Everybody is even. All 13 Big Sky football teams begin conference play this week.
Everyone gets to throw their current records out the door. Good news for 0-4 UC Davis.
Of particular note to Aggie fans, Idaho State comes to town to test just how far first-year UCD coach Ron Gould has taken his charges.
In what was arguably senior quarterback Randy Wright’s best game as an Aggie (309 yards, three TDs), last fall UCD topped Idaho State, 52-45. The Bengals finished that season 1-10, but this year have beaten Dixie State (40-14) and Western State of Colorado (29-3). Last week’s 56-0 chasing-their-tails loss to Washington gives a mixed signal as to how good is Idaho State.
One thing everyone knows — ISU is pass-happy.
QB Justin Arias is sixth in the nation in completions per game (27) and has thrown for 1,008 yards, but only four scores. He is 83-for-137 passing.
For the first time since the locals started playing serious football more than 50 years ago, UCD has just four touchdowns in its first four games.
A stoic defense was laid to waste in the second half of the Nevada and Portland State meetings and mistakes — Gould still calls them “little things” — dog the Aggies.
UCD should know where it stands after the second-ever matchup with the Bengals.
“We’ve very excited,” Gould says about opening league play at home. “It’s a great opportunity for us.
“They have a phenomenal QB. You’re never going to stop those guys. You hope to slow ‘em down, make sure we possess the ball and have opportunities to score.”
Analysis is required here:
* “Never going to stop them …” Wouldn’t say “never.” Football Bowl Subdivision Washington hammered Idaho State’s running game (0.8 yards per carry) and was leading 42-0 before coach Steve Sarkisian called off the dogs.
* “Make sure you possess the ball …” UCD has converted only 26 percent of its third downs and has lost the overall time-of-possession battle.
* “… have opportunities to score.” The Aggies couldn’t take advantage of two of their three interceptions in Saturday’s 42-10 loss to Portland State. UCD also missed its fourth field goal of the season.
The opportunities seem to be there. The problem?
“Focus in games,” Gould told media during a Wednesday conference call. “Dropped balls. Little mistakes.”
Is preparation for the Aggies’ first on-the-record Big Sky showdown of 2013 any different from the first four outings?
“Absolutely not,” the former Cal assistant said. “The key is about the preparation for our next opponent, making sure we’re continuing to grow as a team. Regardless of who we’re playing it’s about us getting better.”
ISU coach Mike Kramer spots a UCD squad in transition.
With the switch from Wright to Boise State transfer Jimmy Laughrea at QB, “they’re not comfortable yet,” Kramer says. “I think Ron’s guys are trying to find an identity offensively.”
Kramer, who is in his third year at Idaho State, also coached at Eastern Washington and Montana State. He’s a three-time Big Sky Coach of the Year. Kramer says his Bengals cannot “step back and display the same kind of defense like we did last year against Davis.
“I saw it against Washington. It wasn’t poor because they were so much better, but because we were inept.”
Kramer says ISU has to contain Aggie running backs and cover kicks with renewed vigor. He praised UCD’s Shamawn Wright, a sophomore who averages 29.8 yards per kickoff return, 14th-best in the nation.
If the Aggies get untracked offensively, it could be thanks to having a full complement of running backs ready to roll.
Gabe Manzanares (176 yards) gets the start. Sophomore Tavior Mowry (136) and last year’s leading ground gainer, junior Colton Silveria (18), join freshman Manusamoa Luuga (85) as capable relief. Luuga (wrist) returned to practice this week after missing the Northern Arizona and Portland State games.
Saturday’s Aggie Stadium kickoff is scheduled for 6:06 p.m. It is UCD’s final night game of 2013. The day’s festivities feature Oktoberfest in the north parking lot (3 p.m.). Tickets are available at www.ucdavisaggies.com (click “Tickets”).
Notes: Safety Aaryn Jones (6.3 solo tackles a game) is ranked 20th in the land. … Idaho State has lost 40 consecutive road games. Kramer had an interesting thought about playing schools their own size in nonleague competition: “I see no sense in playing another FCS nonconference game. It makes no sense at all. Play somebody (in Division II) you can whomp up on — and get a home game out of it — or somebody (think Washington) that’s going to pay you.” So did Kramer take away anything from his team’s shellacking in Seattle? “We’re not at that pace yet,” the veteran coach said. “We were (in such an) early hole, we had no competitive sense. As long as the check didn’t bounce, there’s not much we can glean from last week’s game.” ISU played Nebraska and Air Force last year and Washington State and BYU the year before. Judging by the Bengals’ cool uniforms, none of the checks have bounced.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8047.