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Football

 
August 25, 2013

FOOTBALL OPENS SEASON AT SAN JOSE STATE ON THURSDAY NIGHT

Game Notes (PDF)

A BRIEF PREVIEW

The Sacramento State football team will make its 2013 debut on Thursday, Aug. 29, when it faces San José State at 7 p.m. at Spartan Stadium.

There will be multiple ways to follow this week's game. Hornet fans can tune in to KTKZ 1380 AM (The Answer) 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 Hornets return 17 starters from last season's team which finished 6-5 overall and 4-4 in the Big Sky Conference. On the offensive side of the ball, junior Garrett Safron is back at quarterback after throwing for 2,540 yards and 22 touchdowns. Six of the team's top pass catchers also return led by senior Morris Norrise (60 rec., 777 yds., 7 TD). Senior Ezekiel Graham is the top returning rusher after compiling 861 yards and five touchdowns. Graham also ranked second on the team in receptions and receiving yards.

Defensively, senior Todd Davis brings his 220 career tackles to the middle linebacker position. Davis has led the team in tackles the past two seasons and also led the Hornets with 13.5 tackles-for-loss a year ago.  Seniors Osagie Odiase (cornerback) and Markell Williams (nickelback) anchor a veteran secondary. The pair combined for 134 tackles and recorded five of the team's 10 interceptions.

San José State is coming off its best season in recent memory. The Spartans were 11-2 in 2012 including a 29-20 win over Bowling Green in the Military Bowl. The Spartans won their final seven games of the season and 10 of their last 11. Quarterback David Fales, who is rated as one of the top five NFL prospects at the position, led the FBS with a 72.5 completion percentage and threw for 4,193 yards and 33 touchdowns. Fales' top target was Noel Grigsby who caught a school-record 82 passes for 1,307 yards and nine scores.

THE COACHES
Marshall Sperbeck is in his seventh season as the head coach at Sacramento State. During that span, Sperbeck has produced a 30-37 overall record.

San José State is coached by Ron Caragher who is entering his first season with the Spartans. As the head coach at San Diego the previous six seasons, Caragher was 44-22.

THE SERIES
Despite being separated by just 127 miles, Thursday's game will mark the first time that Sacramento State and San José State will meet in football. The schools have competed as conference rivals recently in men's soccer (MPSF), women's gymnastics (MPSF and WAC) and baseball (WAC).

QUICK HITTERS
• Sacramento State is 24-34-1 all-time in season openers.
• The team has faced a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent each season since 2002 — a streak that dates back to a game against UTEP in El Paso.
• Sacramento State is one of two FCS teams to defeat FBS opponents in each of the last two seasons. The Hornets, who won at Oregon State in 2011 and at Colorado in 2012, are joined by two-time defending FCS national champion North Dakota State. NDSU defeated Minnesota and Colorado State.

THE LATEST ACTION
Sacramento State held a pair of scrimmages during training camp the first coming on Saturday, Aug. 17, and the second on Wednesday, Aug. 21. Both scrimmages were controlled with nearly the entire roster receiving playing time.

In the first scrimmage, the offensive effort was highlighted by a six-play, 65-yard scoring drive which was capped by a one-handed over-the-shoulder catch from DeAndre Carter on a Garrett Safron pass for a 15-yard TD.

The defense also had its own scoring play when Todd Davis blocked the PAT attempt following the touchdown and Robert Beale returned it 85 yards for a two-point score.

On special teams, junior Jesse Aguilar boomed a 52-yard field goal and later hit from 47 yards. Aguilar, who was an All-American at Fullerton JC a year ago, also just missed wide on a 54-yard attempt.

The defense roared out at the start of the second scrimmage, holding the offense without a first down in the first four series. Sophomore Dejon Coleman was the first to move the chains with rushes of 11 and 22 yards on consecutive carries. Those attempts took the ball into defensive territory where Aguilar connected on a 45-yard field goal for the first points of the day.

Davis was again involved in a defensive score, stripping Safron, recovering the fumble, and returning the ball 26 yards for a touchdown.

The first team offense added a second touchdown drive during the game when Safron connected with Morris Norrise for a 36-yard strike. The drive also featured a 12-yard reception from Carter and 18 rushing yards from Graham.

