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ISU football: GameDay — Bengals open conference play against Sac State on homecoming

September 24, 2016

Idaho State has seen three vastly different outcomes in three games this season.

First, a 47-3 blowout win against Division II Simon Fraser. Next, a 56-7 beatdown at Colorado that was over by halftime. Finally, a 37-7 loss at Oregon State that was closer than the 30-point margin indicates.

The Bengals feel like they’ve been through it all in what head coach Mike Kramer calls “phase one” of 2016. “Phase two” — the Big Sky Conference slate — starts Saturday.

“We’re 0-0,” Kramer said. “Time to play.”

ISU (1-2) hosts Sacramento State (0-3), which has also seen an array of outcomes through three weeks.

To open the season, Sac State trailed Division II Western Oregon all day and lost 38-30 despite picking up more first downs, 124 more yards of offense and calling 28 more plays. The kicker: nine penalties for 90 yards.

A week later, the Hornets hung with Fresno State for three quarters but were outscored 21-0 in the final 15 minutes. The Bulldogs’ 31-3 win was indicative of their statistical advantages across the board and favorable field position on scoring drives.

Last week against Weber State — a nonconference game between two conference opponents — the Hornets led 7-0 early in the second quarter, but giving up 520 yards on defense and compiling a 43.2 completion percentage between two quarterbacks caught up with them. The Wildcats scored a late fourth-quarter touchdown and won 14-7.

“Our kids played very, very hard, we just didn’t play very, very smart football,” Sac State head coach Jody Sears said. “That has kind of been our Achilles heel over the first three weeks. We go out, our heart and our effort is great, but our eyes and our attention to the fine details might be the difference in why we’re not playing as well.”

The Hornets rank last in the Big Sky in scoring offense, second to last in total offense, last in pass efficiency and have scored a league-worst four touchdowns. The offense is led by sophomore quarterback Nate Ketteringham (45-88, 468 yards, 3 TD, 4 INT). Ketteringham was subbed out in the second quarter of last week’s game against Weber State in favor of junior Kolney Cassel, a Southern Methodist transfer. Sears said this week he plans on using both signal callers against the Bengals but did not name a starter.

Ketteringham has more value in the running game, but Cassel has the experience advantage having played five games (one start) for SMU as a redshirt freshman.

Running backs Demetrius Warren and Jordan Robinson have split carries, with Warren picking up a bulk of the yards. Warren missed most of last season with an elbow injury.

Defensively, Sac State has wavered between a 3-4 and 4-2 front this season, Kramer said. The Hornets rank in the middle of the pack defensively in the Big Sky and are tied for second with seven quarterback sacks. Kramer said Sac State mostly plays conservative defensively, relying on its four-man rush to provide pressure with three safeties and two linebackers filling holes from middle to back.

In last year’s meeting, a 38-13 Hornets win in Sacramento, Idaho State picked up 378 yards of offense but was intercepted four times.

“Last year, they played pretty conservative against us and waited for us to burn ourselves down,” Kramer said, “and we obliged.”

ISU TO SHOW OFF MORE OF PLAYBOOK SATURDAY

Kramer said Wednesday that Idaho State’s offense through the first three weeks of the season hasn’t closely resembled what it will look like during the conference season.

The Bengals have stuck to short passes on the inside, runs up the gut and the occasional sweep around the edge. ISU ranks ninth in the league in total offense and has run the ball fewer times than any team in the Big Sky while ranking second in pass attempts.

“Phase one of our season was designed to do two things for us offensively: keep Jakori Ford 100 percent healthy, which he is, and keep Tanner Gueller 100 percent healthy, which he is,” Kramer said. “So what happened to us, our playcalling, our style of offense, nothing about those first three games has any relevance to what we’re going to do on Saturday.”

COLLINS, FINEANGANOFO ACTIVE FOR FIRST TIME

Kramer announced offensive linemen Chase Collins and Brian Fineanganofo have returned to practice for the first time this season. Fineanganofo tore his ACL in the 2015 season finale and Collins suffered an injury the third day of fall camp. Both were projected starters and haven’t played this season.

Kramer said he doesn’t expect Fineanganofo to play Saturday and was unclear on Collins’ status, first saying he expected him to start at right tackle before saying he would play but not start. Fineanganofo’s brother, Jacob Fineanganofo, is a freshman offensive lineman for the Hornets.

The Bengals’ front has been a rotation of inexperienced players filling in for the aforementioned pair and Cody Abbott, who’s also been unavailable this season.

Defensive tackle JonRyheem Peoples will not be active Saturday, nor will safety Nikko Hayes. Both players missed last week’s game against Oregon State. Linebacker Hayden Stout, who didn’t play last week, is back to full availability.

HOMECOMING HISTORY

Idaho State’s last homecoming win was in 2014 against Sac State (44-24). ISU’s last win prior on homecoming was in 2007 against Northern Colorado.

Sac State owns a 12-7 record all-time against the Bengals, and ISU is 6-4 in matchups in Pocatello.