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A BRIEF PREVIEW
The Sacramento State football team will begin its 2017 season when it travels to Moscow, Idaho to face Idaho on Thursday, Aug. 31. The game against the Vandals will kick off at 6:05 p.m. from the Kibbie Dome.
The Hornets last started a season on a Thursday night in 2013. That season, the team played at San Jose State and at Arizona State on Thursday nights in the first two weeks of the season. The Aug. 31 start date marks the first time the team has opened the year in August since playing at Incarnate Word on Aug. 30, 2014.
Sacramento State will have to get use to games indoors. Along with playing at the Kibbie Dome, the Hornets will have indoor games at Northern Arizona and North Dakota. The team's other two road games will come on the red turf of Eastern Washington and the increasingly rare natural grass of Cal Poly.
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 and Tune-In apps for mobile devices.
The game can also be viewed on WatchESPN.com (ESPN3) as well as SWX in the Pacific Northwest.
OPPONENT PREVIEW: IDAHO
Idaho is coming off one of its best seasons in recent memory. The Vandals finished the year with a 9-4 overall record and were 6-2 in Sun Belt Conference games and 4-1 at home. The team won its final five games of the year, including 61-50 shootout victory over Colorado State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Quarterback Matt Linehan has earned several preseason honors, including being named to the Manning Award watch list. Linehan threw for 3,184 yards and 19 touchdowns as a junior, earning second-team all-Sun Belt. He also went on to capture the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Most Valuable Player award.
Idaho football placed three players on preseason all-Sun Belt Conference teams. Defensive lineman Aikeem Coleman, who was the Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year last year, and offensive lineman Jordan Rose took home first team honors, while linebacker Tony Lashley earned second team accolades. Coleman had eight sacks last year and has also been named to the Nagurski Award watch list this offseason.
Paul Petrino is in his fifth season as Idaho's head coach. Petrino was named the Sun Belt Coach of the Year last season after guiding the Vandals to their first bowl appearance since 2009. After winning just one game in each of his first two seasons, Petrino's team posted a 4-8 mark in 2015 before winning nine games a year ago.
IN THE BEGINNING
Sacramento State is 26-36-1 all-time in season openers.
This weekend's game will mark the first time in four seasons that Sacramento State will face an FBS team to open the year. The last time the Hornets faced an FBS opponent to start the season came in 2013 when they played at San Jose State and Arizona State in the first two games.
Sacramento State will also be opening the season on the road for the first time since a 2014 game at Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas. Since that point, the Hornets have faced Eastern Oregon and Western Oregon to start the year.
Including this season, the Hornets have opened the year against a non-FCS team in 15 of the last 16 years. Twelve of those games have come against teams from the FBS while the other three are against Div. II and NAIA opponents.
MOVING ON UP
Facing a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent is nothing new for Sacramento State. Since 2002, the team has played at least one FBS foe every year. Included in that list was the 2011 upset at Oregon State and the 2012 victory at Colorado.
In 2012, 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 2011 and 2012.
The Hornets' only other victories over Div. I-A/FBS teams came against Pacific and Cal State Fullerton. Sacramento State defeated the Tigers, 30-21, in 1988 and 43-40 in 1991. The Hornets downs CSUF, 29-3, in 1992. In all three of those games, Sacramento State was a member of Div. II.
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 lone exceptions have been New Mexico State in 2012 and Idaho this season who are both members of the Sun Belt Conference.
Below are the results of all games against FBS opponents since 2002.
Date Opponent Result
Aug. 31, 2002 at UTEP L, 42-12
Aug. 8, 2003 at Oregon State L, 40-7
Sept. 11, 2004 at Nevada L, 59-7
Sept. 3, 2005 at California L, 41-3
Aug. 31, 2006 at Boise State L, 45-0
Sept. 1, 2007 at Fresno State L, 24-3
Sept. 22, 2007 at New Mexico L, 58-0
Sept. 6, 2008 at Colorado State L, 23-20
Sept. 5, 2009 at UNLV L, 38-3
Sept. 4, 2010 at Stanford L, 52-17
Sept. 3, 2011 at Oregon State W, 29-28 (ot)
Aug. 30, 2012 at New Mexico State L, 49-19
Sept. 8, 2012 at Colorado W, 30-28
Aug. 28, 2013 at San Jose State L, 24-0
Sept. 5, 2013 at Arizona State L, 55-0
Sept. 6, 2014 at California L, 55-14
Sept. 12, 2015 at Washington L, 49-0
Sept. 10, 2016 at Fresno State L, 31-3
Sacramento State added three new coaches for the 2017 season and adjusted the responsibilities for others for the season.
On the offensive side, Luke Huard was brought on board as the co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Huard, who comes from a family of coaches and quarterbacks, most recently served as the OC at Georgia State. He's also been the play caller at Illinois State.
John Therrell came to the team during the spring and will serve as the safeties coach. Therrell played at both UNLV and Murray State and coached last season at Jacksonville State.
