As good as the UC Davis football team played defense in Saturday’s 21-3 victory at Southern Utah, it was the coverage unit and freshman punter Colby Wadman who time after time forced the Thunderbirds to traverse afar.
Wadman struck the ball seven times. At first glance, his 36.3-yard average doesn’t set the heart aflutter.
But take a closer look …
Three of his kicks pinned SUU inside its own 4-yard line.
After a Wadman punt, the Thunderbirds’ average starting point was their own 13.
Southern Utah never scored after Wadman and his punting-team cohorts worked their magic in that impressive second Big Sky Conference win for the Aggies.
SUU return specialist Griff McNabb had to wait until there was 2:46 left in the game before he got to run with a punt — for six yards.
“We did a really good job corralling their punt returner,” said first-year UCD coach Ron Gould. “We kept them on their heels.”
Wadman was brilliant in understanding the northernly wind, which at times hit 15 mph. His long-hangtime efforts gave outside gunners like Aarynn Jones and Charles Boyett a chance to get into position to down — or in one instance, catch — the kicks before they rolled through the end zone … which none did.
From the T-Bird 13, the 3 (twice), the 38 (how did that happen?), the 10, the 18 and the 4, poor ol’ SUU found it was impossible to sustain any offense.
Aggie defensive backs Dre Allen and Shamawn Wright stopped drives with interceptions — Wright’s in the end zone late in the contest.
UCD linebacker Steve Pitts, who was brilliant all game, sacked quarterback Aaron Cantu, knocked down one of the Southern Utah passer’s throws and collected seven tackles. Defensive ends Nick King and Colin Kelly each got to Cantu and tackle Kyle DeVaughn accounted for the fourth Aggie sack, a season-high total.
Dazzling defense? Indeed. And it might have been cornerback Jonathan Perkins’ field-goal block on the Thunderbirds’ first possession that set the tone.
After SUU took the opening kickoff to a first down at the Aggies’ 11, UCD made its first statement.
Linebacker Ryan Dimino stuffed T-Birds RB Raysean Martin for a 1-yard gain. Perkins and his pals blanketed receivers Toa Afatasi and Fatu Moala while Cantu — with Blue-and-Gold dripping from his shoulders — threw back-to-back incompletions.
Then, last week’s co-Big Sky Special Teams Player of the Week Colton Cook lined up for a 29-yard field goal — a pitching wedge for the senior from Bountiful, Utah. Cook’s try traveled about five feet before Perkins interrupted the proceedings.
Perkins told The Enterprise he was “just doing his job” and the play was something the Aggies practice. Gould gave his senior a little more credit:
“That really, really helped us,” the coach admitted. “Perk comes off the edge, cutting it real tight …”
Gould went on to say he thought defensive coordinator Bert Watts put together “an unbelievable scheme,” before declaring “I think we have one of the best defenses in the country.”
“They keep proving me right,” Gould added, giving a hint of a smile before quickly adding: “We continue to improve, but we left a lot out there on the table.”
Aggie Nation will see if there is more improvement this week as No. 11 Montana comes calling Saturday for a 4 p.m. game. It’s Homecoming for UCD.
Notes: Pitts, running back Gabe Manzanares (175 yards rushing) and Wadman were all nominated for Big Sky players of the week. The conference chose Sacramento State QB Garrett Safron as Offensive Player of the Week, Montana corner Anthony Goodwin won defensive honors and Montana State returner Shawn Johnson and North Dakota’s Greg Hardin shared special-team kudos. … UCD (2-4), Sacramento State (3-3) and Montana State (4-2) all are tied atop the league standings at 2-0. Montana is 4-1, 1-1 in Big Sky. No. 6 Eastern Washington (3-2) and Cal Poly (2-3) are 1-0 in conference.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com