The late Ohio State coach Woody Hayes used to say, “Only three things can happen when you throw the football — and two of them are bad.”
When North Dakota visits UC Davis on Saturday, it will pit UND’s high-flying passing attack against the Aggies’ Big Sky Conference-best aerial defense.
Something has to give, and UCD hopes to validate Hayes’ credo by making life miserable for North Dakota redshirt freshman quarterback Ryan Bartels.
Ranked 17th in the Football Championship Subdivision in passing, UND throws for 275 yards a game.
In logging back-to-back 300-yard passing games and leading his team to a 24-21 win over Northern Colorado last week, Bartels has come off the bench recently to have UND (3-7, 2-5 Big Sky Conference) playing its best football of the season.
“I’m impressed with their quarterback,” Aggie coach Ron Gould told The Enterprise, adding that getting to Bartels quickly will be a key.
In Greg Hardin (49 catches for 879 yards and four scores) and Kenny Golladay (59-691, six TDs), North Dakota has two of the division’s top receivers — and they are carpet-burners.
The two former prep track standouts will force UCD to pressure up front. The longer Bartels has had to throw, the more separation Hardin and Golladay have been getting.
But this year, passing teams have met their match against the locals.
Allowing only 179 yards through the air each outing, the Aggies’ league-best pass defenders also are ranked 17th in the FCS.
That’s a remarkable number given the responsibility of the UCD secondary in a run defense that has allowed a bunch of ground yards — 2,123, to be exact.
Aggie junior safety Charles Boyett leads all tacklers (75), but he’s also managed to intercept a pass, defend eight others while forcing two fumbles.
His right-hand man, senior Aarynn Jones, has 54 tackles, two picks and 10 passes knocked away.
UCD cornerbacks Jonathan Perkins and Dre Allen have combined for 58 stops, each has an interception and Perkins has a fumble recovery and a blocked field goal attempt against Southern Utah.
Shamawn Wright and Patrick Wells have provided welcome/efficient breaks for the starting secondary as doing double duty in run support and providing stifling coverage can be taxing.
Fortunately, the Aggie offense often finds a way to keep the ball for long periods of time.
“We’ve done a great job protecting the ball and sustaining drives,” Gould said during his team’s recent bye week.
With Bartels’ recent efficiency — and UND’s inability to run the ball (83 yards a game) — look for UCD (3-7, 3-3) to disguise deep coverage and start some series in nickel or dime coverages.
North Dakota’s Jake Miller is the visitors’ leading rusher (445), but the team averages less than three yards a carry.
Conversely, the Aggies’ bread-and-butter is running it down opponents’ throats.
With RB Gabe Manzanares going for 114.6 ypg (11th in FCS), even casual fans can see the writing on the Aggie Stadium wall — feed Manzanares, ask QB Randy Wright to convert short passes and play keep-away, something UCD does well (averaging 31:37 in time of possession and only 14 turnovers).
The outing marks the final home game of 2013 and the Aggies will tip their collective helmet to their 15 seniors. Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m.
Among those saying adieu to UCD fans will be defensive end Nick King.
The veteran defensive end and captain has been brilliant. His six sacks are among the Big Sky leaders, he has 52 tackles (6.5 for 31 yards in losses), has recovered a fumble and has knocked away two passes.
Gould has called King the heart and soul of his defense and expects the 6-foot-3, 248-pound Mill Valley native to play some of his best football down the stretch as the Aggies attempt to better last season’s 4-7 mark with wins against North Dakota and Nov. 23 at Sacramento State.
Notes: WR Tom Hemmingsen, another valuable senior, has a career-high-matching 50 catches for 522 yards and two scores. For his time in Davis, the Monte Vista (Danville) High product has 1,284 yards and 12 TDs. … Randy Wright is the Aggie career leader in passing attempts and completions. He is only the second Aggie is go past 8,000 yards total offense. He’s started 39 games since his freshman baptism. … Scott Marsh and Doug Kelly will provide Saturday’s radio coverage with pregame comments and interviews starting at 3:30 p.m. (KHTK 1140 AM). … Scoring only 15.9 points a game, that figure gets UCD a 113th ranking among FCS squads. … Junior linebacker Steven Pitts is second on the Aggies with 57 tackles. He also has seven stops for losses, has sacked three QBs, recovered a fumble, forced a fumble and defended three passes. … About its 3-7 record, North Dakota has lost to five FCS ranked teams.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8047.