UC Davis football practice was spirited again Thursday. First-year coach Ron Gould loved what he saw.
“There is lots of energy, unbelievable practices,” the former Cal assistant explained, at the same time admitting that last Saturday’s waning moments against Northern Arizona were a “comedy of errors.”
There were two costly second-half personal-foul penalties whistled against the Aggies in that mind-numbing, 21-10, loss.
A missed block here, a receiver needing to lay out for a pass, spotty offensive line play and those two back-breaking interceptions made the locals’ only lead of the season (10-7 with less than 10 minutes remaining) a distant memory.
“We’re addressing those issues and moving forward,” Gould continued. “Coaches and players recognize them … we’re just trying to stay focused.”
Trusting the process, Gould calls it.
When high-octane Portland State (2-1) comes to Aggie Stadium on Saturday (6 p.m.), the smallest of mistakes — on either side of the ball — will put UCD (0-3) further in jeopardy.
“They are one of the best teams in the conference. They’re really one of the best teams in the country,” Gould said of the Vikings, who average more than 600 yards of offense each time out.
Portland State — where Gould got his first full-time coaching gig in 1992 — has other-world statistics coming from sophomore quarterback Kieran McDonough, big wide receiver Kasey Closs (6-foot-3, 200-pound junior) and a committee of running backs averaging 6.2 yards per carry, while already nearing the 1,000-yard mark.
McDonough is averaging almost 300 a game through the air, and Closs has 16 catches for 382 yards and three touchdowns. He caught an 81-yard scoring strike on the second play of the Cal game — a Sept. 7 contest in which the home-standing Golden Bears escaped with their lives, 37-30.
For the sake of the Aggie fans reading this, statistics will remain unmentioned in lopsided wins over Humboldt State and Eastern Oregon.
Oh, fine. … In beating the Lumberjacks, 43-6, last week, the Vikings made 622 yards stick against their guests. Opening the season with a 57-17 pasting of Eastern Oregon, PSU rushed for 405 yards while totaling 672.
“They have a very explosive offense and do a great job of executing,” Gould concedes.
But UCD is a team that many think is close to playing a complete game.
The coaches insist it’s those pesky little things that are the Aggies’ undoing. But casual observers wonder where the offense has been. In three games, UCD has three touchdowns.
While the Aggie defense has kept them in the game through the first halves, the offense hasn’t produced — resulting in extra work for the guys without the ball. Gould has seen his defense tire in a couple of contests. UCD has also seen a quarterback change, three go-to running backs, mistakes up front — and someone needs to send a search party for the team’s tight ends.
Highly regarded All-Big Sky Conference preseason senior TE Taylor Sloat has two catches for 15 yards. Junior Mark Martindale has five grabs for 39 yards — and he’s the third-leading receiver for the Aggies. Another senior tight end, Cameron Sentence, has seen his share of playing time, but as yet hasn’t caught a ball.
“The tight ends are one of our strengths,” Gould promised The Enterprise on Thursday. “We met with the offensive staff … we want to find ways to get those guys the ball, see what we can do to get these guys involved.”
The coach explains that the Aggies frequently have to take what opposing defenses give them. Plus, blocking is at a premium — quarterback Jimmy Laughrea has been sacked five times and flushed from the pocket eight other times in only nine quarters of football. Often the tight ends are asked to shore up the line leaks.
There also have been at least a half-dozen passes dropped by the big receivers. Confidence is something on which the aerial game needs to work.
Wideout/slot Tom Hemmingsen’s 13 catches (132 yards, a TD) represent a team-best in the receiving department as Laughrea has completed 35-of-70 passes for 382 yards and a touchdown.
The spark fans see coming from the Aggie offense lies with the running backs.
Junior Gabe Manzanares (136 yards, TD) and sophomore Tavior Mowry (123) are emerging. Freshman Manusamoa Luuga missed Week 1 and the NAU game with different injuries, but when he started against Nevada, the Long Beach Poly standout went 46 yards on his first carry en route to 85 on the night.
Nursing a sore wrist, Luuga could be in the lineup against PSU, according to Gould. Manzanares is expected to start.
“There’s some little things we have for Saturday,” Gould said, being cautious not to tip his team’s hand, but hinting a new wrinkles. “Our attitude has been superb. We just have to continue to tighten up. (The players) see the mistakes. We let a couple of games get away from us.
“I feel good about these kids and their spirit, the way they come out to work every day. I love their attitude. We’re making progress …
“… it just hasn’t translated on the scoreboard.”
Notes: Offensive lineman Ian Joseph (ankle) was back at practice Wednesday after going down with a sprain in the NAU game. … This is the first time since 1965 that the Aggies have been 0-3 to start a season. Coincidentally, 1965 was the last year UCD was 0-4. … Radio play-by-play voice of the Aggies Scott Marsh and analyst Doug Kelly will join sideline reporter Bill Herenda for the KHTK (1140AM) broadcast. … “Grillin’ on the Gridiron” — featuring regional barbecue grill masters — will be part of the pre-game festivities in the Aggie parking lot. … Portland State is a Big Sky Conference member, but Saturday’s game does not count in league standings.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-747-8047.