Over the course of the two scrimmages, the Hornets used all four quarterbacks (Safron, Jihad Vercher, Marcus McDade and Daniel Kniffin). The team also had 11 different players catch passes, and four receive carries during the action

DIVING RIGHT IN
• Facing a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent to start the year is nothing new for Sacramento State. Since 2002, the team has opened the year against an FBS foe all but one time. Included in that list was the 2011 upset at Oregon State.
• Last season, Sacramento State began the year with a loss at New Mexico State before winning at Colorado. That victory made Sacramento State and North Dakota State the only two FCS teams to knock off an FBS opponent in each of the last two seasons.
• The Hornets' only other victories over a Div. I-A/FBS team both came against Pacific. Sacramento State defeated the Tigers, 30-21, in 1988 and 43-40 in 1991.
• This season will mark just the third time that Sacramento State has played two FBS opponents in the same season as the team plays at Arizona State on Sept. 5. The first came in 2007 (Sperbeck's first season) when the Hornets played at Fresno State and New Mexico. The most recent was last season's trips to NMSU and Colorado.
• Due to the recent conference shuffle, nearly every FBS opponent Sacramento State has faced since 2002 currently plays in the Pac-12 (Oregon State, California, Stanford, Colorado) or Mountain West (Nevada, Boise State, Fresno State, New Mexico, Colorado State, UNLV). The only exceptions were former Mountain West member UTEP (2002) and current independent NMSU (2012).
• The Hornets are currently scheduled to play at California in 2014 and at Washington in 2015.

START TO FINISH
• Quarterback Garrett Safron began 2012 with back-to-back 300-yard games, including a win at Colorado. He ended the year much like he started, throwing for at least 250 yards in the last three games and wrapping up one of the best single seasons in school history.
• Safron completed the year by setting the school record with 37 completions and 67 attempts against UC Davis. He also threw for a career high 324 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
• The Santa Monica, Calif., native was twice named the Big Sky ROOT Sports Offensive Player of the Week. His first honor came after he guided the team to a win at Colorado. Against the Buffaloes, he was 25-of-37 for 317 yards and two touchdowns. He was also honored following the victory over then No. 11 Cal Poly. In that game, Safron completed 31-of-38 passes for 303 yards and four touchdowns without an interception.
• Following the season, Safron was named honorable mention all-Big Sky. His efforts also placed him on the College Football Performance Awards watch list as one of the top quarterbacks in the FCS heading into the 2013 season.
• During the year, Safron set the school record for single season completions and completion percentage while ranking second in attempts and passing touchdowns.

MOVING ON UP
• Nearly a quarter of Safron's completions were hauled in by receiver Morris Norrise. The senior caught a career high 60 passes in 2012 which tied him for fourth in school history. Norrise also led the team with 777 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.
• The Berkeley, Calif., native was named to the 2013 Big Sky preseason team and was a second team all-conference selection following last season. He was honorable mention all-Big Sky the previous two years.
• Last season, Norrise had a pair of 100-yard games. The first came at Colorado where he had seven grabs for 104 yards. He added 128 yards on just five receptions against Montana State.
• Norrise either is in second place or within striking distance of second for nearly every career receiving record at Sacramento State.

PLENTY OF HELP
• Sacramento State had 13 players catch at least one pass in 2012 — the most in the FCS. Along with Norrise, the team returns nine others who had a grab. Among those on the list are receivers DeAndre Carter (32 receptions, 4 TDs), Shane Harrison (14 rec., 4 TDs), Blake Robertson (20 rec.) and Austin Dotson (8 rec.).

The biggest loss among the receiving corps was the graduation of tight end TJ Knowles who caught 38 passes for 381 yards and five touchdowns.

JUST GET HIM THE BALL
• Senior Ezekiel Graham had a solid debut season with the Green & Gold, leading the team in rushing and ranking second in receiving. Graham amassed 861 rushing yards and led the Hornets with five touchdowns. He had three 100-yard games and five games with at least 80 yards. His season high came against Idaho State where he rushed for 158 yards.
• Graham was also a threat out of the backfield, hauling in 40 passes for 406 yards and two TDs.
• This season, he is slated to add to his all-purpose yardage as he is projected to return both kicks and punts. As a sophomore at LA Southwest JC, Graham led the state with 2,227 all-purpose yards.

