and New Mexico State have never met in football until this season. The two schools have been conference rivals in baseball as both are members of the Western Athletic Conference.
DIVING RIGHT IN
• Since 2002, Sacramento State has opened the season against a Football Bowl Subdivision in all but one year. Prior to 2011, the Hornets had been 1-8 in their first game of the year with the lone win coming over Div. II Humboldt State in 2008.
• Last season, Sacramento State shocked the football world with a 29-28 overtime victory at Oregon State. The win was the first for Sacramento State over a Pac-10/12 opponent and one of just six by a Football Championship Subdivision team over an FBS team in 2011.
• The Hornets have primarily faced Pac-12 opponents when playing up and 2012 will be no different. After facing New Mexico State, Sacramento State will travel to Boulder, Colo., to face Colorado on Sept. 8. The team will also play at Arizona State in 2013 and at Washington in 2015.
• This week’s game will mark the third trip to the Southwest for Sacramento State since 2002. The team played at UTEP in 2002, falling 42-12 to the Miners in the season opener. During Marshall Sperbeck’s first year (2007), the Hornets lost at New Mexico, 58-0.
• Sacramento State is 1-3 against the current formation of the Western Athletic Conference. The team’s only victory came against Texas State in 1995 when the Bobcats were playing at the Div. I-AA level.
SAFRON TAKES CHARGE
• Redshirt sophomore Garrett Safron played in five games last season in relief of the injured Jeff Fleming. This year, the Santa Monica, Calif., native enters the season firmly entrenched as the Hornets’ starter.
• In his debut season, Safron threw for 394 yards and also used his athleticism to rush for 286 yards. He found the end zone six times with an equal amount through the air and on the ground.
• Safron also showed good decision making during the course of the season, not throwing an interception in his 57 pass attempts.
• Mason Magleby, a transfer from Nevada, pushed Safron for the starting job throughout the spring but has been slowed by a back injury during training camp.
• With the injury, true freshman Nolan Sorensen has taken over as the team’s backup quarterback. Sorensen received extensive playing time during the two scrimmages, showcasing a big arm. As a senior at Buchanan HS in Clovis, Calif., he earned all-conference honors after throwing for 2,087 yards and 13 touchdowns.
HIS TIME TO SHINE
• After three seasons playing behind Bryan Hilliard, senior Sam McCowan enters the year as the projected starter at running back. McCowan has amassed 862 yards in his three seasons (181 attempts).
• The Oxnard, Calif., native has played in all 33 games of his career. His biggest output came as a freshman where he rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown against Northern Arizona.
• McCowan has also served as one of the team’s primary kick returners during his career. His total of 1,041 return yards ranks fourth in school history.
• Despite not being the primary ball carrier for the Hornets during his career, McCowan is close to cracking the top 20 in school history for career rushing yards and the top 10 in all-purpose yards.
PLENTY OF HELP
• Over the last few seasons, the Hornets have shown the need to have plenty of running backs on the roster to survive the gruelling Big Sky Conference season. In the event that McCowan is unable to go, the team will have plenty of options to step in in the backfield.
• Senior A.J. Ellis will make his debut with the Green & Gold on Thursday but will be no stranger to the Aggies. Ellis played his first three seasons at Fresno State before transferring to Sacramento State in the spring. Ellis was able to transfer despite having just one season remaining due to the fact that he earned his bachelor’s degree from Fresno State and is currently pursuing a master’s degree at Sacramento State.
• Junior college transfer Ezekiel Graham is the fastest of the group. Graham led all California junior college players in 2011 with 2,227 all-purpose yards en route to earning Junior College All-America honors. He was also third in the state with 11.0 points per game.
• True freshman De’jon (pronounced dee-zhon) Coleman will also contribute in 2011. Coleman set the L.A. City Section record after rushing for 37 touchdowns as a senior at Arleta HS.
PICK A TARGET
• Senior Morris Norrise and sophomore DeAndre Carter highlight Sacramento State’s receiving corps in 2012. Norrise led the team with 38 receptions for 471 yards but did not find the end zone after scoring eight touchdowns as a freshman.
• Carter came on during the last half of the season and finished with 161 receiving yards on 12 receptions.
• The only active players on the team to score a receiving touchdown during their career other than Norrise are tight end DJ Maciel (two) and McCowan (one).
• Several newcomers are looking to add their name to the list including redshirt freshmen Shane Harrison, Blake Robertson, Justin Cox and Nnamdi Agude who are all projected to see significant action.
• A large target could be tight end T.J. Knowles. At 6-foot-7, Knowles is the tallest of the Hornet receivers. Last year, he played in five games after transferring from South Florida and made one catch for 22 yards. Knowles also had a two-point conversion reception against Idaho State.
SHUFFLE ‘EM UP
• The projected starting lineup on the offensive line has many of the same faces from a year ago but not at the same positions.
