The UC Davis football team is only three weeks into their 2011 campaign, but they have already experienced a season’s worth of ups and downs.
In the season opener the Aggies were beat on the road by a stronger and more athletic Arizona State team. A week later a rough first half at Montana State put the team in too deep of a hole and they dropped their second straight.
This past weekend was a different story, though. The Aggies came out strong in their home opener and torched San Diego in front of more than 10,000 fans at Aggie Stadium.
Now, UC Davis turns their attention to Hawaii and their third away contest in this young season. Hawaii is the second Football Bowl Subdivision team the Aggies will face this year, and they will need a strong performance to earn their second win of the season.
Offensively, the Aggies will continue to ask a lot of their experienced offensive line, particularly with pass blocking. While a revamped running game was the story at the beginning of the season, it has been the passing attack that has really allowed the team to move the ball downfield.
In his second year as a starter, sophomore quarterback Randy Wright has become a more accurate passer, making life easier for his core of young receivers.
Wright was able to put his development into simple terms.
“Better decision making, more accurate throws, move the chains, and we’ll have a better year,” he said.
Wright sustained a concussion in week two against Montana State, and was unable to start against San Diego. However, he entered the contest late in the second quarter and picked apart the San Diego secondary. By the end of the game, Wright had passed for 278 yards and three touchdowns, leading the Aggies to their 31-3 victory.
Two of the touchdown passes went to Tom Hemmingsen, a sophomore wide receiver who has become a key part of the Aggies’ offensive attack this season. Hemmingsen leads the team with three touchdown receptions on the year and is also the punt returner for the team, averaging 7.3 yards per return thus far.
Junior Anthony Soto currently leads the team in receiving yards with 165, while redshirt freshman Corey Galindo is right behind with 161.
Head coach Bob Biggs has been impressed with the young Galindo.
“He’s a big presence,” Biggs said. “He’s tough, he uses his body well, he has great hands and he’s a great competitor.”
In addition to the dangerous aerial attack, the Aggies’ offense features a balanced run game. To this point the team has not been consistently moving the ball on the ground, but Biggs believes that the pieces are certainly in place.
On one side, the Aggies get tough nose running from senior co-captain Josh Reese and junior Nick Aprile. Joining the two upperclassmen is a trio of redshirt freshman with game changing speed.
“Any time they can break a play for big yardage,” said Biggs of the running backs. “We’re seeing signs that we’re going to be able to run the football better.”
Redshirt freshman Colton Silveria is leading the team with 98 rushing yards through three games.
Defensively, it has been a mixed bag for the Aggies. On one hand, the team continues to give up too many yards against the run. Through three games, UC Davis opponents have rushed for 650 yards and six touchdowns.
In contrast to the run defense, the Aggies have been outstanding against passing attacks. The team came up with four interceptions against San Diego and is ranked first nationally in interceptions in the Football Championship Subdivision with six on the season.
The powerful back seven is as strong as Biggs has seen in his nearly 20 years at UC Davis.
“We’ve got much more team speed on defense,” Biggs said. “When you’ve got that type of speed you can run to the football and you have a chance to be pretty good.”
The leader of the group is senior co-captain Jordan Glass. Glass had five tackles and an interception against San Diego, and is second on the team with 11 solo tackles on the season. Leading the team in tackles is senior strong safety Patrick Shelton with 13.
The Aggies will need an outstanding effort from their defense on Saturday against Hawaii. The Warriors’ deadly passing attack averages 265 yards per game and is led by quarterback Bryant Moniz, a long-shot Heisman candidate.
Hawaii is also strong defensively, ranked 18th in the FBS in tackles for loss with 7.67 per game. Their defensive line has averaged 4.0 sacks per game so far, ranking eighth in the FBS.
The Warriors are vulnerable to a passing attack, though, and have given up 40 points in each of their last two games.
Wright is hoping that the team can carry its positive momentum all the way to Honolulu.
“It’s big for our confidence; this was a gut check,” he said of the win over San Diego. “Hopefully we can carry this momentum into Hawaii and past that, because we need to go on a big run here if we want to make the playoffs.”
After the game against Hawaii the Aggies will return home to play Humboldt State at Aggie Stadium on Oct. 8.
CAELUM SHOVE can be reached at email@example.com and on twitter @CaAggieFootball.