When a football team like the Aggies is 0-4 but bubbling over with enthusiasm, is that glass half full or half empty?
At UC Davis, known worldwide for its School of Engineering, the answer might be: “Just get a different glass.”
So, when Idaho State (2-1) hits Aggie Stadium on Saturday, will fans see more of the same run-first, pound-it-inside attack from UCD — or do first-year coach Ron Gould and defensive coordinator Bert Watts have some tricks up their sleeves?
* Will pressing forward with running backs Gabe Manzanares, Tavior Mowry, Colton Silveria and Manu Luuga be enough against an opponent that many see as inferior to anyone the Aggies have faced so far?
* Can a defensive front line featuring sack leader Nick King, fellow defensive end Colin Kelly, tackles Kyle DeVaughn, Khalid Jones and Anthony Kasper put enough pressure on Bengal quarterback Justin Arias to allow safety Aarynn Jones and his secondary brethren to continue their thievery of a week ago?
Or has it been back to the drawing board for these engineers of the gridiron?
In typical Gould fashion, the former Cal assistant wasn’t willing to talk about the game plan, but he did smile when talking about his players’ attitudes, energy and preparedness for the Big Sky Conference opener.
“I am very pleased with these young men,” Gould told The Enterprise. “The fight, the drive, just the passion … watching these men come out here and work every day.
“To see how these guys have responded (to an 0-4 start) in a positive way, I’m very fortunate and grateful … it speaks volumes to the character of these young men.”
Character is one thing. Points are another.
In four outings, the locals have scored 34.
They haven’t scored more than 10 points in a game and can’t find a way to sustain drives (converting 26 percent of third downs seems to be the culprit).
In any case, there has been a pattern: UCD has played better in the first half than in the final 30 minutes.
Watts was asked about whether his defense, in being asked to keep the Aggies close, was wearing thin in the second half … or in the long run. The former Denver Broncos assistant admitted there was some late-game fatigue, adding:
“You always try to limit your reps on defense. But a lot of that is on us, too.”
Surprisingly, UCD has averaged 30:14 in possession time — a hiccup more than its opponents. Even on third-down conversions, while the Aggies’ 16-of-61 is not good, their foes are only 19-of-55 (34 percent).
But those stats can be misleading.
Northern Arizona, Nevada and Portland State combined for six scoring plays from 20 or more yards out and the Wolf Pack and Vikings managed to kill large chunks of second-half clock after surviving competitive UCD beginnings.
“There have been some games where we haven’t been able to get off the field on third downs,” Watts said of his defense. “We have to do a better job of that.
“But when you get fatigued, that’s when you really have to focus on the details of your job — your alignment, your assignment, your keys, your techniques.”
Watts notes that’s why the Aggies — on both sides of the ball — run constantly in practice.
“We want them tired (in workouts) so they can focus on that state of mind, state of body … so they can focus when they are breathing hard.”
Watts and Gould expect Idaho State to come out throwing.
Arias has 1,008 yards passing and gets back three prime receivers — TE Tyler Wright and WRs Chad Hansen, Luke Austin. All missed last week’s loss to Washington.
“You have to match up best when they’re spreading the field out,” Watts added. “But we’ll mix it up a little, too. We know what we have to do, and that’s stop the pass.”
In the 41-10 loss to Portland State, Watts’ secondary occasionally showed man coverage before falling into a zone scheme — a ruse that contributed to interceptions by Jones, Jonathan Perkins and Charles Boyett. With Arias tossing the ball all over the place (137 attempts thus far in two wins over Division II teams and a 56-0 drubbing in Seattle), the UCD secondary will get plenty of chances to get the ball back or hold on third downs.
Game time is 6:06 p.m.
Notes: The Aggies have rushed for 444 yards with this Saturday’s announced starter Gabe Manzanares leading the parade (163). QB Jimmy Laughrea has completed 55-of-100 passes for 562 yards, four interceptions and one touchdown. WR Tom Hemmingsen — out in 2012 with an injury — has returned to carve out all-conference numbers (22 catches for 239 yards and one TD). … From the Please, Sir. May I Have Another Dept.: Idaho State has played seven Football Bowl Subdivision schools over the past four seasons. As expected, the Bengals didn’t win a game, but one insider said they’ve put about $2 million in the ISU athletic coffers. No small potatoes for the team sitting smack dab in the middle of the Spud Capital of America. … Among those Big Boy opponents were Nebraska (73-7), Georgia (55-7) and BYU (56-3). Going 0-7, Idaho State was outscored, 391-76, and added to its current 40-game road losing streak, the worst in the Football Championship Subdivision.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-747-8047.