Playing from ahead. Controlling the clock. Running the ball.
That’s all music to a football coach’s ears.
So, while UC Davis has opened Big Sky Conference play with back-to-back football victories, it shouldn’t be a shock to any Aggie fan that a lion’s share of the team’s recent success falls squarely on the shoulders of the local front five.
Standing tall on the offensive line, guards Parker Smith and Jimmy Kunkel, tackles Ian Joseph and Chris Schneider and center Jay Luchetti have laid open rumble zones for new-found UCD ground maven Gabe Manzanares.
The junior transfer from City College of San Francisco has recorded 208- and 175-yard rushing games the past two weeks in wins over Idaho State and Southern Utah.
That 200-plus performance was the 10th-best game in Aggie history. His SUU outing could’ve been over 200 as well — but a penalty called back a 27-yard gain.
Manzanares knows where his bread is buttered:
“It’s not just me alone. My O-line is doing a great job. They’re recreating the line of scrimmage against the linebackers.”
First-year UCD head coach Ron Gould takes it a little further about the Aggies’ convoy quintet:
“I’m pleased with how (the offensive line) is coming together,” Gould told The Enterprise. “The guys are doing a nice job of communicating, being physical and coming off the ball. They are playing with attitude.
“They have to set the tone, understand what it is to practice at the level we need to practice at. It doesn’t come through osmosis, it has to come out (on the practice field) and by working for it. I’m just very proud at the steps they’re taking.”
Luchetti, a 6-foot-4, 285-pound junior center, gives much of the credit for the improvement to his line coach Matt Wiegand and Gould.
“Our coaches have done a great job game-planning,” said the Montgomery High (Santa Rosa) graduate. “We’re learning to be real efficient and strategic. We’ve been executing a lot better as an offensive line.”
So why the improvement from a mediocre start to the seek-and-destroy feel of recent play?
“We’ve got a young group of guys,” explained Kunkel, the group’s only senior. “A lot of guys didn’t have a lot of experience and, now, after a couple of games, they’re feeling more comfortable.
“They see things now and it’s gotten a lot easier. We’re also getting more time to work together as a group, bonding.”
Like Luchetti, Joseph is a junior, while Smith is in his second year and Schneider earned his stripes in this, his freshman season.
Kunkel (6-3, 305) believes, too, that “a different Aggie staff brings more energy.”
“That’s nothing to say against the old staff,” cautions the veteran from Central Valley High (Lakehead). “But there’s more energy here and guys like how we’re being coached … and I think we’re taking on the next coaching challenge very well.”
In the past two weeks, the Aggies have rushed for 423 yards. Their 867 yards through six games is ahead of last season’s pace (1,506) and a vast improvement from the past 10 seasons in which UCD averaged just over 1,150 yards a campaign.
As center, it’s Luchetti’s responsibility to point out opponents’ defensive schemes and make blocking calls. It’s a huge task, one that requires the quarterback to put the rest of the offense on the same page.
“Everyone’s calls change off mine, so I have to make the first call, and make it correctly,” Luchetti said of the blocking assignments. “Even if I don’t make (the call) correctly, everyone still has to be on that same page … it’s how our offense is set up.”
So, starting 0-4 then suddenly finding itself tied on top of the Big Sky Conference standings at 2-0 entering Saturday’s game against Montana at Aggie Stadium, do the locals now see themselves as league-title contenders?
Luchetti won’t think past the current opponent:
“For us, it is most important to focus on the process. Like (Gould) always says — and as cliché as it is — ‘Take one game at a time.’ Really focus every single day, every single play, on just getting better. If you don’t do that, you can really get out of whack.
“We have a great team coming in in Montana, and we need to play our best game.”
Notes: So what if a player went up to Ron Gould and said “Hey, I think we’re a contender now!” What would the coach say? Kunkel laughed before answering: “Coach Gould might rip my head off. He would definitely tell me, ‘I don’t know where your head’s at right now, but we have to take it one game at a time … and you must be out of your mind if you think we’re a contender in the conference right now because we’re taking it one game at a time.’ ” … Schneider (6-4, 250) is the smallest of the UCD starting front line. He is from Glendora High; Joseph is an El Dorado (Placerville) product who stands 6-6, 300; and Smith (6-4, 290) is an Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) graduate.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected]