MISSOULA — Sacramento State will come to Montana this weekend as one of just three remaining Big Sky teams that are undefeated in league play.
The Hornets are 3-2 overall and 2-0 in conference action under second-year head coach Troy Taylor, who led them to a share of the Big Sky title in 2019. Kickoff is 1 p.m. Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
Sacramento Bee senior staff writer Joe Davidson sat down with 406mtsports.com to share his insight about Sacramento State.
Q: How would you describe the vibe around this team at 3-2 overall, 2-0 in the Big Sky, and how might that have changed with the recent retirement of All-American RB Elijah Dotson?
A: "Sacramento has been eager for a Hornets football winner for years, and they have it, starting in 2019 in coach Troy Taylor's first season when the program tied for a share of the school's first Big Sky crown. Sac State has a lot of impact local players, and that always resonates for fans, and it includes the disappointment when a local star bows out, such as Dotson. I've covered the kid since his high school days in Sacramento, and he's a classy guy who may return, though doubtful for this season. I even covered his dad, Robert, when he was a high school star 30 years ago, so yes, it's in the family, and yes, I'm old!"
Q: How did the loss of Dotson impact the offense in the first game without him, and who will be looked upon to fill the void of his production going forward?
A: "An amazing thing about Sac State is its depth, including at running back. Sac State learned of Dotson's decision to leave the program on Thursday. Two days later, BJ Perkinson's first carry against Southern Utah went for 56 yards. The Hornets rushed for a season-high 251 yards. The Hornets didn't want to lose Dotson, certainly, and they wish him well, but in this business, you've got to move on because opponents won't slow down a bit, and the Hornets are moving on with a bevy of backs, including Perkinson. He can run with speed, can block, can catch and understands the system. Sac State was looking to get more offensive balance, to click on all offensive cylinders, and it did against Southern Utah."
Q: How has the offense been able to balance a two-quarterback system so far, and is that anticipated to be the situation going forward?
A: "Having covered and known coach Troy Taylor for a lot of years, I'm surprised he's going with a two quarterback system, and it's the first time he's done it as a coach — be it in high school, as a coordinator or at Sac State. But his reasoning makes sense, and it likely will continue all season, and it's working because Jake Dunniway and Asher O'Hara are friends and back each other. That's not just some school-issued company line. I see it in practice and in games and in postgame. The guys love each other, and they're making it work, otherwise it'd divide the team. Dunniway is the better passer and O'Hara the better dual-threat guy, and both envy the other for their skills."
Q: How has the defense played compared to preseason expectations, and who have been the top playmakers so far?
A: "In college football, and in this conference especially, we all know defenses get stretched, and the bad ones get buckled. Sac State has a defensive coordinator in Andy Thompson whom Montana fans remember from his playing days there. He gets guys in position to attack and players love that. Sac State knew it would have a good offense, but the defense was the question. Defense was a major factor in Sac State's three victories. Marte Mapu has played well at linebacker/safety, including the game-saving interception at Idaho State and recording two interceptions against Southern Utah on Saturday."
Q: What's your score prediction for this game, and why?
A: "I have to go with Montana because of its body of work, starting with the great opening win effort at Washington and the close loss to Eastern Washington. Montana set Big Sky standards for excellence long ago, and it continues. Sac State will compete because that's what it does, but the Grizzlies will be too good this day. Montana 28, Sac State 21."