UC Davis football notes: Aggies off to best Big Sky start since 2008

10/09/2013 12:00 AM

10/09/2013 4:21 PM

UC Davis, which scored only 34 points in losing its first four games, now finds itself 2-0 and atop the Big Sky Conference standings with Causeway Classic rival Sacramento State and perennial power Montana State.

The Aggies produced a surprisingly one-sided 21-3 win at Southern Utah last Saturday, beating a Thunderbirds team that entered the game 4-1 and off to their best start since 1997.

The Aggies' win snapped a four-game road losing streak dating back to last season and a three-game losing streak to Southern Utah.

It also marked the Aggies' first two-game winning streak since 2010 and first 2-0 start in conference play since 2008, when they were members of the Great West Conference.

The Aggies held the T-Birds, normally reliant on their ball-control offense, to 45 rushing yards while also sacking quarterback Aaron Cantu four times and blocking a field-goal attempt.

Offensively, the Aggies ran almost twice as many rushing plays as passes (44 to 25) in controlling the ball for almost seven minutes more than the Thunderbirds.

Junior running back Gabe Manzanares followed up his 208-yard rushing performance against Idaho State with 175 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries, and quarterback Randy Wright was an efficient 16 of 25 for 193 yards, including a 19-yard third-quarter touchdown pass to T.J. King.

Most impressive is that the Thunderbirds appeared to grow more tired in Cedar City's high altitude (nearly 6,000 feet) than the Aggies, perhaps a payoff to new coach Ron Gould's emphasis on conditioning since taking over last spring.

After yielding 87 yards and 17 plays on the T-Birds' first two drives, the Aggies defense gave up just 34 yards on 23 plays over the next six drives.

"We didn't say one thing about the altitude," Gould said. "The guys are in really good shape. That's one of the things we talk about all the time, how we practice. We don't want to show up trying to get into shape, we want to be in shape. The young men have done a great job of buying into that in the way we practice every day."

Southern Utah's three points were the fewest by an opponent since the 2012 opener against Division II Azusa Pacific (41-3).

Montana is next – UC Davis will play its homecoming game Saturday against Montana (4-1, 1-1), the Big Sky's most successful program with 18 conference championships, but one that's been trying to dig out of trouble lately.

In July, the Grizzlies were put on probation for three years, vacated five wins from the 2011 season and reduced their scholarships from 63 to 59 for the next three years for violating NCAA rules.

The NCAA found that former head coach Robin Pflugrad (now an assistant at Weber State) failed to monitor the football program, allowing boosters to provide extra benefits, including bail money and legal representation to players.

Montana, which went 11-3 and lost to Sam Houston State in the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals in 2011, vacated its 2011 Big Sky title as well as mention of its participation in the FCS playoffs.

The vacated games include a 36-10 win over rival Montana State and FCS playoff wins over Central Arkansas and Northern Iowa.

Pflugrad and Jim O'Day, then Montana's athletic director, were fired in 2012.

The 18-month NCAA investigation was separate of inquiries by the federal government and an independent investigator into how the school handled reports of sexual assaults and harassment, some that involved football players.

Montana quarterback Jordan Johnson was found not guilty of rape during a trial earlier this year.

Montana finished 5-6 last season under new coach Mick Delaney.

SATURDAY'S AREA GAMES

Sacramento State: vs. Northern Arizona, 6:05 p.m., 1380

UC Davis: vs. Montana, 4 p.m., 1140

Stanford: at Utah, 3 p.m., PAC12, 1050

Cal: at UCLA, 7:30 p.m., ESPN2, 810, 950

Call The Bee's Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.

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