There wasn’t much for UC Davis football players or coaches to talk about after a 42-7 Homecoming loss to visiting Montana on Saturday.
The 10th-ranked Grizzlies pile-drove through the Aggies (2-5, 2-1 Big Sky) for a clock-consuming 255 yards rushing, while UM quarterback Jordan Johnson was his usual self with an efficient 163 yards passing, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
From its first-quarter 14-0 lead, Montana was in control.
“We have to play better,” first-year UCD coach Ron Gould told the assembled media afterward.
Gould allowed that Montana (5-1, 2-1) was one of the better Football Championship Subdivision squads in the country, but added that his team “took a step back.”
“We weren’t as physical as we normally are on the offensive side of the ball,” the 47-year-old coach said. “We’re a work in progress and still have a lot to improve on.”
The Montana game was disappointing in that UCD had just throttled Southern Utah and Idaho State and looked — for a blink — like Big Sky Conference contenders.
Aggie Nation knows now that that sugar-plum vision was hopeful.
The Griz jumped out to a two-touchdown first-period lead and nickeled-and-dimed the locals into submission over the subsequent three quarters.
But all is not lost: Coming this weekend is a trip to Northern Colorado (1-6, 0-3).
(For fans of comparative scores, UNC lost to the Bengals, 40-26, last week and UCD topped ISU, 30-13.)
If Gould has the attention of his players, the Aggies should sing choruses of “Rocky Mountain High” Saturday afternoon, then set its sights on the rest of the campaign in which they could improve their record following back-to-back 4-7 seasons.
A daunting trip to No. 5 Montana State (Oct. 26) and a visit from Cal Poly on Nov. 2 are tall orders, but schedule-ending games at home with North Dakota (Nov. 16) and at Sacramento State (Nov. 23) hold promise for Aggie W’s.
Looking back, UCD could have wrested a couple of other victories …
A season-opening 10-7 loss at South Dakota was riddled with missed opportunities. A holding penalty negated a touchdown pass from Jimmy Laughrea to Tom Hemmingsen and Brady Stuart missed two, first-half field goal tries (his second one was blocked as time ran out before intermission). Two costly third-down offensive penalties made sustained drives next to impossible.
On Sept. 14, in the Aggies’ third game, home fans got their first glimpse of what has turned out to be a solid defense when UCD took a 10-7 lead into the final period against the nationally ranked Lumberjacks.
But two NAU interceptions were turned into touchdowns and the Aggies fell 21-10. UCD won almost every tale of tape that day — time of possession, total offense, it held All-American tailback Zach Bauman to a career-low 56 yards rushing while committing fewer penalties and doing a better job on third-down conversions.
Gould said “we left a lot out there on the table” that evening.
The new coaching staff has their guys following a process that Gould swears will lead to a resurgence of Aggie football — regardless of how rugged the Big Sky schedule turns out to be.
“There are still a lot of games to be played,” defensive end Nick King said Saturday, adding that those were disappointing losses. “But we look forward to playing the rest of our conference games.
“It’s hard to win college football games. You have to be perfect. But if you miss one play … You just have to be perfect in everything you do. That’s why this game is so great … you have to keep playing harder.”
Just before leaving the press room Saturday night at Aggie Stadium, Gould turned back to the media and quietly promised: “We’ll be back.”
There was a moment vs. Montana: Trailing 21-0 at the half, Davis came out in the third period and went 70 yards on nine plays to score its only touchdown on quarterback Randy Wright’s nine-yard run.
Two minutes later, Aggie linebacker Ryan Dimino forced a Jordan Canada fumble, which was recovered by safety Aarynn Jones. But the turnover was not meant to be when a facemask penalty negated the play.
Montana went on to break things open again, scoring four plays later.
King of the Hill: His real name is Willie Terrence King, but the 6-foot-2, 205-pound wideout goes by T.J., and in the past three games, the big-play threat has established himself as a real pain for opposing secondaries.
Against Idaho State, King caught four passes for 70 yards. At Southern Utah, his four grabs for 69 yards and a score helped UCD win on the road, 21-3.
Despite getting smacked around against Montana, the Bishop O’Dowd High graduate had three more catches for 49 yards. All three games marked team-best performances and he now has 15 catches for 229 yards and a 15.3 yards-per-catch average.
Overall, senior Hemmingsen paces the Aggies with 28 receptions for 307 yards and two scores. Corey Galindo is next (21-168-0).
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com