On a blue bird afternoon inside a three-quarters full Canvas Stadium, many of the same dark clouds that hovered over the first three weeks of the Jay Norvell era returned.
A sluggish start that immediately put the CSU defense under the gun.
A freshman quarterback under pressure in the pocket — actually, two, once Clay Millen was knocked out of the game in the second quarter with an undisclosed injury after he was sacked for the 24th time this season.
And a CSU fanbase that’s grown frustrated with new head coach Jay Norvell — and let him know about it with multiple rounds of boos as his Rams remained winless with a 41-10 defeat to Sacramento State.
The loss was the 10th in a row for CSU, which is 0-4 for the first time since 2007 heading into its bye week.
With speckles of orange dotting the west side of the stadium, and the student section roughly three-quarters full to start the game, the Rams mustered just three points on their first four possessions.
Not the greatest Ag Day crowd you’ll ever see. Jay Norvell has some fans to win over. pic.twitter.com/SZWwOOFbiI
— Matt Schubert (@MattDSchubert) September 24, 2022
The lone highlight: a perfectly lofted 56-yard deep ball down the sideline from Millen to Tory Horton to the Sac State 7-yard line near the end of the first quarter. But even that ended on a downer, as three straight runs produced zero yards, and the Rams were forced to settle for a Michael Boyle field goal.
On the bright side, Sac State didn’t register its first sack until five minutes into the second quarter in a marked improvement over the first three weeks. But the cost of the sack, coming on third-and-long, was severe: Millen was knocked out of the game and another redshirt freshman, Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi, would have to take his place.
That’s when the boos started emanating from the Canvas Stadium grandstand — then returned one snap later after Marcus Fulcher returned Paddy Turner’s punt 42 yards to the CSU 16-yard line. Fulcher soon bullied his way to the left pylon for a 14-yard touchdown reception and 21-3 lead with 6:25 left in the first half.
Of course, the Hornets (3-0), defending Big Sky Conference champions, were no FCS patsy.
Sac State entered the game ranked No. 6 in the FCS coaches poll, with a two-quarterback tandem of Jake Dunniway and Asher O’Hara at the head of an offense that put up 93 points in its first two games.
Both quarterbacks got in on the first drive, with Dunniway picking apart the Rams defense from the pocket before O’Hara finished it off with a designed QB run off right tackle from six yards out.
Two possessions later, the Rams defense couldn’t get off the field on third down three times, including the very last play — a Dunniway pass that was tipped roughly 15 feet into the air and grabbed by a leaping Pierre Williams in the back of the end zone for a 14-3 lead.
It appeared Sac State was destined for another touchdown not long after, but CSU safety Jack Howell, hurt earlier in the game, picked off O’Hara at the Rams’ 11-yard line for his third interception of the season.
Fowler-Nicolosi and the Rams then responded with their lone touchdown drive of the day.
Completing four straight passes, Fowler-Nicolosi converted a fourth-and-short near midfield with a 5-yard pass to Ty McCullouch, then lofted a ball to Tory Horton on a crossing route that the junior took to the house for a 52-yard touchdown that brought the score to 24-10 with 1:17 left.
But Fowler-Nicolosi offered no such magic in the second half, with the Rams’ first drive of the second half ending after A’Jon Vivens fumbled on fourth-and-1 at CSU’s 37. Eight plays later, O’Hara’s 1-yard over-the-top plunge at the CSU goal line gave the Hornets a 31-10 lead and the rout was on.
By that time, most of the 25,445 had left Canvas Stadium — and only a sparse few remained once the Hornets tacked on one last touchdown with 2:47 left in the game.