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Sac State seeks offensive balance
Every football team strives for a balanced offense, but Sacramento State has yet to accomplish that after two games this season.
The passing game, directed by quarterback Jeff Fleming, lifted the Hornets to a dramatic overtime win in Week 1 at Oregon State on a day when running back Bryan Hilliard ran for just 34 yards.
Last Saturday, Hilliard rebounded by carrying the load, rushing for 90 of his 101 yards in the first half against Southern Utah.
However, Fleming threw for just 78 yards, and Sac State lost by three touchdowns.
So, can Sac State put both elements together today at Weber State?
“That’s something we’re still working on, being balanced in our attack and being able to do both equally well,” Hornets coach Marshall Sperbeck said. “I think you’ve seen some signs of both areas, but we haven’t been able to put them together … so far.”
The answers will start coming shortly after 5 p.m., when the Hornets (1-1) and Wildcats (0-2) kick off in Ogden, Utah, in their Big Sky Conference opener.
Sac State, ranked 20th in the Sports Network Football Championship Subdivison poll, has never won at Weber State.
The Hornets ran for 208 yards against Southern Utah, with many of them coming in the first half. Penalties and turnovers contributed to Sac State losing its grip in the second half.
Hilliard, a Laguna Creek High School graduate, said the first-half running game was still a good sign since the Hornets ran for only 71 yards the previous week.
“It shows that we’re ready to run the ball,” Hilliard said. “We’ve just got to play physical throughout. There are two halves to a game, so we can’t just go out there for a half and then the second half not be physical.”
Weber State has shown vulnerability to the run. The Wildcats gave up a whopping 440 rushing yards in their season-opening 54-17 loss at Utah State.
In a more evenly matched contest last Saturday, Weber State allowed 169 rushing yards in a 35-32 loss at Wyoming.
Fleming said the Hornets will try to establish the running game early but that the Wildcats’ defensive front seven looked pretty solid on film.
Still, he is confident the 5-foot-11, 215-pound Hilliard will break through for tough yardage.
“He’s a really good downhill runner,” Fleming said. “He can break tackles and see cutbacks.
“He’s just a guy who, you give him the ball, and you just never know if he’s going to break one, two, three, four tackles. He’s just a really physical runner, which works out great for our running game.”
Fleming also should be a factor in the running game. He led the team with 39 rushing yards against Oregon State, and he’s second on the team overall, as he was last year.
The Hornets had hoped to incorporate running back Curtis Shaw more into the offense, but the senior is expected to be out for at least three more weeks with a left knee strain.
Shaw was injured against Oregon State. A concussion limited him to two games last season.
Sperbeck expects Hilliard to carry the ball at least 20 times a game and average about five yards per rush.
Hilliard ran for 883 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2010. The senior is third on the Hornets’ all-time list with 2,926 rushing yards, trailing Charles Roberts (6,553) and John Farley (3,862).
“Bryan’s a heck of a back, and he’s had a great career here, so we know he’s going to have his fair share of good days,” Sperbeck said.
By Dave Carpenter, The Sacramento Bee