YOLO COUNTY NEWS
Eastern Washington QB Vernon Adams Jr. vaults over Oregon State's Jabral Johnson in his team's 49-46 upset of the Beavers on Saturday. AP photo

Sports

Is Big Sky taking over as the giant-killing conference?

By From page B1 | September 05, 2013

After one conference member put a Beaver pelt on the cabin wall, five other Big Sky schools — including UC Davis at Nevada — try to do a little taxidermy of their own this week.

Sacramento State is at Arizona State Thursday night then the Aggies, Weber State (at Utah), Cal Poly (at Fresno State) and Montana State (at SMU) take a swing at adding to the growing belt notches of Football Championship Subdivision teams this weekend.

When Eastern Washington nailed then-No. 25 Oregon State, 49-46, last Saturday, it marked only the fourth time an FCS squad had toppled a ranked Football Bowl Subdivision team.

It was also the second Big Sky win over an FBS school that week, thanks to Southern Utah clearing the bar against Sun Belt Conference entry Southern Alabama, 22-21.

But it was the Eagles’ triumph over that Pac-12 opponent that caught the attention of the Big Sky media during the league’s regular conference call with member coaches.

Does the Eastern Washington upset impact other circuit schools in preparing for, and playing against, the next level?

“Not much,” Portland State’s Nigel Burton reported. “Unless Eastern Washington is going to come play a half for us, it doesn’t do anything.”

While most coaches weighing in Wednesday agreed that FCS wins over FBS schools will shine a brighter light on teams in conferences like the Big Sky, they know it remains a tough row to hoe when moving “up.”

“(Playing Nevada) helps us (judge) where we’re at and where we’re going,” first-year Aggie coach Ron Gould explained, adding about the recruiting: “Kids want to play at the highest levels. It does help us when you can say that you’re playing those kind of (FBS) teams.”

But when schools from the two subdivisions kick it off, it remains a test of who has the horses.

Interestingly, Burton thinks that gap is getting smaller, not wider.

Listen to Burton …

“The talent level is different now. Mainly I would blame the Internet. Seriously. When (I was) coming out of college, the only way you got recruited was a coach had to come to your campus, pick up film … it was a process. Most scholarship offers came in December and January when coaches could get out.

“Now it’s get the film, download … and send to every coach in the country with a keystroke.”

Burton recruits from Australia, Alaska, New Jersey and Florida — all from the comfort of his Viking office armchair. He says the top-shelf schools (who can afford the travel to reach out) “can’t really hoard (the talent) like they did in the past.”

To wit, six other FCS teams knocked off FBS squads in Week 1, most notably North Dakota State — UCD’s former Great West rival — beating Kansas State (24-21), Towson spanking UConn (33-18) and Northern Iowa upending Iowa State (28-20).

As much fun as it is for the lower-division coaches to soak in the sunshine and chat about last week, Eastern Washington’s Beau Baldwin cautioned his brethren:

“It’s about dealing with the (hype) … and moving on at the same time. Does (the spotlight) get tiring? A little, but I understand it. If you’re complaining about being tired because (of talking about the win over Oregon State), then you’ve got issues.”

Baldwin added, “The way I look at it, I’d rather be tired (of the spotlight) every time.”

As energizing as the Big Sky’s first full week of results was, last weekend needs to be filed away. Teams like the Aggies are still searching out their identities.

“Our thing here is trying to focus on what we do and not get caught up in anyone else,” Gould said of the conference-wide celebration of knocking off perceived giants. “It’s great to see some of the FCS schools beat FBS schools. But we just want to focus on getting better. If we do that, we’ll be OK.”

UCD’s task at Nevada on Saturday (6:05 p.m.) is a tall one. The Wolf Pack (0-1) is coming off of a 58-20 manhandling by UCLA.

The Aggies (0-1), brilliant on defense, couldn’t overcome errors on the other side of the ball and lost 10-7 at South Dakota.

“We just didn’t do a very good job of executing,” Gould, a former Cal assistant told the media. “It’s something we’re working on in practice.

“I was very please with how (our defense) was able to keep us in the game.”

Even with the outstanding effort last Saturday, the UCD defenders are going to be asked to ratchet up the intensity.

“Offensively, they have been a force to be reckoned with,” Gould said of Nevada. “They’ve always been able to run the ball.”

To play solid defense against the Wolf Pack pistol ground game, “you have to be very, very disciplined … carry out assignments … watch the play-action,” Gould explains. “Follow the scheme. (Bring) a tremendous amount of focus; a tremendous amount of discipline.”

Notes: While Gould hasn’t tipped his hand about a starting quarterback (Randy Wright or Jimmy Laughrea) for Saturday, he has said his chosen quartet of running backs are ready to be thrown to the Wolves, so to speak. Featured backs Gabe Manzanares and Tavior Mowry, fullback Dalton Turay and Manu Luuga (hamstring) are ready to roll, says the coach. Manzanares’ Aggie debut was a good one: 91 yards rushing and the lone touchdown. … From the Where’s Turay Dept.? The All-Big Sky preseason first-team choice didn’t touch the ball Saturday, despite two Aggie drives inside the 5-yard line. Gould says Turay (he of the seven TDs last year) has a different role. “Primarily, he’s going to be a guy that will block for us,” comes word from the first-year UCD coach. “He’ll get the ball, just not as prominent (in the offense).” … Nevada leads the season series, 27-21-3. It began in 1915 with a 14-10 Aggie win. The last time the two schools met, UCD won, 24-17, at Reno in 1989. … Oh, the other FCS victories over ranked FBS teams? James Madison over No. 13 Virginia Tech 21-16 (2010), Appalachian State over No. 5 Michigan, 34-31 (2007) and I-AA Cincinnati over No. 20 Penn State, 14-3 (1983), before the new designations were created.

—Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-747-8047.

Bruce Gallaudet

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