Enterprise staff writer
The Weber State football team has made the Football Championship Subdivision postseason each of the past two years, doing so largely on the right arm of quarterback Cameron Higgins.
The 6-foot-2 Higgins entered his senior year on the 2010 Walter Payton Award Watch List ÑÊgiven to the most outstanding FCS offensive player Ñ and is on pace to break a number of the WildcatsÕ career records.
Slowing Higgins and the Weber State passing game down is a daunting task, but itÕs one that opponents ÑÊlike UC Davis, which travels to face the Wildcats on Saturday Ñ must strive for if they hope to come away with a win. Higgins has thrown for 827 yards and seven touchdowns this year, with 542 of those yards going to senior wide receivers Mike Phillips and Joe Collins.
ÒTheyÕre very talented, theyÕre athletic, they catch the ball well and they obviously have a great rapport with Cameron,Ó said Aggie head coach Bob Biggs. ÒThey do a lot of things at the line of scrimmage, like hand signals, so that makes you a little nervous.Ó
Higgins started seven games during his redshirt freshman campaign, taking over the job midway through the 2007 season and never looking back. He threw for 4,477 yards and 36 touchdowns in 2008, and was named the Big SkyÕs Offensive Player of the Year, then followed it up with 3,326 passing yards and 30 touchdowns in 2009.
Gone, however, is HigginsÕ favorite receiving threat, Tim Toone, who graduated as WeberÕs career leader in receptions (206), receiving yards (3,607) and receiving touchdowns (29). Phillips (24 catches, 302 yards, two touchdowns) and Collins (19-240-1) appear to have stepped into the void and the Wildcats havenÕt missed Toone much.
Running back Trevyn Smith also graduated after a decorated career that saw him top the WildcatsÕ career rushing list with 5,029 yards. Weber is splitting up the carries among three backs in 2010, with Josh Booker (24 carries, 164 yards), Bo Bolen (28-102) and Vai Tafuna (33-90) all taking hand-offs.
As good as Higgins has been, heÕs also been prone to interceptions, throwing 20 last year and 13 in 2008. Higgins has only been picked off twice this year, but the Wildcats still have managed to turn the ball over, losing eight fumbles.
ÒCameron does such a great job of getting rid of the ball that itÕs tough to get to him,Ó Biggs said. ÒHeÕs got a very quick release. The key is you have to mix your coverages up so theyÕre not certain what youÕre going to do. Then, hopefully, you get a little bit of pressure to get Cameron to make some quick throws.Ó
Defensively, Weber State runs a 4-3 defense and tries to take the run away to force teams to throw the ball. The problem so far for the Wildcats had been that the philosophy only works when the defense actually stops the run.
So far this season, teams have run all over Weber State to the tune of 213.3 yards per game. And thereÕs no outlier skewing the statistics as the individual outputs are 188 by Boston College, 208 by Northern Colorado and 244 by Sacramento State.
The WildcatsÕ opponents havenÕt been great through the air Ñ 42-for-81 passing for 620 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions Ñ but they havenÕt had to be with the ground production.
Individually, rover Nick Webb leads the team with 24 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss, while free safety Jordan Brown has 23 tackles and three pass breakups. WeberÕs defensive line is solid, led by sophomore defensive tackles Alofaio Levale and Trevor Pletcher, as well as defensive end Gabe Bowers, who has the teamÕs only two sacks.
ÒTheyÕre not opposed to putting pressure on you and they like to play a lot of man coverage, so thatÕs a test,Ó Biggs said. ÒThey crowd the line of scrimmage trying to take the run away. ThatÕs what is interesting watching them because their defense is designed to take the run away, but yet people are finding a way to run the football.Ó
Notes: The two playoff berths in 2008 and 2009 matched what Weber was able to do over the previous 29 years in FCS. The Wildcats also made the postseason in 1987 and 1991. … Ron McBride is in his sixth season as head coach and owns a 33-29 career record including a Big Sky championship in 2008. He was previously the head coach at Utah from 1990 to 2002 before spending two years as a linebackers coach at Kentucky. … Weber was ranked No. 18 in the FCS coaches poll and No. 19 by The Sports Network in the preseason, but dropped out of both after last weekÕs 24-17 loss to Sacramento State.
Ñ Reach Conor Tekautz at [email protected] or (530) 747-8049. Comment on this story or check out The Enterprise sports blog at www.davisenterprise.com. To view photo galleries and purchase prints of UCD football visit http://photos.davisenterprise.com