Something’s got to give when UC Davis and Northern Colorado renew their relatively recent rivalry in a curious Big Sky Conference football outing this weekend.
The struggling Bears (1-6, 0-3) rely on a passing attack that has them ranked 14th among Football Championship Subdivision teams at 304.7 yards per game.
Meanwhile, it’s no secret the UCD secondary can be air-tight.
Starting safeties Aarynn Jones and Charles Boyett and cornerbacks Dre Allen and Jonathan Perkins have helped keep opponents to 188 yards passing, while Boyett and Jones pace the Aggies with 44 tackles apiece. All four have intercepted at least one pass (Jones has two) and relief picker CB Shamawn Wright has the other Aggie interception. Freshman Patrick Wells also has filled in ably.
On Saturday at Nottingham Field (12:35 p.m.), the UC Davis Deep Six will have their hands full when Northern Colorado QB Seth Lobato tries to right coach Earnest Collins Jr.’s ship.
Lobato was injured during a 35-7 loss to Wyoming and missed two games — competitive losses to No. 7 Northern Iowa (26-7) and Southern Utah (27-21).
Since back, Lobato is 0-2, but has thrown for 340 yards against Sacramento State and 336 and two TDs in last week’s 40-26 loss at Idaho State.
Lobato has three scary-good receivers…
Senior wideout Jace Davis has caught a pass in 31 straight games, has 39 grabs good for 612 yards and five touchdowns and his 188 yards receiving against ISU was the fourth-best total for the Northern Colorado since the school went Division I in 2007.
But the 6-foot-2, 209-pound Davis — considered a pro prospect — isn’t even his team’s leading receiver. That honor goes to junior Dimitri Stimphil, who, in playing one more game than Davis, has 41 catches for 665 yards and four scores.
Will Jefferson Jr. (22/314/2) has come on of late, and all get in the end zone from waaaaaay over there. Stimphil has an 80-yard TD reception, Davis found The House from 75 yards out and Jefferson took one 56 yards for another six points.
“We have to do a tremendous job of focusing,” Aggie head coach Ron Gould told Big Sky media on Wednesday. “They are explosive on offense. Their QB throws extremely well. We have to make sure we get lined up correctly and make the tackles.”
Make the tackles … Ah yes.
On several key occasions this season, UCD has had problems wrapping up. In the past three weeks, that peccadillo seems to have subsided. In wins over the Bengals and Thunderbirds, the Aggie defense was sterling. Even in last week’s 42-7 loss to No. 10 Montana, UCD’s defense made the Griz dink and dunk down the field.
But if shades of the Aggie effort in Nevada and Portland State losses color Saturday’s outing, it could ruin any chance UCD has of getting back in the conference title chase. Despite a 2-5 overall mark, the Aggies’ 2-1 Big Sky record still has the locals in the hunt. Seriously …
And comparative-score fans will be quick to notice that UCD has beaten Southern Utah and ISU — schools that have beaten the Bears.
But like the Aggies, Northern Colorado is a football team searching for consistency. UNC is fighting injuries, penalties (37 for a whopping 323 yards) and has not executed well.
“For me, it’s not about making excuses,” Collins says. “(Due to injuries in the secondary) we gave up some explosion plays (against Idaho State).
“It’s just one of those deals — it’s like we’re snake-bitten — and if I knew the answer it would already be fixed. We’re going to keep plugging away and keep grinding at it and try to make it work.”
One item that must have popped out of the Northern Colorado stat book for UCD defensive coordinator Bert Watts is the 19 sacks that Bears quarterbacks have suffered.
Aggie defensive end Nick King has five sacks and linebackers Ryan Dimino, Steven Pitts and Jonathan Bias are no strangers to putting pressure on opposing signal-callers.
“Obviously, we have to do a great job of covering,” Gould added. “We have our hands full — their (receivers) are fast and athletic and can stretch the field — and we have to make sure we tackle those guys, otherwise they have a chance to take it (all the way).”
The Bears have presented little threat on the ground. Only five FCS squads have a worst per-game average than UNC’s 72 yards an outing.
Notes: Gould praised the recent play of Dalton Turay. Though the fullback was almost invisible in the season’s early going, the first-year coach shed light on why Turay was infrequently used: “He was banged up and didn’t get to showcase what he was.” Rarely called upon to carry the ball, All-Big Sky Preseason First-team pick Turay has been RB Gabe Manzanares’ wingman and his six receptions for 84 yards and a touchdown are a bonus. … UCD leads the Northern Colorado series 4-1. In the inaugural meeting (2003), now-NFL standout Vincent Jackson caught seven passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns as the Bears won, 35-28. Since then it’s been all Aggies — including the “Hail Bakari Game” in which Bakari Grant caught a final-play 38-yard TD pass from Greg Denham, giving UCD a 34-30 heart-stopping win on Oct. 4, 2008.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com