Fresno State head coach Jeff Tedford made one thing very clear in his press conference Monday: he respects Sacramento State.
That respect is well deserved.
Even though Sacramento State is in the lower-tier Football Championship Subdivision, the Hornets come into Bulldog Stadium with one of the best run defenses in the country.
Sacramento State is 2-1, with the lone loss coming against Arizona State. With less than seven minutes to go in the game, Sacramento State scored a touchdown, cutting Arizona State’s lead to 12-7. But Arizona State scored on a 72-yard touchdown pass a couple minutes later to hold on for the 19-7 lead.
It’s very rare for an FCS school to compete with a Power 5 school, but Sacramento State did just that.
Head coach Troy Taylor is in his first year with the Hornets, coming from Utah, where he was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for two years.
Offensively, Taylor has worked wonders already. In its two wins, Sacramento State scored 77 points against Southern Oregon and 50 points against Northern Colorado.
It’s the defensive side of the ball that has been even more impressive, specifically the run defense.
Sacramento State held Arizona State to just 2.3 yards per carry. Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin only had 69 yards, good for 2.9 yards per carry.
Benjamin is one of the best running backs in the nation. He had over 1,600 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns, and he averaged 7.5 yards per carry last season. Benjamin averaged 5.1 yards per carry against Fresno State last season in the Las Vegas Bowl. That’s a very good running back Sacramento State shut down.
The run defense is giving up only 59.3 yards per game and is led by a strong group of linebackers.
Two of those linebackers are making their return to the Fresno area. Marcus Hawkins, a junior, went to Sunnyside High School in Fresno and played for two years at Fresno City College before joining the Hornets. Miguel Garcia is a sophomore and went to Sanger High School. He played in 11 games last season for Sacramento State as a freshman.
On the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Kevin Thomson is off to a great start to the season. He’s thrown for 309 yards a game and has 10 touchdowns to just two interceptions. He’s also a threat on the ground, leading the team with 141 rushing yards.
Thomson has two explosive targets – running back Elijah Dotson and wide receiver Pierre Williams. They’ve combined for 620 receiving yards and five touchdowns.
Although Sacramento State has put together a very nice start to the season and looks to be one of the top teams in the FCS, there’s a reason why Fresno State is a 25.5 point favorite. There’s as big of a talent discrepancy as Fresno State will see all year.
The Hornets may keep it close at first with their stifling run defense, but other than that they don’t present too much of a challenge to the Bulldogs.