It’s been another quick start for Sacramento State, but even a bit quicker than usual. Following Saturday’s 49-21 win at Cal Poly in the opening Big Sky Conference game for both teams, Sac State is 4-0 for the first since 1982.
And while that is a long time since 4-0 starts, the Hornets are continuing a pattern of winning that has occurred ever since the arrival of coach Troy Taylor, who was hired in December of 2018 after the Hornets went 2-8 with a 0-7 Big Sky record that year.
This year’s record includes a win over FBS Colorado State, and even though the Rams are 0-4, Sacramento State still scored a convincing 41-10 win in Fort Collins.
Under Taylor, who also serves as offensive coordinator, the Hornets are 22-7 and have won consecutive fall Big Sky Conference titles. He has twice been named Big Sky Coach of the Year. Not bad for his first college head coaching job. Before his arrival at Sac State, Taylor was the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Utah in 2017-2018.
At Sacramento State, he has lived up to his reputation as an offensive guru.
Last year, the Hornets averaged 30.3 points per game. That is kid’s stuff compared to this year, where the Hornets are fourth among FCS teams in scoring offense, averaging 45.8 points per game.
The defense is allowing less than half that total, 21.25, but it is the offense that has gained most of the headlines.
There is an old saying that if you have two quarterbacks, you really have none, but Sacramento State really has two. And both can play.
Seniors Jake Dunniway (6-1, 211) and Asher O’Hara (6-0, 196) have both seen plenty of action. Dunniway has been more of the passer, although O’Hara hasn’t been afraid to sling it or to connect with receivers.
This season, Dunniway has completed 65 of 103 passes (63.1%) for 750 yards, six touchdowns, and two interceptions. In a shorter sample size, O’Hara has been stunningly accurate, completing 29 of 36 (80.5%) for 273 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions. O’Hara has also excelled running the ball, with 273 yards (5.1 avg.) and a team-high seven touchdowns.
Whoever is throwing the ball spreads it out pretty well. Four players have two or more touchdown receptions, led by junior tight end Marshel Martin (6-2, 210), who has 19 receptions for 239 yards and three touchdowns to lead the team in all three categories.
The leading ball carrier is sophomore Cameron Skattebo (5-10, 212) who has rushed for 415 yards (8.5 avg.) and four touchdowns. He has not been thrown for a loss in 49 carries. Skattebo also has 11 receptions for 146 yards and two touchdowns.
Whether running or receiving, Skattebo is pretty elusive and physical, as you can see here.
Despite the quick start, winning a third straight Big Sky Conference title won’t be easy. In the latest ballot for the Stats Perform FCS Top 25, HERO Sports analyst Sam Herder has four Big Sky teams ranked among his top seven. Montana is third, Montana State No. 4, Sacramento State No. 5, and Weber State No. 7.
Sacramento State will play Montana and Weber State, but won’t face Montana State.
Still, the regular season competition will be fierce, and that brings us to the one part of the Taylor regime that the Hornets are looking for an improvement – the postseason.
Last year, the Hornets were the No. 4 seed in the FCS playoffs. After a first-round bye, Sac State suffered a 24-19 second-round loss to South Dakota State, finishing 9-3 overall and 8-0 in the Big Sky.
Sac State did not participate in the 2021 spring season, which was pushed back from the fall due to the pandemic.
In 2019, the Hornets won a share of the Big Sky Conference, their first since joining the conference in 1996. Sac State also lost its lone playoff game in 2019 as the No. 4 seed, falling 42-28 to Austin Peay. That year the Hornets finished 9-4 overall and 7-1 in conference play.
There will be plenty of time to think about a third straight FCS playoff berth later. For now, the Hornets are looking to defend their Big Sky title, while dazzling onlookers along the way.