CJ Cox is the newest coach for the Hornets, having been hired during the summer. Cox will mentor the team's cornerbacks. He played and coached at UNLV and also served as the Rebels' recruiting coordinator.
Defensive coordinator Sammy Lawanson now coaches the linebackers after overseeing the team's defensive backs in 2016.
After a one-year break, Fred Kelley returns to coaching special teams along with tight ends.
HENNIE LEAVING HIS MARK
Senior Isiah Hennie is believed to be the first player in school history to return a kickoff and punt return for a touchdown in his career. Hennie had an 89-yard kickoff return against Menlo in 2014 and a 67-yard punt return against Eastern Oregon in 2015. He added a 90-yard punt return for a touchdown against Cal Poly in 2017. Now Hennie is leaving his mark in the school's career receiving records.
Entering the game against Idaho, Hennie is tied for 12th in school history with 99 career receptions. His first catch of the year will make him the 12th Hornet to record 100 grabs. The San Diego native is also close to moving into the top 20 in career receiving yards at Sacramento State.
Below is where Hennie ranks among the school's all-time leaders:
Career Receptions Total Needs
9. Mike Carter (1968-69) 110 11
10. Gary Austin, Jr. (1999-2002) 103 4
Jordan Robinson (2013-16) 103 4
12. Michael Johnson (1999-2002) 99 ---
Isiah Hennie (2014-pres.) 99 ---
Career Receiving Yards Total Needs
18. Bill Yurong (1965-67) 1,254 161
19. Chris Bowman (1969-71) 1,249 156
20. Zebedee Brye (1987-89) 1,233 140
--- Isiah Hennie (2014-pres.) 1,093 ---
SORENSEN EARNS PRESEASON HONOR
Senior Ben Sorensen was named to the Preseason All-Big Sky football team. Sorensen was one of two defensive ends chosen to the team and one of 12 defensive players to earn preseason all-conference honors.
Sorensen was honorable mention all-Big Sky last season. He appeared in each of the team's 11 games, starting 10 at defensive end. The Clovis, Calif., native led the team with 11.0 tackles-for-loss and 5.5 sacks and finished the year with 42 total tackles. Sorensen also had five quarterback hurries, forced a team-high three fumbles and recovered a pair of fumbles. During the season, he had at least one tackle in all 11 games and had four or more in eight contests.
Sorensen enters the season with 21 career tackles-for-loss and needs just three TFLs do crack the career top 10 list at Sacramento State. His 8.5 career sacks leaves him four shy of the 10 in the Hornet record book.
NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY
Sacramento State finds itself in the unusual position of not having a running back on the roster who carried the ball last season for the Hornets.
Quincy Jountti is the team's leading rusher with 141 yards on 24 attempts and a TD last season, but he shifted to defensive back midway through training camp.
The Hornets also have one other running back on the roster who has collegiate experience in graduate transfer Joseph Ajeigbe. The California native played at Duke for four years where he had 319 career rushing yards and 76 receiving yards with the Blue Devils.
Redshirt freshmen Isaiah Gable and BJ Perkinson will also be in the mix. The 5-foot-4 Gable was the team's scout team player of the year in 2016. Perkinson was shifted from wide receiver in the spring.
Four newcomers will also dot the roster comprised of true freshmen Erick Buchanan, Elijah Dotson and Christian Erickson and JC transfer Ja'Narrick James. Buchanan won a state title at Madison HS in San Diego where he rushed for 1,868 yards and 20 touchdowns in his final season. Dotson starred locally at Antelope HS and had 2,223 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns to earn all-NorCal honors. Erickson was the San Luis Obispo Tribune Player of the Year following his senior season where he scored 19 touchdowns and averaged 119.6 yards per game in eight contests.
The Sacramento State track & field program has established itself as one of the best in the Big Sky Conference. The men's team won the outdoor title in 2017 to give the Hornets their 19th men's or women's team championship since 2007.
Along with winning the team championship, several Hornets were able to finish first in individual competition. Two of those champions are also members of the Hornet football team in receivers Andre Lindsey and Darius Armstead.
Lindsey was the Big Sky champion in the 110-hurdles and advanced to the second round of the NCAA West Preliminary in the event. During the year, he ran 14.05 which ranks fifth in Sacramento State history. Last season, Lindsey played in six games before suffering an injury. He finished the year with eight receptions for 178 yards. His breakout performance came against Idaho State where he caught five passes for 149 yards.
Armstead shined in his first season at Sacramento State, winning the Big Sky title and setting the school record in the triple jump. His best jump of 53-feet, 1.5 inches ranked 14th nationally. Armstead last played football at Fresno City College in 2015.
Although not a member of the track team at Sacramento State, fellow receiver Alexis Robinson also shined on the track as a prep. As a junior at Eureka HS, Robinson placed second at the California state meet in the 400.
SAME FACES, NEW PLACES
Sacramento State has the luxury of returning six players who started games on the offensive line in 2016. Although its a veteran crew, several were moved to a new position in 2017.
