It’s a grueling football schedule and UC Davis’ bye week doesn’t come until Nov. 9.
However, the Aggies were asked by first-year coach Ron Gould to report to camp in “the best condition of their lives.”
He’s augmented that tip-top shape with practices that teach a new system while giving players simultaneous physical training.
Eight weeks into the season, while many other Big Sky Conference teams are licking their wounds, Gould has his Aggie Pack snarling, champing at the bit …
“Wednesday was the freshest the guys looked all year,” Gould insisted. “There was more life to them, more intensity than at any point during the year. The life they had running in and out of the drills was spectacular.”
That energy comes at just the right time.
On Saturday, UCD goes all in on the road against No. 5 Montana State (5-2, 3-0).
Should the Aggies (3-5, 3-1) come away with a win, it will augment a dream sequence of a season. A victory means the locals would continue to climb out of the 0-4 crater in which they began the 2013 campaign.
“The thing I’m most impressed with is these guys’ resiliency,” Gould continued. “They bounce back, whether it’s injuries or after a loss.
“Watching these guys grow … that’s what I’m most impressed with. We’re a team that believes in each other.”
UCD and the Bobcats are just two of six teams with three wins in the Big Sky. But the herd thins this week: Montana (6-1, 3-1) hosts Eastern Washington (5-2, 3-0) and Cal Poly (3-4, 2-1) entertains Northern Arizona (5-2, 3-1). Sacramento State (4-4, 3-1) has a bye.
In winning three of their last four contests — all in conference — the Aggies have been executing, sustaining drives and playing relatively turnover-free football.
“We’ve been staying with the tempo, able to execute and continuing to focus on the fundamentals,” Gould told The Enterprise after yet another enthusiastic practice. “You see those things happen, then you know you’re in pretty good physical shape.”
One guy who has been cat-quick and built of iron is go-to running back Gabe Manzanares.
The junior transfer from City College of San Francisco has 711 yards rushing, more than 100 yards receiving and has launched himself onto the scene in a conference packed with elite ball carriers.
Hot-handed quarterback Randy Wright has perspective on what it will take to win at Bobcat Stadium in a game that could draw upwards of 20,000 fans.
“First and foremost, we just want to run the ball,” Wright said. “If we’re running the ball well, we’re probably going to be in the game, doing well. We just want to feed Gabe. If we’re able to do that, it will set up the pass.”
The formula worked to perfection in last week’s 34-18 win at Northern Colorado. With Manzanares (105 yards rushing) and Manu Luuga (46) tearing up the turf, UCD had five scoring drives over 74 yards and kept the Bears’ offense seated near the Gatorade.
In all, 178 yards on the ground allowed Wright to throw for 310 yards and four touchdowns. Aggie Nation hopes history repeats — and quickly.
“It’s something special to be part of when you’re rolling on all cylinders,” the senior signal-caller continued. “We’re having some fun now. It was rough for a few weeks. I wasn’t having too much fun.”
Wright lost his job after a 10-7 season-opening loss at South Dakota, but is back and possibly better than ever. The difference between now and a month ago?
The fourth-year starter says it’s humility and playing relaxed.
“I’m just glad to have the opportunity to go up to Montana State, against a great team in a good environment … get our family and friends up there,” he said. “It’s just great to be a part of something like this.
“I’m not nervous at all. I think we were playing tight (early) and it affected everyone’s play. I know it affected my game. We’re just enjoying the moment right now.
“We’re just going to go play and see what happens.”
MSU quarterback Darius McGhee has just over 1,000 yards passing and only four TDs to his credit, but Gould calls him “arguably the Player of the Year” in league. McGhee missed a couple of games with a shoulder injury and could be ready to let ’er fly again Saturday.
Running back Cody Kirk (595 yards) has 12 touchdowns for the Bobcats.
A plus-10 in turnover ratio adds to the MSU reputation of being one of the most efficient squads in the Football Championship Subdivision.
To win, Gould says his players have to match the Bobcats’ intensity.
“We have to get it up a notch,” the coach reported. “They have the fastest defense we’ve played to date. They have guys that run to the ball, and when they get there, they get there in a bad mood.
“One of the biggest things for us is how are we going to handle 25,000 fans?”
The other big thing? How will the Aggies handle — 11 at a time — Montana State’s players?
Kickoff is 1:05 p.m. PDT.
Notes: UCD has been practicing with sometimes-deafening crowd noise being piped into Aggie Stadium. … If Manzanares and Company want to establish the ground game, they might want to run away from Bobcat defensive end Brad Daly (6-foot-1, 240 pounds). Despite stepping out of football for a season, the Helena, Mont., native has made the most of his senior season. On 36 tackles, Daly leads the Big Sky in tackles for losses (15) and sacks (10). … Bozeman is Cowboy Country and the MSU roster speaks to that with four players named Cody, a Rhett, a Wyatt, a Dallas and a Dakota. Saddle up, Aggies. The chute gate is about to open.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected]