When UC Davis roared back from an 0-4 start last football season — going 5-3 in the Big Sky Conference — there were two things clear about a major difference between opponents and the Aggies …
* While UCD was a ball-control dream (winning the year’s time of possession 31:47-28:13), it struggled once in the red zone (converting only half of its journeys inside the 20 into touchdowns).
* The Aggies watched opposing quarterbacks rush for 414 yards, seven touchdowns and convert 26 third- or fourth-down plays en route to 277 points. (Conversely, UCD QBs rushed for 81 yards and two TDs.)
On Wednesday, the signing of City College of San Francisco’s Turner Baty and Inderkum High’s C.J. Spencer, and the welcoming of linebackers Travon Brooks (Contra Costa College) and Amonai Itaaehau of Arizona’s Desert Ridge High addressed those Aggie issues.
In getting commitments from 14 players and officially welcoming Brooks, whose been on campus already this year, second-year UCD coach Ron Gould was beaming about his incoming class.
“We feel like we really accomplished (our) goals,” Gould told me. “All in all, I’m very pleased. Our staff did a phenomenal job … (getting) our kind of guys here at UC Davis.”
Student-athletes, eager to drink in Aggie Pride. That’s the way it’s always been here. Smart players. Dedicated players who will eventually leave campus and add something to the common good.
In the 15 newest Aggies, Gould thinks he’s struck gold (and blue).
With four-year starting quarterback Randy Wright about to graduate and backup Jimmy Laughrea quitting football to concentrate on studies, UCD was left with three sophomore signal-callers and little-used senior London Lacy at QB.
While Gould says “we don’t promise any starting position to any player,” don’t be surprised to see offensive coordinator Kevin Daft trying to weigh a ding-dong battle between Spencer and Baty for starting honors.
The coach loves what he saw in Baty, who in 2011 and 2013 threw for more than 6,200 yards and 55 scores at CCSF. (Baty sat on the Kansas bench in 2012 before coming home last fall.)
In 2011, CCSF went 12-0 and won the national junior college title. Last year, the Rams were 8-3.
Spencer, whose Inderkum squads went 10-3 each of the past two years, is a big-armed kid who threw for 3,300 yards in his final two Tigers seasons. He passed for 41 touchdowns against only six picks.
Gould loves the fact that Baty and Spencer can keep plays alive with their field vision and quick feet.
Both were heavily recruited. In fact, Gould says UCD beat out a handful of Football Bowl Subdivision schools for many of the new recruits.
In bringing the pair to town, Gould credits Daft and receivers coach Pat McCann for their hard work in selling the UC Davis Story.
McCann also will get some wicked-fast wideout help in Jermale Jefferson (Dorsey High of Los Angeles) and Keelan Doss (Alameda High). With UCD speed-burner Alex Cannon set to return from injury next fall, whoever the QB is will have his pick of deep threats.
While Gould and Company got great on-the-field talent — 12 two-star recruits, according to Scout.com — he says every one was in line with the values of Aggie Nation: “We’re not ever going to compromise academics or character. We want it all.”
Now, the locals have two new QBs who are strong-armed and mobile. Young men who have proved they can light it up from afar and turn sow’s ears into red-zone silk purses.
Meanwhile, there seems to be big-time help on the other side of the ball, too.
Already deep at linebacker with standouts like Steven Pitts, Artice Nelson, Jonathan Bias and Ryan Dimino, the Aggies will mix in a scary, new element in the person of Brooks (6-foot-3, 245).
“He looks like he’ll play (middle linebacker), but he can play (weak or strong sides), too,” Gould says of his Contra Costa transfer who already is enrolled as a UCD economics major.
It doesn’t hurt that facially and size-wise he resembles a young Ray Lewis. At McClymonds High and in junior college, he’s been hitting like Lewis as well — as evidenced by 55 tackles at CCCC.
There’s yet more LB depth as all-business Itaaehau gets out of the desert of Mesa, Ariz., to throw his 6-0, 220-pound frame around Aggie Stadium.
And cornerback Robert Taylor (Deer Valley), safety Sean Johnson (Burroughs), CB Isiah Olave (Eastlake) and S Jordan Robinson (Mesquite of Arizona) all embody the quickness the former defensive back Gould values in the secondary.
There’s even quickness on the defensive line with two new Aggies: 6-1, 220-pound Anthony Baumgart (Antelope) and 6-3, 255-pound Jordan Hoyt (Chandler).
The defensive game plan is to cut down on the number of successful broken plays by opposing QBs and short-circuit those third-down attempts and red-zone visits.
There’s a road grader in Newport Harbor offensive lineman Ramsey Hufford (6-3, 300) and a diamond-in-the-rough running back Mitchell Layton (Woodcreek) to add to a sparkling 2014 roster.
“We want every young man to come in and fit what we do here at UC Davis,” Gould explains. “Embrace what we do, work your fanny off and, if you’re the best player, you play.”
While I have you here: The official schedule will be released next week, but it’s no secret that UCD opens 2014 at No. 11 Stanford (11-3) on Aug. 30. There’s also a game with Colorado State before a no-place-to-hide Big Sky slate.
In conference, national championship runner-up Eastern Washington, Montana and Montana State, Cal Poly and Portland State are among those on UCD’s docket.
Gould’s extra help got here just in time.
— Bruce Gallaudet is a staff writer for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at [email protected] or 530-320-4456.