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The Buzz About Sacramento. St.

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Jeff Fleming leads an experienced set of Sacramento St. skill players that will challenge Oregon St. Saturday.
<em>(AP Photo)</em>
Jeff Fleming leads an experienced set of Sacramento St. skill players that will challenge Oregon St. Saturday. (AP Photo)

The Sacramento St. Hornets of the FCS Big Sky Conference make their second ever trip to Corvallis Saturday to open the season against Oregon St. Their first visit, on Aug. 28, 2003, was Oregon St. head coach Mike Riley's first game of his current, second, stint with the Beavers, and it resulted in a 40-7 win for the Beavers.

The Hornets, who are ranked 24th. in the pre-season FCS poll, enter Reser a decided underdog, as the Beavers were made 27 1/2 point favorites when the line was established. So what are the causes for concern this week for Oregon St.?

Experienced skill players on offense for the Hornets, and an aggressive, unusual defense, both of which will challenge a Beaver squad that has over a dozen starters who have never played in a college game before.

The Hornets, who were 7-6 last year while playing in the Big Sky, one of the toughest FCS conferences, one that produced the National Champion in Eastern Washington, are led by 6'4" senior quarterback Jeff Flemming. Flemming, who transferred from New Mexico St. prior to last season, promptly threw for 2,044 yards, the Sacramento St. school record, and 23 touchdowns last season, which earned him second team all-Big Sky Conference honors. His 147.42 quarterback rating was also a school record, and the 9th. best in the nation in the FCS.

Flemming has a senior running back behind him in Bryan Hilliard, who is #3 in Hornet history for rushing yards, having run for 2,79 yards and 31 career touchdowns.

Both of Flemming's starting receivers are seniors as well, led by Chase Deader, who was second team all-Big Sky, with 37 catches for 788 yards and six touchdowns.

Overall, the Hornets averaged over 32 points per game in 2010.

It's the kind of experience that will spot and capitalize on gaps in the Oregon St. defense that may not even be noticed by many.

Defensively, the Hornets operate out of a 4-2-5 alignment that is designed to pressure the quarterback, and still provide coverage for what is Oregon St.'s team strength, their deep and talented receiving group. All 5 DBs are experienced.

And the pass rush is anchored by a second team All-American, DE Zack Nash. Nash led the Big Sky in sacks and tackles for a loss last season, with 13 and 16.5 respectively.

Not all 4-2-5 defenses are as similar structurally as the name might suggest, so what Beaver Nation saw from TCU may not translate directly to what happens Saturday afternoon. Most Oregon St. fans and reporters have not seen video of the Sacramento St. version, but fortunately, the team has. This is where having 4 returning starters on the offensive line, plus experienced skill players in QB Ryan Katz plus WRs Marcus Wheaton and Jordan Bishop will help. While a lot of the newer players will still be busy just figuring out what they and the player next to them are doing, what could be a big disruption shouldn't disrupt these more experienced Oregon St. offensive players.

Sacramento St. lost their opener last year at Stanford, by a 52-17 margin, but being blown out by the Cardinal is something a lot of teams, Oregon St. included had happen to them.

The Hornets other 4 losses were by 3, 3 (in overtime), 4 to Eastern Washington, and 1 point. 

That said, Sacramento St. has never defeated a FBS team, and is 0-10 over the years.

Just as the Beavers have good reason to hope to improve on their 5-7 season last year, the Hornets have the pieces to make a push for a post-season berth, and would love nothing more than to surprise an Oregon St. team that has a lot of inexperience on the field to start the year.

"We’re going to find out a little bit about who we are and where we are,’’ Oregon St. head coach Mike Riley said. "These guys will get baptized pretty fast.’’

Hornet Coach Making A Homecoming

Sacramento St. is coached by a former Oregon St. quarterback, Marshall Sperbeck, who was a red shirt freshman, and then the backup to Scott Richardson, in 1978 and 1979, the last two years of the Craig Fertig era. When Fertig was replaced by Joe Avezzano, Sperbeck learned Oregon St. would be switching to the veer offense.

"I met with Avezzano, and he said he was going to run the veer offense," Sperbeck explained. "I wasn’t a veer-type quarterback, so I transferred."

Sperbeck hasn't been back to Corvallis since leaving for the University of Nevada, where he went on to start for two years for the Wolfpack, but he has kept in touch with fellow backup QB Ed Singler, as well as Steve Coury and Dave White.

"I've seen TV how great their facilities are now," says Sperbeck, 51, who has gone 20-25 at Sacramento St. "I’m kind of curious to go down memory lane, and look at all the improvements. I'll take a look around town and see how it’s changed. And I definitely want to walk around on campus. I had a couple of years of good memories there. I had a great time at Oregon St. It just didn’t work out for me football-wise."

Andy_Wooldridge@yahoo.com