VERMILLION, S.D. — Talk about misdirection …
It’s no secret that new UC Davis head coach Ron Gould works wonders with running backs — Marshawn Lynch, J.J. Arrington, Shane Vereen, Jahvid Best are a short list of men the former Cal assistant developed and sent on their way to the pros.
So, it is understandable that in the Aggies debut under Gould, all eyes would be focused on what kind of ground game the locals would have.
Using a mostly single-back, spread offense on Saturday at South Dakota, UCD didn’t disappoint, gaining 167 yards and introducing the world to Gabe Manzanares — the 5-foot-9, 195-pound newcomer from San Francisco. Manzanares, a junior, gained 91 yards on 18 carries and scored the only Aggie TD.
But the final tally was a bad one. UCD lost 10-7. It could have been a better result without a Manzanares fumble, mis-aimed throws and a handful of penalties — one which called back a touchdown.
However, with Aggie fans pondering the future of Gould’s offense, it was the local defense that stood tall on the lone prairie.
Anchored by a stifling secondary that held emerging Coyote quarterback Josh Vanden Mater to 9-of-17 passing, good for only 91 yards (and no completion for more than 18 yards), UCD’s defense saved a disaster.
And Gould knew it, saying after the game that his defenders “played their butts off” and kept the Aggies in the game until the waning moments.
Cornerbacks Dre Allen and Jonathan Perkins handled Preseason All-Missouri Valley Conference pick Terrance Terry. The junior receiver was held to 48 yards on four catches and only once did a 16-yard fly sweep do damage on the ground.
If anyone did shake loose, safeties Aarynn Jones and Charles Boyett were Johnny-on-the-spot (although in the first half, Jones was flagged for pass interference on a down-the-middle deep route: the call a mystery to some as the flag came late and from an official away from the play).
Together, the secondary quartet was asked to make 21 tackles — Jones leading the Aggies with eight.
Shamawn Wright came off the bench to perform equally as strong. In providing breathers for his brethren, Wright made three tackles and defended two other passes.
It was on the ground that South Dakota made a dent in the Aggies. But even those 195 yards were hard earned — and gained mostly in no-man’s land around midfield — although a tired Aggie corps had difficulty wrapping up on a couple of Coyote runs in their final, clock-killing possession.
Playing a 4-3 scheme, defensive coordinator Bert Watts had linebackers Jonathan Bias and Ryan Dimino in all the right places. Bias and Domino each collected six tackles. Dimino also recovered a fumble when Coyote punter Miles Bergner couldn’t collect a bad, first-half snap.
“We kept them corralled for the most part,” said Gould, adding: “That (Vanden Mater), he’s an exceptional athlete and got a couple plays late in the game. But I’m really pleased with our guys. We knew they had tough runners, (that they) are very physical up front (and) that wasn’t a surprise. We knew that going in.”
While South Dakota ran the ball 14 more times than UCD (48-34) its average per rush was 4.1, compared to the Aggies’ 4.6.
“The defense gave great effort out there,” Dimino told the press afterward. “We made some mental mistakes, missed some tackles. We’ll continue to work both sides of the ball. Continue to grind … but (all the pieces) are there.”
Quarterback competition getting hot? Despite giving way to backup Jimmy Laughrea for the second quarter, starting QB Randy Wright is “fine,” according to Gould. The coach says the gameplan was to get Laughrea, the Boise State transfer, some snaps.
“We wanted to play Jimmy. It was something we planned for,” Gould reported.
Wright came out after tweaking his knee on a first-period sack. Laughrea led the Aggies on a 14-play, 72-yard drive that ended in a missed field goal on the final play of the half.
Laughrea had 50 yards passing on 6-of-10 and had a touchdown called back. He also rushed for 29 yards. Wright threw for 60 yards (7-for-14) and had no rushing yards on two carries.
Where was the star Starr? UCD did a terrific job on knowing where Coyote standout linebacker Tyler Starr was lined up on Saturday.
The 6-5, 250-pound pro prospect has double-digit sacks and more than 180 tackles when you combine the previous two seasons. At the DakotaDome on Saturday — with Starr lining up inside and outside, playing defensive end, rushing kicks and fall back in pass coverage — he had only two tackles and a quarterback hurry.
Gone so soon? Former Aggie punter Colton Schmidt — who holds UCD records for season and career punting average — was cut by the Cleveland Browns on Saturday. Schmidt started the preseason with San Francisco but was signed by Cleveland on Tuesday.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8047.