• Senior Clay DePauw, who started every game at left guard in 2011, will be the team’s starting center in 2012.
• Fellow guard Tyler Worthley, who has started every game during his first two seasons, will move from right guard to left guard.
• Sophomore Derek Stickney who started the final eight games at right tackle a year ago, was lost for the season with a foot injury during summer workouts. His likely replacement will be sophomore Lars Hanson.
• The other two projected starters will be senior Vince Weaver (left tackle) and Devonte Martin (left guard).
• Also expected to make his collegiate debut is redshirt freshman Alexandar Milanovic. The 6-7, 290-pounder was raised in Vienna, Austria and came to the U.S. in August of 2011.
CARRYING ON THE TRADITION
• With only two linebackers in the team’s 4-2-5 defensive rotation, Sacramento State returns 100 percent of its starters from a year ago as both Todd Davis and Jeff Badger started all 11 games.
• Davis was an honorable mention all-conference selection and was named to the preseason all-conference team after leading the team with 96 tackles. The junior had at least eight tackles in eight of the 11 games, including a season-high 12 in the team’s win over Oregon State.
• Badger ranked third on the team with a career-high 85 tackles. The converted running back made at least three tackles in each game. His season high of 12 came against Northern Arizona.
• Since joining the Div. I-AA/FCS ranks, Sacramento State has had four players earn All-America honors at linebacker. Among those players is Cyrus Mulitalo who was recognized in 2006-08.
BIG SHOES TO FILL
• One of the biggest questions on defense comes at end where someone will have to replace All-American, and the school’s all-time sacks leader, Zack Nash.
• The likely scenario will be that a group of Hornets will team to replace the 23.5 sacks that Nash recorded over the last two seasons. Among the candidates are seniors Avery White and John Bloomfield, junior Trent Eskew and sophomore Ben Cowger.
• White’s story is one of perseverance. In the 2010 season opener at Stanford, White suffered what looked to be a career ending knee injury while on kick coverage. However, after surgery and extensive rehab, White approached the coaching staff about a possible return early last season. The Manteca, Calif., native played limited minutes in six games, recording one tackle in 2011. He continued to improve in the spring and earned the starting role heading into New Mexico State.
• Bloomfield is a converted linebacker who has bulked up to 245 pounds. He tallied 29 tackles a year ago.
SECOND CHANCE SECONDARY
• The Hornet defensive backfield features the trio of Ryan McMahon, Dijon Washington and Christopher Lopes who have all transferred from FBS schools.
• McMahon ranked second on the team in 2011 with 86 tackles after spending two seasons at USC. As a starter in all 11 games at safety, his 47 solo stops were the most on the team. McMahon also seemed to shine in big games, recording a season-high 12 tackles at Oregon State and 10 against both Montana and Montana State.
• Washington and Lopes come from Nebraska and UConn, respectively. Washington recorded five tackles for the Cornhuskers a year ago while Lopes had six for the Huskies.
• While the pair will provide depth in the secondary, the starting jobs on the corner belong to junior Osagie Odiase and redshirt freshman Nicholas Payne. Odiase, who will wear number 1 this year after donning 32 for his previous two seasons, has four career interceptions.
• At safety, sophomore Dexter Alcala earned the starting job alongside McMahon. Last year, Alcala had three tackles while playing primarily on special teams.
• Following a season in which Sacramento State was just 3-for-8 on field goals, including a stretch of seven games without a make, the kicking job was up for grabs heading into 2012.
• Through training camp, however, the job was still not decided between junior college transfers Edward Ruhnke and Edgar Castaneda.
• Ruhnke played one season at Moorpark JC in Southern California where he was 12-of-15 on field goals, including 12-of-13 inside 40 yards.
• Castaneda was recently at City College of San Francisco where he helped the Rams win the JC national title in 2011. He was 12-of-17 on field goals and 57-of-63 on extra points.
HANDING OVER THE REIGNS
• For the first time in his head coaching career, Marshall Sperbeck will not be calling the offensive plays. Sperbeck handed over the play-calling duty when he hired Paul Peterson as his offensive coordinator in January of 2012.
• Peterson most recently served as the quarterbacks and receivers coach at Southern Utah. Prior to that, he had coaching stints at Northern Carolina State and BYU.
• As a player, Peterson was the starting quarterback at Boston College where he led the Eagles to a pair of bowl victories.
• The only other change to the staff was Tyler Almond who was elevated from GA to linebackers coach.
• With the addition of Southern Utah, North Dakota, UC Davis and Cal Poly the Big Sky Conference now boasts 13 teams for football.
• That total is the largest in both the FBS and FCS, matched only by the SEC.
• The large number created an unbalanced schedule where not every team will play one another in a season. Each team was designated two rivals who they will play each season. The remaining six conference games will rotate on a yearly basis. Sacramento State’s designated rivals are UC Davis and Cal Poly.