Despite having played well in its last two games, UC Davis found that it may not quite be ready to compete with the big boys in the Big Sky Conference.
The Aggies had opened Big Sky play with wins over Idaho State and Southern Utah, but theres a reason Montana has been a showcase program for so many years in the conference. Scoring both quickly and methodically, the No. 10 Grizzlies walloped the Aggies 42-7, spoiling homecoming night for most of the 7,368 fans at Aggie Stadium.
Montana took advantage of a couple of poor punts and two Randy Wright interceptions early, then used their monster offensive interior line that averages 305 pounds to put together four scoring drives of 83, 71, 77 and 61 yards.
We have to play better, said UC Davis coach Ron Gould. They are one of the preeminent FCS football schools in the country. You have opportunities to make plays against these guys, you need to capitalize on them. We threw an interception down there (in the end zone) when we were going to score; you play those opponents, you need to capitalize on those types of opportunities when you have them.
After starting the season 0-4, the Aggies (2-4, 2-1) won their first Big Sky games in impressive fashion against Idaho State (30-13) at home two weeks ago and Southern Utah (21-3) on the road last week. But Montana (5-1, 2-1) is a different level, even in spite of last years 5-6 season. The Grizzlies have won a conference-high 19 Big Sky titles through the years.
Montana gained 418 total yards. Jordan Johnson, who hasnt thrown an interception this season, was an efficient 12 for 20 for 163 yards and two touchdowns. Jordan Canada rushed for 129 yards and two touchdowns.
The Grizzlies big, fast and physical defense had Wright on the run from the start. In addition to his two interceptions, he was sacked four times in passing for 126 yards. Gabe Manzanares, who had rushed for 383 yards through the previous two games, was held to 60 yards on 15 carries.
Theres disappointment, said UC Davis senior defensive end Nick King. We put a lot hard work in, and this was a good measuring stick of what kind of team we want to be because obviously Montana is a good team, year in, year out.
I thought we played with them for the most part, but there were some big plays that ended up being touchdowns.
The Aggies downfall started quickly.
They went three and our on their first series, then Colby Wadman shanked a 13-yard punt that gave Montana the ball on the UC Davis 43. Though the Grizzlies failed to connect on a 44-yard field goal attempt, they didnt waste their next opportunity when linebacker Brock Coyle intercepted Wrights shuffle pass at the Aggies 32 and returned it two yards.
On Montanas first play, Johnson hit a streaking Ellis Henderson in the middle of the end zone for a touchdown.
The Grizzlies were back at it on the next series, thanks again to a short Wadman punt, this time of 22 yards. Montana went 45 yards in six plays, capped by Travon Vans 18-yard touchdown run for a 14-0 lead.
One of the things that really helped us last week was that all three phases worked really well, Gould said. Those first couple punts put us on our heels, and we did not recover from that. When you are backed up, as a play caller, your calls are a lot more conservative. That field position opened up their offense a little more.
UC Davis only promising first-half drive, aided by a spectacular 41-yard catch by T.J. King to the Montana 17, was thwarted when Bo Tully intercepted Wrights pass to Tom Hemmingsen in the end zone.
The Aggies, trailing 21-0 at the half, scored their only touchdown to open the third quarter. They went 70 yards in nine plays eight by the rush capped by Wrights nine-yard touchdown run.
But a chance to get back into the game was thwarted on Montanas next series when an apparent fumble recovery by Aaryn Jones at the Aggies 15-yard line was nullifed by a face mask penalty.
I was encouraged by the way we took the ball down the field to start the second half and scored on a long drive, Gould said. Thats something I challenged my offense to do, and they did it. It is unfortunate that our defense was on the field for as long as they were because they were worn down.
Montana had a time of possession advantage of almost seven and one-half minutes.
Being on the field is tough for that long, said King, one of four plays who finished with a game-high seven tackles. It was a stark contrast to last week where our offense remained on the field and gave us a break.
Thats our job. We need to rise to the occasion no matter how many snaps we take, whether it is 60 or 90. We need to get off the field and give our offense a chance to score.
Though he often was giving away 50 pounds or more to the Montana lineman across from him, the 245-pound King didnt think the Grizzlies were necessarily physically superior.
It doesnt matter if it was Nevada, Montana, or Southern Utah; they are some big boys but we are in the weight room, too, he said. That was not an issue. It all boils down to technique and willpower.
King, safeties Charles Boyett and Aarynn Jones and linebacker Artice Nelson each had seven tackles to pace the UC Davis defense.
Defensive tackle Anthony Kaspar and linebacker Steven Pitts each had sacks.
UC Davis will play next Saturday at Northern Colorado.