No one should take anything away from the UC Davis football team’s win in the Causeway Classic on Saturday.
The Aggies fought hard, ran the ball well and ultimately came away victorious in what most fans would consider their most important game of this season.
Yet as I watched the final seconds tick off the clock, my joy as a fan was tempered by an underlying question: Where has this type of effort been all season?
In their biggest triumph of 2011, the Aggies showed exactly why they have been such a frustrating squad this year. The team is capable of playing at a high level and competing with the best schools at the Football Championship Subdivision level, but at the same time, their levels of intensity fluctuated week to week throughout the season.
UC Davis clearly brought all the energy it needed against its two biggest rivals: Cal Poly and Sacramento State.
Prior to kickoff in those games, the Aggies showed a great deal of excitement on the sideline, drawing the crowd into the game.
UC Davis also ran the ball well in both contests, posting 149 yards against the Mustangs and an impressive 206 yards against the Hornets.
Not surprisingly, the Aggies won both games, giving their fans bragging rights in both the Battle for the Golden Horseshoe and the Causeway Classic.
Yet on far too many occasions this season, UC Davis failed to play at a competitive level.
The most glaring example obviously came in the embarrassing 23-17 loss to Humboldt State in Aggie Stadium.
While failing to defeat a Division II team on your home field speaks for itself, even more frustrating was that, while UC Davis rushed for over 100 yards, it did so on 32 carries, bringing its average to 2.4 yards per-carry. This type of rushing production is unacceptable, especially coming against an undersized defensive front.
Another failure to display maximum effort came in UC Davis’ match-up between the Cal Poly and Sacramento State games, against North Dakota.
In a lack-luster effort, UC Davis managed just seven points on under 230 yards of total offense.
The problems in the game were spotlighted on a single play.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Aggies were driving to tie the game with a touchdown.
The offense stagnated near midfield, leading to a key fourth and 10 play.
Breaking through the defense on fourth down is difficult enough, especially considering that backup quarterback Austin Heyworth had just entered the game, but the error came not from the play on the field but from the lack of communication off it.
Heyworth clearly did not receive the play call until the play clock was nearly expired, leading him to rush the team to the line of scrimmage and snap the ball before the offense was prepared for action.
Needless to say, the Aggies failed to convert and they ultimately lost the game.
Juxtapose that with the impressive offensive production seen on Saturday, and fans can’t help but ask: Where has this team been all year?
It raises questions about the leadership on the team, the players’ effort and the coaches’ ability to have their players ready to play.
It’s easy to get fired up for rivalry games, but this season has been characterized more by frustrating losses than thrilling victories.
The bottom line is that the final record of 4-7 does not fairly reflect the talent on the field, but it does reflect the way the team played this season.
And while we should all take out time to bask in the glory of the victory over Sacramento State, we should also keep in mind that this year’s rivalry games were only part of the story this season.
If this team plans to move forward it needs to change its mindset and it needs to do it fast.
TREVOR CRAMER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.