CHANGES AT THE FRONT
• The line is the only area that will feature new faces on the offensive side of the ball. The unit returns preseason all-Big Sky selection Tyler Worthley at guard as well as sophomore tackles Aleksandar Milanovic and Lars Hanson.
• New to the group is center John Wallace and guard Derek Nielsen. Wallace came to Sacramento State during the spring after playing two seasons at UMass. Nielsen is a transfer from Oregon State and made his first appearance with the Hornets during training camp. Nielsen made his collegiate debut against Sacramento State in 2011.
• Junior Derek Stickney will add depth at nearly every position on the line in 2012. Stickney was a starter at tackle as a redshirt freshman in 2010 but missed all of 2011 with a Lisfranc injury (foot).
• One other change for the o-line comes on the staff as veteran Bill Laveroni took over in the spring. Laveroni brings a lengthy resumé which features stops at Cal, Vanderbilt, Utah State, the Seattle Seahawks and the UFL.

LINEBACKER U
• Since moving to the FCS in 1993, Sacramento State has had five different linebackers earn All-America honors and 22 named all-Big Sky Conference. That list could expand this season if senior Todd Davis is able to keep up the pace he's set over the last two years.
• Davis has led the team in tackles the past two seasons, tallying 96 in 2011 and 103 in 2012. Last year's total also included a team-best 13.5 tackles-for-loss and 3.5 sacks. That effort helped him be named second team all-Big Sky.
• The Palmdale, Calif., native will make a couple of changes in 2013. The first came when he changed his jersey number to No. 53 after wearing No. 91 the previous three years. The second will be on the field as he moves from outside linebacker to middle linebacker where he replaces the graduated Jeff Badger.

SENIOR SECONDARY
• Sacramento State returns five players who started games in the secondary last season, including four seniors. The most experienced of the group is cornerback Osagie Odiase who has started 26 games during his career, including the last 13. The Santa Fe Springs, Calif., native has made 150 career tackles and leads all returners with seven career interceptions.
• Senior nickelback Markell Williams ended last season with six tackles in each of the last five games and had at least five tackles in the final nine contests. Williams ranks second among returners with 69 tackles last season. He also has earned Big Sky all-academic honors the last three years and had a perfect 4.0 gpa during the spring.
• Robert Beale and Dijon Washington split time at safety in 2012. Beale started six games while battling injury and Washington had five starts in his absence. The pair combined for 86 tackles, led by 51 from Washington.
• The other returning starter to the group is sophomore Josh Armstrong. The cornerback earned the nod in the final 10 games of the year and finished with 33 tackles.
• The lone newcomer among the starters is junior safety Robbie Kendall. At Butte JC in 2012, he was named all-NorCal Conference and helped the team to a 10-1 record.

BRAND NEW BATTERY
• When the Hornets come on for field goals and PATs the core of the group will feature three new players. The long snapping duties will turn to Josh Latham who replaces three-year starter Jimmy Bobak. The new holder will be either freshman quarterback Jihad Vercher or sophomore QB Marcus McDade (a transfer from Fresno State).

Behind both will be kicker Jesse Aguilar. As a sophomore at Fullerton JC, Aguilar was a JC All-American after making 13 field goals as well as all 52 of his PAT attempts.

JUST THE FACTS
• The 54 points scored at Idaho State last season were the 10th most in school history and most ever in a road game. The previous record away from home of 49 was set at San Francisco State in 1993 and later matched at Weber State in 1999.
• Sperbeck's 12 career road wins are tied for the third most in school history. Ray Clemons won 35 games in 15 years. Bob Mattos won 34 in 15 years and John Volek won 12 in eight years.
• Punter Justin Weldon had two 68-yard punts last season. Those punts are tied for fifth in program history. He is one of four Hornets (Mitch Lively, Steve Thorns, Jimmy Sanchez) to have at least two 65 yarders.

BIG SKY NOTES
• Twelve of the 13 Big Sky Conference teams open play this week. Five teams, including Sacramento State, play on Thursday night, Northern Arizona makes its debut on Friday and the remaining six teams compete on Saturday.

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