Unless UC Davis defensive tackle Andrew Benjamin dyes his long hair blond — and probably not even then — not many people would dare compare Aggie football players to Goldilocks.
But an analysis of UCD’s first three games reads a lot like The Three Bears children’s story.
The opener against Azusa Pacific (a 41-3 win over the Division II school), was too easy.
Last week’s game at San Jose State (a 45-13 road loss to the Football Bowl Subdivision team) was too hard.
And Saturday’s matchup with South Dakota State (1-1), the first opponent at the same Football Championship Subdivision level as the Aggies, is just right.
The Aggies (1-1) learned a lot about themselves in the first two games — especially playing at both ends of the spectrum — and the noon contest in Brookings, S.D., will give them a chance to apply that experience and see how they measure up against their peers.
If history is any indication, the game that matches up two FCS teams that have lost only to FBS squads this season will be a close one. The last three meetings between UCD and SDSU have been settled by a total of 10 points.
The Aggies are 1-1 in their last two outings at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium, a field that gives the Jackrabbits — who will be playing their 2012 home opener — a big advantage.
“We’ve had some experience with them going back to Division II. If I remember correctly, three of the games have been really close,” said UCD head coach Bob Biggs. “They’re going to be good, and it’s going to be a loud, hostile environment. You can anticipate the loudness and go to a silent cadence; that’s what happens often times when you play indoors, too.”
While dealing with the noisy South Dakota State faithful, the Aggies’ most important task will be to shut down the ‘Rabbits’ running game and sophomore Zach Zenner. Going over the 100-yard mark in the first half of last week’s 31-14 win at Southeastern Louisiana, Zenner finished with 278 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries.
In the record-setting day — it was the most yards an SDSU running back had rushed for in the school’s Division I era — Zenner did much of his damage behind center Will Castle, who picked up a Missouri Valley Football Conference Offensive Lineman of the Week award. Zenner, who was the league’s top offensive player last week, leads all D-I backs with 561 yards this season and is averaging 8.1 yards per carry.
“We need to stop the run,” Biggs said. “It’s very clear they want to run first; they’re not afraid to throw, but they run first. They are very well-coached.”
While the actual task of stopping Zenner will fall to linebackers Jordan Glass (UCD’s tackles leader with 13) and Byron Gruendl (11 stops) as well as Benjamin, Nick King, Bobby Erskine and Jonathan Kaspar on the defensive line, there is another key to slowing down the Jackrabbits’ running game.
“On offense, we have to protect the ball; we want to run the ball as well,” Biggs said. “We have to control the clock a bit; if they get their running game going, they could eat a lot of time.”
The Aggies lost the time-of-possession battle in each of the first two games, though when scores become lopsided, that statistic can be deceiving. Still, UCD allowed opposing runners in both contests to have big games as APU’s Terrell Watson went for 144 yards and San Jose’s De’Leon Eskridge picked up 130 yards.
With a deep and talented stable of running backs — Colton Silveria, Marquis Nicolis and Tavior Mowry all have double-digit carries for the Aggies and other rushing touchdowns have come from Dalton Turay and Davis High graduate Courtney Williams — and an experienced and efficient quarterback in Randy Wright, UCD should be able to control the clock better.
Notes: Another good weapon against the South Dakota State rushing attack is Aggie punter Colton Schmidt, who is second in the FCS in gross average and already has pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line five times. … UCD will be playing its second of three straight road games. Biggs says the timing is good since the Aggie players don’t have classwork until school begins on Sept. 27. … UCD last played in Brookings in 2006 (a 22-21 loss) but traveled to the state last season for a game at South Dakota, a former Great West Conference foe. … The last meeting between the Aggies and Jackrabbits was a 28-21 SDSU win at Aggie Stadium in 2007.
— Reach Chris Saur at email@example.com or (530) 747-8049.