Zero Hour has arrived.
After a month-long summer football camp, UC Davis is about to discover what it’s made of as the Aggies meet Stanford on Saturday in Palo Alto. Game time is 1 p.m. for both teams’ season opener.
“We have a tremendous amount of respect for Stanford,” explains UCD head coach Ron Gould. “They’re probably the best team in the nation. Just think about their record (46-8) over the last four years. There aren’t too many teams that are better.”
This year, The Associated Press says there are 10 squads better because the Cardinal comes in at No. 11 in its preseason poll.
Gould, who is a veteran of 16 Cal-Stanford games while a Golden Bear assistant, knows the season opener is a Herculean challenge for his Football Championship Subdivision Aggies.
There is no room for UCD to be awestruck getting off the bus at The Farm, the coach promises, adding: “We have to compete for 60 minutes. For every player, it will be a crucial play, so we can’t afford to take plays off. Go out there and play your heart out.”
Cardinal coach David Shaw and Gould have similar takes in preparing their squads for battle.
“The big thing for us is starting the season fast,” Shaw told The Enterprise. “Execution in all three phases — offense, defense, special teams — is a must. We do not worry about our opponents. We are committed to doing the best we can.”
Gould concurs …
“We have a job to do. We don’t focus on our opponents,” says the Aggie chief. “I want our guys to play as well as we can and let the chips fall where they may.”
Stanford comes in with the high-flying duo of quarterback Kevin Hogan and All-American candidate wide receiver Ty Montgomery intact.
Hogan passed for 2,630 yards and 20 touchdowns as the Cardinal went 11-3 last season. Favorite target Montgomery — who injured his shoulder in the spring and just this week got clearance to play Saturday — caught 61 passes for 958 yards and 10 scores. Holy Cross transfer Devon Cajuste returns after averaging 22.9 yards per catch in 2013. He scored five TDs in only seven starts.
On the ground, Stanford is searching for a replacement for All-American tailback Tyler Gaffney. He ran for 1,750 yards (21 scores) last year as the Cardinal’s method of operation was to flatten opponents with an accomplished offensive line.
And therein might sit the Aggies’ chance for The Upset 2.0.
Only All-American left tackle Andrus Peat returns to that unit. The rest of the O-line will be first-year starters.
But Shaw isn’t worried.
“I think it’s already gelled,” he said of his new unit. “I’m not worried about it at all. I know they’re not worried or nervous. I’m excited to see what we can do this year.”
UCD’s defense returns veterans Kyle DeVaughn (a 5-foot-11, 285-pound tackle) and Marques Barron (6-2, 252) at end. Inoke Raikadroka (a 6-0, 295-pound tackle) and Luke Wood (6-4, 260) are sophomores who earned their spots in summer camp.
If Aggie linemen can hold sway against a Stanford offensive front that averages 310 pounds, a deep, talented corps of linebackers (led by seniors Ryan Dimino and Steven Pitts) could create some miscues against a Cardinal bunch getting to know each other.
Regardless, Pitts and Dimino have said the linebackers need to step up and be the main tacklers during this 2014 season: “Blow up plays,” as Pitts explains.
Saturday would be a good time since safety Charles Boyett and cornerback Shamawn Wright are going to have to keep their eyes on Montgomery and his friends. And forcing turnovers also is a good thing when trying to beat an overwhelming favorite.
Gould has been around the block. As a player in high school and at Oregon, as a coach at Portland State and Cal, has he ever had a team in a position like his Big Sky Conference hopefuls are Saturday — kinda David and Goliath.
Gould’s answer was immediate: “No.”
Notes: Through late-week practices, the competition to see who starts at quarterback for the Aggies remains a game-time call. Former Vanden High standout Ben Scott and Kingsburg High product London Lacy are the finalists, according to Gould. … The Little Big Game will be broadcast on KHTK (1140 AM). The pregame show begins at 12:30 p.m. with Scott Marsh (play-by-play) and analyst Doug Kelly on the air. The Pac-12 Network will televise the contest. It marks the first of four UCD games on TV this fall. … If you just landed on Earth, the Aggies beat the Cardinal, 20-17, the last time the two schools met in 2005. … Senior Colton Silveria gets the call at tailback for UCD with redshirt freshman Justin Williams as his backup. RBs Gabe Manzanares (foot) and Manu Luuga (wrist) are officially out.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-320-4456.