Senior Lake Aiono was named honorable mention all-Big Sky after starting all 11 games at center and extending his consecutive starts streak to 22 games. He will move to left guard this season after starting all 11 games at right guard in 2015.
Moving to the middle of the line is Ivan Espiritu who will inherit the starting job at center. Espiritu, who was a high school center, started all 11 games at right guard last year.
Senior Jonathan Bade is the one constant on the line, having started every game the last two years at left tackle. Bade played tight end as a freshman, catching a TD pass during the year.
One new addition to the group is junior Wyatt Ming who migrated from defensive tackle to the o-line during the spring and is expected to start at right guard. Ming started all 11 games at defensive tackle and ranked second among DL on the team with 33 tackles last year.
Taylor Tappin has been the named the starter at right tackle for the season opener. Tappin started the final four games of last year at the position.
Nick Bianco and Ruben Meza, who each started games last year, are also expected to play a key role in the unit in 2017.
PLENTY OF OPTIONS
Sacramento State currently has six quarterbacks on its roster, all of whom received reps during camp. After nearly a month of a practice, the battle for the starting job is down to two with Kolney Cassel and Kevin Thomson fighting to become QB1.
Cassel is the only member of the six who has seen game action with Sacramento State. The senior began his collegiate career at SMU where he appeared in five games (starting against Texas A&M). With the Hornets, Cassel played in five games in 2015, including a start. He was limited to just one relief appearance last season due to injury.
Thomson starred at Riverside HS in Auburn, Wash., before attending UNLV. He did not play a game with the Rebels, missing all of 2015 and 2016 with injuries.
The two are the only members of the team from the state of Washington and are two of just three players on the team (Steely Smith, Oregon) not from California.
JC transfer Wyatt Clapper would be next up behind the duo. Clapper quarterbacked Modesto JC to the Northern California championship game last season.
The other three quarterbacks on the roster consist of redshirt freshman Roman Ale and true freshmen Jack Rice and Tristan Meyer.
BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE
Along with the six QBs, the Hornets also have eight other players who played the position in high school on the roster. Only two of those players still play on offense in receivers Alexis Robinson and Nolan Merker. The other six are members of the secondary in Earnest Jenkins, Dre Terrell, Abel Ordaz, Arthur Hayes, Marcus Kirkpatrick and Malik Jeter.
Ordaz led De La Salle to a berth in the California Open Division title game last season but now plays safety for the Hornets.
TOP TACKLERS RETURN
The Hornet defense returns its top three tacklers from 2016 and 14 of the top 15 totals. Heading the group is junior Immanuel Anderson who had a team high 107 total tackles, including 55 solos. Anderson also had a sack, 2.5 tackles-for-loss, an interception and recovered two fumbles.
Linebacker Tyler Meteer had a breakout season a year ago, finishing second on the team with 100 total tackles. Meteer had at least 10 tackles in five of the team's 11 games and added 10.5 tackles-for-loss.
Rounding out the top three returners is junior linebacker Manoah Pearson who had 69 tackles in his eight games.
Linebacker has been a position of pride for Sacramento State over the last two decades. The position has produced seven FCS All-Americans, including Todd Davis who's currently starting for the Denver Broncos and Darnell Sankey who is in training camp with the Indianapolis Colts.
Two members of the Hornet defense would like to go by different names in 2017. After using the name Manny Scott-Anderson for his first two season, the junior has opted to use Immanuel Anderson moving forward.
Defensive tackle Seperini Togiai Aumua had a slight spelling change to both his first and last names following his freshman season.
JUST FOR KICKS
The Hornets used several kickers and punters in 2016. That decision was partly due to injury as well as inconsistency.
This year, the jobs have been awarded to Devon Medeiros (kicker) and Blake Cuzzupoli (punter). Medeiros was the team's starting kicker a year ago before an injury to his quadriceps prior to the third game limited his performance. When healthy, he was 2-for-2 on field goal attempts, including a 44-yarder at Fresno State.
Cuzzupoli played in seven games as a redshirt freshman and averaged 36.5 yards per punt. He had a long of 51 yards and placed seven punts inside the opponent 20-yard line.
Long snapper Ian Lauvai returns after starting all 11 games a year ago as a true freshman.
THE MAGIC NUMBER
In the three seasons under Jody Sears there has been one constant in all of Sacramento State's victories. In each win, the Hornets have scored at least 38 points.
Scoring 38 does not guarantee a Hornet win as the team has lost twice while eclipsing that total. However, Sacramento State is winless during that stretch when scoring less than 38.
The last time the Hornets won when scoring 37 or less came on Oct. 19, 2013 when they won 31-7 at North Dakota.
JUST THE FACTS
Sacramento State was picked to finish 12th by the Big Sky coaches and media in the preseason polls.
The Hornets have four players who have already earned their bachelor's degree and are currently pursuing a master's. The group is comrpised of seniors Jon Bade, Stone Sander and Joseph Ajeigbe as well as junior Austin Clark. Clark earned his degree in just three academic years and has two years of eligibility remaining.