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Aggies get stern Big Sky test Saturday

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From page B1 | October 11, 2013 |

Consider the first six UC Davis football games exams.

Now — after acing the first two Big Sky Conference tests — UCD is about to take its midterm when No. 11 Montana asks the questions Saturday at Homecoming.

Game time at Aggie Stadium is 4 p.m.

The Aggies (2-4, 2-0), who dropped a 41-10 decision to visiting Portland State three weeks ago, play a Grizzlies squad that is coming off a 55-27 win over that same Viking team.

Question No. 1: Can that comparative score be thrown out?

“For us, the most important thing has been to focus on the process,” UCD center Jay Luchetti told The Enterprise, adding he and his teammates don’t think about last week or two weeks from now. “That doesn’t matter. As cliché as it is, we take it one game a time.

“We have a great team coming in in Montana and we need to play our best game.”

Question No. 2: Can the Aggies stop running back Travon Van and his mates after they rang up 378 yards on the ground against PSU?

“Montana’s pretty scary,” UCD coach Ron Gould admitted. “They have three tailbacks capable of scoring from anywhere on the field. They have a read-option with a dynamic quarterback (Jordan Johnson) who can hurt you with his speed.”

On that front — Aggie run defense — there’s confliction.

Go back to UCD’s matchup with Northern Arizona and there’s a silver lining in that 21-10 loss — All-American candidate Zach Bauman was held to a season-low 56 yards. He’s averaged almost 100 in his other four games.

A week later, Portland State rushed for more than 400 yards — including D.J. Adam’s 208-yard game.

Then there’s last week … Southern Utah (4-2, 1-1) was held to 45 yards on the ground in a 21-3 Aggie road win.

Will the real UCD rush defense please stand up?

Question No. 3: Will Aggie running back Gabe Manzanares be able to continue his stunning contributions (383 yards rushing in the two conference wins over Idaho State and Southern Utah)?

“He’s my kind of back,” Grizzlies coach Mick Delaney said earlier this week. “Gabe is just the type of guy you love to have in a one-back offense. He runs downhill, nothing flashy, attack, attack and he breaks tackles.”

OK, OK …

So those aren’t answers to the questions, but you get the idea.

After starting 0-4, UCD — with its two-game win streak — has improved markedly and, perhaps, become a factor in the Big Sky championship race.

A victory against a Montana (4-1, 1-1) team that averages 40.6 points per game and rolls up 484 yards of offense each time out would be a leap up the mountainside.

While Gould tells everyone who’ll listen that his team needs to focus, pay attention to the details and — like his center says — take one game at a time, Delaney said these Aggies are to be taken seriously.

“We’ve got to do a great job of stopping the run and then also get pressure on (UCD’s QB Randy Wright) … making him get out of rhythm,” Delaney reported to the Missoulian. “We’ve got to be very stingy on first down on defense.”

Conversely, UCD needs to shut the door on Van and the other run-crazy Grizzlies.

Van has 379 yards for a 5.6 average and three scores. Jordan Canada has four TDs on 345 yards and is averaging 5.6 a carry.

After scoring 34 points total in their first four games, the Aggies have 51 in their last two. A re-energized Wright won his starting job back and is 37-of-61 for 454 yards with three touchdowns on the season. He has not thrown an interception.

“He’s not going to run the ball a lot, but he’s a good thrower,” Delaney said. “He’s a 6-foot-4 guy and he stands up and throws the ball very well … (he) gets it out quickly. He had games last year where he’s thrown 50 or 55 times. If you have a day where you’re not able to cover as well as you want or get as much pressure as you want, (he can create) long days for you.”

That’s music to the ears of Aggie receivers Taylor Sloat, T.J. King and Tom Hemmingsen.

But as UCD fans have seen these past two weeks, Gould and Company would just as soon hand the rock to Manzanares, let Wright manage the game and fall back on a defense that Gould calls “one of the best in the country.”

Notes: Aggie fans who can’t make it to the stadium can watch Saturday’s for free at www.americaonesports.com/bigsky.asp. … Montana’s Johnson leads the nation in QB efficiency. He’s thrown for 14 touchdowns and more than 1,100 yards and has completed 66-of-110 throws. Like Wright, he has yet to be picked off. His favorite receivers have been Ellis Henderson (12 catches for 270 yards and five TDs) and Jamaal Jones (11-179-0). … Safeties Charles Boyett and Aarynn Jones lead UCD with 37 tackles each, but three others — defensive end Nick King (34), linebacker Steven Pitts (32) and LB Ryan Dimino (31) — are close behind. … When Montana State beat Northern Arizona, 36-7, last week, it marked the 33rd Big Sky win for signal-caller DeNarius McGhee. He’s now in second place for most conference victories. The leader? Nevada’s Eric Beavers who won 40 games in his career. If Beavers sounds familiar to local fans, it’s because he played at Davis High.

— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at bgallaudet@davisenterprise.net

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