Consider Azusa Pacific UC Davis football’s version of training wheels.
After a 41-3 season-opening win over the Cougars on Aug. 30, the Aggies seem more than ready to hop on a two-wheeler on Saturday.
But for the Football Championship Subdivision Aggies, Saturday will be like shedding the training wheels and taking your first ride downhill as they go on the road to face Football Bowl Subdivision squad San Jose State.
“It’s nice to start off the season fast like that,” said UCD senior center Ray Wilburn. “Watching the film, you look at the guys you’re playing against and you can see that they are of a different caliber, and you have to prepare yourself for that.
“But you can’t take a team like Azusa for granted and you can’t put a team like San Jose on a pedestal.”
In fact, the last two meetings between UCD and the Spartans — in 2009 and 2010 — have been decided by a total of four points, with the Aggies actually upsetting the Spartans, 14-13, in ’10.
Though many of the current UCD players saw action in that game, both Wilburn and Aggie head coach Bob Biggs caution that this is not the same San Jose State.
“Nineteen of our (players) that played in that game two years ago are playing in the game Saturday,” Wilburn said. “(But) they are a different team; they are playing the run a lot better than they did.
“San Jose plays a simple defense; they’re just really good at it.”
Last week, that Spartan defense held the Stanford offense to just a field goal in the second half and nearly came back from a 17-3 halftime deficit before eventually falling to the then-21st-ranked Cardinal, 20-17.
When San Jose State matches up with UCD at 5 p.m. Saturday, it will have the added boost of playing at home.
“I don’t think we are intimated by the surroundings. We’ve had a history of going down there and playing well,” Biggs said. “I do think, and this isn’t just coach talk, that they are a better football team than they were two years ago. They’ve matured a lot, especially on defense, so we’ve got our hands full.”
“San Jose State, how they’ve played us, they’ve just said ‘Forget it, we are going to get up in your face and you gotta show us you can beat man coverage before our pressure gets to you.’ We’re going to have to show them that our receivers are a little better than their corners and (UCD quarterback Randy Wright) can put the ball in places that can beat press or man coverage.”
Wright, now a junior, led his team to that 2010 victory as a redshirt freshman, completing 20-of-34 passes for 223 yards and a third-quarter touchdown pass to Tom Hemmingsen that turned out to be the game-winner.
Against Azusa Pacific, Wright watched his running game do the bulk of the work, but was effective when he needed to be. He was an efficient 13-for-19 for 166 yards and a touchdown, though he did throw a pick.
But if Wilburn, Sean Davies and the rest of the Aggie offensive line can hold off the charging Spartans long enough, look for Wright to do more against San Jose State, especially if receivers like Corey Galindo (two catches for 40 yards in Week 1), Anthony Soto (2-36) and others see single coverage.
Biggs saw his guys do exactly what they were expected to do against an overmatched APU squad. Now he’s excited to see how they handle the big step up in competition:
“This week will be more of a challenge because we are facing, obviously, a much more athletic team, and the execution at times is not going to be as good. Now we have to learn how we are as competitors. How do we react when things maybe don’t go quite as good, we have to grind it out and guys have to make plays? That’s why, in many respects, I think this game will tell more about us.”
Notes: The UCD/SJSU series dates back to 1922 and is tied at 4-4-2 overall. The teams did not match up from 1934 until 2007. … Biggs will be going for his 141st win overall and his third victory over an FBS squad (in 10 tries). … When the Spartans have the ball, offensive guard Nick Kasper will have to block a familiar defensive tackle, his brother, UCD’s Anthony Kasper. The Aggie DT had three tackles against APU. … UCD running back Marquis Nicolis, who led the Aggies with 79 rushing yards in Week 1, picked up a combined 44 rushing and receiving yards in the 2010 victory over San Jose State. … Saturday’s contest is the first of three straight road games for UCD, which does not play at Aggie Stadium until a Sept. 29 matchup with Weber State.
— Reach Chris Saur at email@example.com or (530) 747-8049.