Remember back to Chem 101?
It took a while before you and your lab partner found the right mixture to get the experiment correct. Your teacher was patient — and once you found the right chemistry that first time, subsequent assignments were easier.
Such is the case with the 2013 UC Davis football team.
With almost 40 regular and redshirt freshmen and another two dozen sophomores on the 90-man roster — not to mention having six of their 10 main assistant coaches new to town this year — the Aggies (0-2) go into Week 3 of the season still looking for the perfect blend.
After road losses to Football Championship Subdivision South Dakota and Nevada of the Football Bowl Subdivision, first-year UCD head coach Ron Gould knows his charges are pointed in the right direction.
“All the pieces are there,” he told The Enterprise after Saturday’s 36-7 defeat in Reno.
Focusing on a first-possession turnover that gave the Wolf Pack a quick, early lead Gould added: “That’s a big turnover when you’re playing a great team. We had some opportunities to capitalize, but we’ve got to finish the deal, finish the plays.”
Ever though the Aggies will pick on someone their own size in Big Sky Conference member Northern Arizona (0-1) on Saturday at home (6 p.m. kickoff), the challenge remains serious. The Lumberjacks are ranked No. 25 in the FCS and are cranky, coming off of a 35-0 season-opening loss at big-brother Arizona. Despite the two teams being conference mates, Saturday’s outing is a nonleague game.
Through two contests, UCD has been woeful when deep in opponents’ territory. It missed two field goals against South Dakota after stalling twice near the goal line. Then at Nevada, a missed field goal and little punch within sight of the end zone doomed the Aggies after a spirited first half in which the 20-7 halftime deficit could have been much less.
It’s been coordinator Bert Watt’s often-brilliant defense that has kept UCD within arm’s reach these past two games, but the Aggies need work on their chemistry and eliminating the errors.
Meanwhile, the new focal point is at quarterback …
The Aggies, who welcomed Gould to campus after 20 seasons with Bob Biggs as head coach, also introduced a new signal-caller to the family on Saturday.
Rocklin High grad Jimmy Laughrea (pronounced LOCK-ray) got the start over Randy Wright. Since his freshman year, Wright had started 33 of 34 Aggie games, including the UCD opener this season.
Laughrea, a sophomore transfer from Boise State, had OK statistics against the Wolf Pack, but Gould said his 13-of-27 passing for 178 yards and a TD were misleading.
“He moved the ball for us. It had nothing to do with the throws (the low completion percentage) … we have to look the ball in. You can’t ask a QB to put the ball (on target) any better.”
Aggie receivers dropped at least five passes — four of which would have meant first downs. When Laughrea’s throws were handled, the locals looked golden …
Slot receiver Tom Hemmingsen proved to be Laughrea’s favorite target. The senior caught six passes for 87 yards and a 23-yard TD. On the second-period play, Hemmingsen was wide open and Laughrea delivered with unerring accuracy.
Earlier in the quarter, a 59-yard completion to Alex Cannon set up UCD at the Nevada 10 with the Aggies down only 13-0.
But Laughrea took a sack before a third-down toss to normally reliable tight end Taylor Sloat was dropped. Brady Stuart added insult to injury when he missed his third field goal try of the season, this time a 31-yarder.
Laughrea is more mobile than Wright, although Nevada did a good job keeping the new UCD signal-caller in the pocket (he lost four yards on four carries). But if his two interceptions stand out of the Nevada box score, take heart that each came with an asterisk.
His pick on the third play from scrimmage was tipped and a Hail Mary at the end of the first half had no chance with five Wolves playing 40 yards off the line.
Mix in the drops, seven penalties for 77 yards, horrible field position and young coaches and players unfamiliar with one another, well — it’s still early in this gridiron “school” year.
Laughrea sees the right chemistry ahead.
“Our performance could have better,” Laughrea understated on Saturday. “We have things to work out as a team. Those little things shot us in the foot — and if we get rid of those (mistakes), we have big drives and touchdowns, everything we’re looking for.
“I felt comfortable. The coaches set up a good game plan and the line blocked well, receivers ran good routes. We just gotta clean up the little things.”
Notes: Freshman Manusamoa Luuga (Long Beach Poly) got the Saturday start at RB when Gabe Manzanares (shoulder) couldn’t go. Luuga went 46 yards on his first carry as a collegiate, finishing with 85 yards and a sparkling 6.2 yards-per-carry average. Manzanares, who had 91 yards against South Dakota, should return Saturday. Also, UCD’s leading ground gainer in 2012 — Colton Silveria (hip) — returned to the battle against Reno (three lugs for 12 yards). … It was a Hall of Fame atmosphere in the stands Saturday. On a night that Nevada (1-1) honored longtime former coach and athletic director Chris Ault by naming the playing surface at Mackay Stadium in his honor, former Aggie coaches Jim Sochor and Biggs were in attendance. Former Cal coach Jeff Tedford was there (his protégé is Gould and his son Quinn is the Aggies’ offensive quality control manager). Bill Polian, longtime NFL general manager who drafted Peyton Manning for the Colts in 1998, was there to watch his son Brian, who replaced Ault as the Wold Pack’s head coach.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com or 530-747-8047.