Here’s a look at some of the players to watch on the Sacramento State Hornets.
Players to Watch:
#16 SO 6’2” 200-pound QB Daniel Kniffin
2015 stats: 22-34 for 282 yards, 64.7 completion percentage, 2 TD, 0 INT, 8.3 YPA, 4 carries, 20 yards, 5 YPC, 8 long, 1 TD
Sneak Peek: After suffering a shoulder injury his senior year in high school, many colleges lost interest in Daniel Kniffin's services as a quarterback. The injury did not sideline him for the season, however, as he returned a few games later as a receiver. He did pick up walk-on offers from Northern Arizona, UCD, and Sacramento State as an athlete. Having chosen Sacramento State, Kniffin redshirted the 2013 and served as the holder during the 2014 season before being named the starting quarterback for this year. His road to being named starter was an arduous one. Kniffin did not squander his opportunity to prove that he was worthy of the job, racking up over 300 yards of total offense and three touchdowns in his first career start last weekend. While Knifing did get a touchdown on the ground, his strength is his arm.
Husky Comparison: Jake Browning
#15 SR 6’2” 210-pound WR Shane Harrison
2015 stats: 8 catches, 125 yards, 15.625 YPC, 49 long, 0 TD
Sneak Peek: Shane Harrison earned honorable mention all-Big Sky recognition after a 2013 season that saw him catch 49 passes. He sat out the 2014 football season but picked up right were he left off, tallying eight receptions for 125 yards last Saturday against Eastern Oregon. Harrison is a physical target and is Daniel Kniffin’s go-to-guy.
Husky Comparison: A bigger Dante Pettis
#25 JR 5’11” 195-pound RB Jordan Robinson
2015 stats: 17 carries, 71 yards, 4.18 YPC, 15 long, 1 TD, 1 catch, 10 yards, 10 YPC, 1 TD
Sneak Peek: Robinson was named honorable mention all-Big Sky last season, amassing 862 yards and five touchdowns on 158 carries. He also hauled in 30 passes for 263 yards and four touchdowns. Robinson was a factor on the ground and through the air against Eastern Oregon last weekend, picking up 81 all-purpose yards on 18 touches, scoring a touchdown on the ground and through the air. Robinson is a high volume back who can hurt you as a ball carrier and as a receiver out of the backfield.
Husky Comparison: A more frequently used Myles Gaskin
#44 SR 6’2” 250-pound LB Darnell Sankey
2015 stats: 12 total tackles, 1.0 sack, 1.0 TFL
Sneak Peek: Although Darnell Sankey’s junior season was cut short with a knee injury, he still racked up 99 tackles and eight tackles for loss in nine games. He also forced two fumbles and took his only interception for 59 yards to the house. Sankey appeared to be in mid-season form against Eastern Oregon, tallying 12 tackles and a sack. Sankey is a tackling machine who can make plays in the backfield.
Husky Comparison: A bigger Cory Littleton
#1 FR 5’10” 190-pound DB Joey Banks
2015 stats: 11 total tackles, 1.0 sack, 3.5 TFL
Sneak Peek: Banks, a redshirt freshman “rover”, had an incredible start to the 2015 season, picking up 11 tackles, including 3.5 tackles for a loss, and a sack. The exciting young defensive back has a knack for tackling and can make plays in the secondary, in the backfield, and anywhere in-between. It’s hard to compare Banks to a Husky because Washington doesn’t have a position quite like the “rover,” but he’s most similar in build, speed, and playmaking ability to Budda Baker.
#92 SR 6’0” 270-pound DL Antonio Hayes
2015 stats: 4 total tackles, 1.0 sack, 2.0 TFL
Sneak Peek: The Portland, Ore. native has a fair amount of experience under his belt. He started his collegiate career playing offensive and defensive line for Foothill Junior College before transferring to Sacramento State. Since arriving in Sacramento, Hayes has posted 31 tackles in 21 games. As a senior he has an opportunity to put his experience to good use. He started the season off on the right foot against Eastern Oregon, making four tackles, including two tackles for loss, and a sack.
Husky Comparison: Tani Tupou
What the Hornets Offense looks like:
The Hornets have a reasonably balanced offensive attack. In their season opener they gained 296 yards through the air and 203 yards on the ground. Their play selection was nearly a 50-50 split, attempting 37 passes and running the ball 38 times. Kniffin showed a willingness to spread his targets across a wide range of players, as he eight different Hornets caught one of his passes. Left Tackle Lars Hanson, who has 32 starts over his Hornet career, is the leader of an otherwise inexperienced offensive line. While they were able to keep Kniffin’s jersey clean and provide space for Jordan Robinson to run against Eastern Oregon, containing players like Joe Mathis and Elijah Qualls will be a tall order for the Hornets offensive line.
What the Hornets Defense looks like:
The Hornets defense is similar to a 4-3, but instead of having three linebackers, they have two linebackers and a rover. The rover is a fifth defensive back who plays in the box and is used to make plays all over the field. The Hornets were able to hold Eastern Oregon to less than 250 yards of offense with three sacks and ten tackles for a loss to their credit. Sankey, the senior linebacker who has averaged more than ten tackles per game over the last two seasons, is the leader of Sacramento State’s defensive unit. As a whole, the Hornets are a defensively solid team whose strength is stopping the run. We will see if the Huskies, who ran for only 29 yards against Boise State, can overcome the strength of Sacramento State’s defense.
Keys to the game:
1. Stay Focused: Chris Fetters pointed out Monday’s press conference with Coach Petersen may have been the first he’s attended where there wasn’t one question about the upcoming opponent. It seems that the press is looking past Sacramento State. It’s crucial for the players and coaches to stay focused and come ready to play Saturday.
2. End it Early: Just a few days ago Washington State reminded us that letting an FCS school hang around too long can be disastrous. The Huskies need to build an early lead to avoid a similar home opening fate Saturday morning.
3. Get in Groove: The Huskies struggled to move the ball against Boise State, mostly because they couldn’t find any sort of rhythm. It is imperative that the Huskies find their groove offensively, finding ways to move the ball and get in the end zone, to gather some momentum as they move further along in the season.
1. Stick around: This isn’t ground breaking analysis, but the longer Sacramento State keeps it close the more opportunities they will have. If the Hornets find themselves within striking distance in the fourth quarter, they would have quite the opportunity to play spoiler.
2. Make Plays in the Backfield: The Hornets were defensively stout against Eastern Oregon, racking up 10 tackles for loss. The Huskies struggled to get a run game going against Boise State, 29 yards on 22 attempts. If Sacramento State can utilize their biggest defensive strength - getting in the backfield - they can make Saturday a lot more difficult than it needs to be for the Huskies.
3. Steal Momentum: As already mentioned, it appears that the fans and media are looking past Sacramento State. If the Hornets can make a few big plays and show the Husky fans they mean business, it could take a lot of the energy out of the Husky Stadium crowd and dampen their home field advantage.