A bright spot for UC Davis has been the play of its defense, especially its veteran backfield.
The Aggies lead the Big Sky Conference in opponents' third-down conversions (32 of 102, 31.4 percent) and are second in passing defense (188.0 yards).
But the starting backfield of seniors Jonathan Perkins, Dre Allen and Aarynn Jones and junior Charles Boyett could be tested today at Northern Colorado (1-6, 0-3), a team even more desperate for a win than the Aggies (2-5, 2-1). The Bears have lost six in a row, including a 40-26 decision at Idaho State last Saturday.
While Northern Colorado has struggled on defense and running the football, it has one of the conference's strongest passing games, led by 6-foot-5, 230-pound senior quarterback Seth Lobato. The Bears rank 14th in the nation (304.7 yards per game) among Football Championship Subdivision teams.
Lobato, who began his collegiate career at Colorado, has passed for 1,504 yards and nine touchdowns despite missing 2 1/2 games with a shoulder injury.
He has three dangerous receivers in Dimitri Stimphil (41 catches, 665 yards, four touchdowns), Jace Davis (39, 612, five touchdowns) and Will Jefferson Jr. (22, 314, two touchdowns).
"Our secondary has been pretty good, but we've got our hands full," UC Davis coach Ron Gould said. "(Their receivers) are fast, athletic, and they can stretch the field. We have to make sure we do a nice job of tackling because those guys have a chance to take it all the way to the house."
Northern Colorado coach Earnest Collins Jr. said his team needs to get its running game untracked (the Bears rank 117th nationally in averaging 72.1 yards) to prevent the Aggies from teeing off on his quarterback. Lobato and backup Tim Tancik have been sacked 19 times.
"I think they run extremely well to the football," Collins said. "They've got a couple of boys up front that allow them to keep their linebackers free. They flow really well. They put those DBs out there, whether zone or man, and they've done a pretty decent job of it."
Boyett and Jones lead the team in tackles with 46 and 45, respectively, and have combined for three interceptions for 54 yards.
Senior end Nick King leads the line with 42 tackles 5 1/2 for losses and five sacks, and junior Steven Pitts (41 tackles, 5 1/2 for losses, three sacks) anchors a linebacking corps that includes Ryan Dimino (Del Campo High School), Artice Nelson and Jonathan Bias (Pleasant Grove).
The Aggies, under first-year defensive coordinator Bert Watts, played well in wins over Idaho State and Southern Utah, and not badly in last Saturday's 42-7 homecoming loss to Montana.
Two interceptions and poor field position kept the Aggies on defense for long stretches against a big and physical Montana offensive line that was ably directed by heady quarterback Jordan Johnson.
"We are a good defense, but we need to be a great defense," King said after the loss. "That is our next steppingstone that we want to get to."
Notes Northern Colorado's tackles leader is junior linebacker Max Flores, who played at Yuba City High School and Yuba College.
Flores, 6 feet and 219 pounds, has 64 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks and an interception. He had a season-high 15 tackles in Northern Colorado's season-opening 31-10 win over Langston.
Flores garnered all-state honors at Yuba College last season, recording 15 sacks and returning two interceptions for touchdowns.
Bill Herenda, the longtime UC Davis radio sideline reporter for football and analyst for basketball, is stepping down.
Herenda, who also works as a television basketball analyst, this week joined KFBK (1530 AM) as the station's morning news sports anchor.
Herenda will finish the season as the team's sideline football reporter, teaming with analyst Doug Kelly and play-by-play announcer Scott Marsh for KHTK (1140 AM). Marsh also is the Aggies' basketball play-by-play announcer.
UC DAVIS (2-5, 2-1) AT NORTHERN COLORADO (1-6, 0-3)
Where: Nottingham Field (8,500), Greeley, Colo.
When: 12:35 p.m.
Bears at a glance: The Bears are Jekyll and Hyde on offense. They have a lousy running game (117th in the Football Championship Subdivision at 72.1 yards per game) but a potent passing attack led by senior quarterback Seth Lobato and senior wide receiver Jace Davis. Lobato has had nine 300-yard-plus games, including the previous two. In last week's 40-26 loss at Idaho State, Davis had six catches for 188 yards. His career total of 2,409 yards is a school best in the Division I era. Northern Colorado linebackers Clarence Bumpas (9.8) and Max Flores (9.1) rank No. 3 and No. 6, respectively, in tackles per game in the Big Sky Conference.
Aggies at a glance: Although UC Davis coach Ron Gould said the Aggies took a step backward last week in falling 42-7 to visiting Montana, a win today would keep UC Davis high in the Big Sky standings. UC Davis needs better performances from quarterback Randy Wright (two interceptions), the offensive line (four sacks allowed) and the punting game (30.6 net yards) as Montana held the Aggies to 237 total yards. Wide receiver T.J. King, fullback Dalton Turay and running back Gabe Manzanares continue to be offensive bright spots. Manzanares is fourth in rushing in the Big Sky with 606 yards. Sophomore Artice Nelson is coming on at linebacker. He had a game-high seven tackles, along with veterans Charles Boyett, Nick King and Aarynn Jones against the Grizzlies.
Series: UC Davis leads 4-1, including 2-0 in Greeley. In the last meeting in 2008, the host Aggies stunned the Bears 34-30 on quarterback Greg Denham's 38-yard touchdown pass to Bakari Grant on the last play of the game.
TODAY'S OTHER GAMES
Sacramento State: at North Dakota, 12:30 p.m., 1380
Stanford: vs. UCLA, 12:30 p.m., Ch. 10, 1050
Cal: vs. Oregon State, 7:30 p.m., ESPN2, 850
Call The Bee's Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.