In college football, turnovers and big plays often are the difference between winning and losing.
When a squad like UC Davis has few big plays — only three from scrimmage that have gone more than 41 yards — and hasn’t done much with the 10 takeaways it has forced, it can make for a long season.
Remarkably, the Aggies have battled through their big-play and turnover quandaries, are sitting at 3-6 (3-2 in the Big Sky Conference) and have a gambler’s chance at running the table in their last three games.
Five weeks ago, a .500 season was a long shot.
On Saturday, a wounded Cal Poly team (2-2, 3-5) comes to town and it sure would help things if UCD got a couple of more turnovers — and knew what to do with them.
Only twice have the locals scored points off their 10 takeaways. Only three times have the turnovers set UCD up in opponents’ territory.
“We work on turnovers every day,” Aggie coach Ron Gould told The Enterprise. “Early on, we did a good job getting turnovers, but the offense did a poor job taking advantage of them. We had three interceptions against Portland State (and only one score off the turnovers in a 41-10 loss).
“We just have to work harder and see what we can get.”
And what about those big plays — or lack thereof?
Since receiver Alex Cannon caught a 59-yard pass from then-QB Jimmy Laughrea at Nevada on Sept. 7, the longest UCD aerial connection has been 41 yards to T.J. King (from Randy Wright).
Also in that Nevada game, RB Manusamoa Luuga broke off a 46-yard gallop, but since then, UCD has only one run longer than that: Leading rusher Gabe Manzanares went 50 yards in the 30-13 win over Idaho State on Sept. 28.
It’s been promised that the close-to-the-vest Aggies have some tricks up their collective offensive sleeves, but Gould cautions that there’s a time and place for everything:
“Every week we have certain (specialty plays) that we feel would work, would take advantage of a team. But you have to wait until the right time.”
Starting 0-4, Gould didn’t feel that time had come. In two of those games, UCD was leaking oil and showing something that others down the line could prepare for didn’t seem prudent.
Then — in wins over Idaho State, Southern Utah and Northern Colorado — the locals had a firm, upper hand and again the time wasn’t right to open Pandora’s Aggie Box.
Sure, Wright took a couple of deep shots at Montana State (an overthrow and a contested drop) — and earlier in the year there was one run by Manzanares out of the wildcat formation — but what fans might call razzle-dazzle has been buried on Page 312 of the playbook.
Meanwhile, when the Aggies get the ball, it seems they’ve been buried in the their own territory.
But there’s a silver lining here …
UCD has been spectacular in time of possession in its three wins, averaging almost 35 minutes with the ball.
On the season, the 24 Aggie scoring drives have averaged an impressive eight plays and 64 yards.
Manzanares (890 yards rushing with six TDs) and Wright (1,049 yards despite being benched for three games early in the season) have been the keys to that consistency.
In 176 carries, Manzanares lost only two early-season fumbles. In 158 attempts, Wright has been picked off twice (and suffered a fumble on a fourth-down sack last in the 34-17 loss at Montana State last week). Wright has eight of UCD’s nine TD passes.
“In regard to possession, we’ve done a really good job,” Gould said. “But Cal Poly is a very physical team and they get after the ball. We have to be cognizant of that.”
The Mustangs are going with Chris Brown at quarterback since season-starter Vince Moraga was lost for the year and effective Folsom High product Dano Graves is iffy with a hamstring injury.
Captain and All-Big West guard Lefi Letuligasenoa (Elk Grove High) is out for the year, as is No. 1 downfield target Willie Tucker.
Cal Poly is banged up at running back, too, but leading rusher Kristaan Ivory (808 yards) will give it a go, according to Mustang coach Tim Walsh.
Ivory’s ankle injury was too much for him in last week’s 17-13 loss to Northern Arizona. The featured back in the Cal Poly’s triple-option offense had one carry, then retired.
Saturday’s game is the Battle for the Golden Horseshoe (kickoff at 4 p.m.).
Notes: It’s just as well that UCD misses a homecoming date of sorts with Graves. The only time the sophomore signal-caller played at Aggie Stadium, he threw for 342 yards and five touchdowns in one half — against Davis High in a 41-21 victory on Sept. 10, 2009. … Sixteen receivers have caught balls for UCD this fall, with Wes Welker-clone Tom Hemmingsen leading the pack (44 grabs, 452 yards, three TDs). Corey Galindo (27-228-1) and King (20-285-2) could figure prominently into the late-season mix. … Should Manzanares gain 110 yards, he’ll become the first Aggie since Matt Massari (1,274 in 2002) to break the 1,000-yard milestone.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-747-8047.