The UC Davis football team entered the 2009-10 season with a new defense and optimism about the team’s possibilities going forward.
The team is still optimistic, but the Aggies‘ challenging schedule isn’t making it easy for them.
The Aggies opened the season on the road against the Fresno State Bulldogs, losing 51-0, then came home to face the No.4 ranked Montana Grizzlies, falling in a close contest,17-10.
Despite the loss to Montana, coach Bob Biggs believed that the change from the first game to the second game was encouraging.
“I think the real measure of a team is the progress you make from the first game to the second game,” Biggs said. “Our kids really showed tremendous improvement from the first game.“
Going into the opener against Fresno State, Biggs cautioned his team to watch out for the speed and athleticism of the Bulldogs or the game could get out of hand.
Despite the team’s preparation, Fresno State raced out to a 35-0 halftime lead, aided by three touchdowns of 60 yards or more. The Bulldogs ran the ball all night against the Aggies, rushing 52 times for 310 yards.
The Aggies did not appear to let the Fresno State game affect them as they hosted Montana the following week.
On the strength of its defense, UC Davis held a 10-0 lead midway through the third quarter.
Defensive Coordinator Mark Johnson, hired away from Utah State in the offseason, has instituted an aggressive 4-3 zone blitz scheme that stymied Montana for much of the game.
The Grizzlies finally got things going though late in the third quarter, scoring on a 17-yard touchdown pass, their first of 17 unanswered points.
Behind 17-10 with 2:33 left to go, the Aggies got the ball back at their own 33-yard line. Junior quarterback Greg Denham, who tied the school completion record with 43 and set the attempts record with 67 in the game, led UC Davis down the field. The drive stalled at the Montana 12-yard line and on 4th-and-7 with 57 seconds left Denham threw an interception in the endzone and the Grizzlies escaped with a win.
Senior wide receiver Chris Carter set a UC Davis record with 18 receptions for a career-high 190 yards in the loss.
After the game, Biggs said he was proud of the team regardless of the outcome.
“The kids played their hearts out,” Biggs said. “We’ll build on this. We have nine more games, and two games don’t make a season.“
The Aggies schedule does not get any easier and includes a game on the road against Boise State.
Boise State is currently ranked as the 8th best team in the nation in both the AP and Coaches polls.
Playing tough games against teams like Fresno State, Montana and Boise State is all part of the plan, Biggs said Monday during a teleconference.
“Any program that wants to be an elite program at the [Football Championship Subdivision] level has to play those games,” Biggs said. “I don’t see not playing at least two FCS schools [per season] in the future.“
There are several reasons for this, Biggs explained.
“The simple answer is it’s an economic decision,” Biggs said. “We as a football program are one of the only programs that has the opportunity to go play these games and come away with a big paycheck and balance the books. It also helps recruiting when players see that you play top Division I schools.“
The difficult part is sometimes you play these teams early in the season and you can get off to some losing starts,” he said.
Biggs said that there was no doubt that the Aggies‘ current season schedule was one of the more challenging schedules the team has had during his 17 years as head coach.
UC Davis had a bye week last weekend, allowing the team to recuperate between games. At team conditioning following the Montana game, Biggs said 13 players were unable to run. Several players, including receiver Bakari Grant (turf toe), defensive end Patrick Michelier and offensive lineman Robert Ayotte (hamstring) are expected to return.
While there were those that were unable to suit up, those who did spent the bye week focusing on fundamentals.
The Aggies (0-2) host the Western Oregon Wolves (2-1) on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Aggie Stadium. The Aggies are 8-0 all time against Western Oregon, including a 54-2 victory in the last times the two schools met in 2004.
Despite the past success against the Wolves, Biggs said the Aggies won’t be overlooking Western Oregon. “We’re 0-2, we don’t overlook anybody,” he said. The UC Davis defense will be put to the test against the Wolves offense, which is averaging 393.0 yards per game.
“Their quarterback [Josh Riddell] is very scrappy,” Biggs said. “He can throw on the run. He’s mobile and very accurate. They also have some guys that can catch the ball. They’re dangerous.“
RICHARD PROCTER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.