O-and-4 no more … and raising eyebrows.
After struggling through its first four outings, UC Davis has won its first two Big Sky Conference games. This week, the Aggies drew some praise from coaches around the league — including next-opponent Montana’s Mick Delaney.
“Their (defensive) plan is really sound,” the Grizzlies coach said Wednesday. “They fill all their gaps, there’s no flukey stuff … and they pressure.
“We have to be consistent and patient. We’ll have to keep popping and popping and eventually we should get those creases (and get some) yards.”
Montana (4-1, 1-1 in Big Sky), coming off an almost flawless offensive display in a 55-27 win over Portland State, comes to town on Saturday (4 p.m. kick off). This important league game is Homecoming for Aggie Nation.
Meanwhile, after UCD rolled Southern Utah, 21-3, in Cedar City, Thunderbirds coach Ed Lamb talked about what happened in Cedar City:
“What didn’t go right?” Lamb repeated a question. “We were outclassed by a better team. They physically blocked at the line, ran the ball well. (UC Davis) was the better team in every way.
“It was difficult for our guys to take … the video brought clarity to our situation — we were outplayed.”
Gracious comments from a coach whose school was 4-1 and drawing attention before being flattened by the fast-improving Aggies.
Even though the losers of their first four games now are 2-0 in the conference, don’t even hint to Aggie coach Ron Gould that his charges could be in the hunt for a league crown.
After six weeks of the season, most players, scribes and coaches have been conditioned by the former Cal associate head coach: Take it one play at a time; “focus on the details, follow the process.”
During Wednesday’s Big Sky media conference call, one Montana newspaperman asked Gould what he liked most about his team.
The answer was predictable: “attention to detail.”
He went on to praise the Aggies’ “passion for playing the game” and said it is all coming together. But he cautioned that extreme focus would be necessary at Aggie Stadium at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
“After watching film on Montana, what I see is one of the best football schools in the country. All three phases are well-coached … they don’t make a lot of mistakes,” Gould said. “With three tailbacks capable of scoring anywhere on the field, read-option (with a) dynamic quarterback who can hurt you with his speed, Montana is pretty scary.”
Open the stat book, Montana is pretty scary …
The Grizzlies are averaging more than 40 points per game. They average 234.8 yards on the ground and another 250 through the air. They hold a 13-5 turnover advantage and have scored 26 touchdowns.
Montana has played two ranked teams, hammering then-No. 12 Appalachian State, 30-6, and losing to No. 19 Northern Arizona, 34-16.
Oh, did we mention they’re solid on defense? Let Gould tell it: “They’re huge up front and … they play like crazed maniacs. They fly around the field. Probably one of the best (defenses) in FCS.”
Montana is led by QB Jordan Johnson. His 66-for-110 — good for 1,159 yards and 14 touchdowns — earns him an out-of-this world 190.5 efficiency rating (by comparison, Aggie quarterback Randy Wright — who has been playing well — has a 139.4 rating).
On the ground Montana is, well, grizzly. Back Travon Van has 379 yards rushing (6.5 yards a carry) and three TDs. Jordan Canada’s 345 yards give him a 5.6 average (with four scores). Two other Montana backs have more than 150 yards.
Receiver Ellis Henderson has thrown daggers in the hearts of opponents’ defenses. His 12 catches have gone for 270 yards and five touchdowns.
However, UCD has shown mighty progress in all phases of the game, and it’s that recent improvement that should give the locals a fighting chance.
“All day, special teams did a really good job for us,” Gould said, praising freshman punter Colby Wadman. “It’s so great to see how he’s been able to put that ball inside the 10.”
Gould also has RB Gabe Manzanares running wild in his last two games (383 total yards against Idaho State and SUU), and Wright conducting a tight offense that has seen the emergence of wideout T.J. King.
King, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound junior from Bishop O’Dowd, has been brilliant — catching eight passes for 139 yards and a touchdown in the last two outings.
King has drawn a lot of attention from Wright — and opposing defenses — but continues to make big catches. His highlight-reel grab inside the Southern Utah 5-yard line kept an Aggie scoring drive going and two of his catches versus ISU were third-down conversions.
“He’s become one of our go-to guys,” Gould told the Big Sky media. “It’s so good to see him come out of his shell … (and) make some big catches for us.”
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at firstname.lastname@example.org