Preparation is key to successful UC Davis football season
It seems counter to football logic that UC Davis ranked second nationally among Football Championship Subdivision teams in time of possession last season and finished 2-9.
Only one FCS team held the ball longer than UCD’s average of 34.37 minutes per game in 2015. That was North Dakota State at 36.38 minutes. The Bison finished 13-2 and won their fifth consecutive FCS national title.
Of course North Dakota State had one of the best defenses in the country; the Aggies had one of the worst.
But as UCD coach Ron Gould points out, the Aggies not only need to improve defensively but must perform more efficiently on offense if they hope to be a factor in the Big Sky Conference. UCD opens Saturday with a nonconference game at No. 24 Oregon.
Last year, the Aggies lacked explosiveness and were inconsistent running the ball while averaging just 22.3 points, 11th in the 13-team Big Sky.
We want teams to look at us as an easy week, so we can come out and pop them in the mouth and show them what Aggie football is about.
UC Davis offensive tackle Christian Schneider
“We weren’t trying to hold the football; we were trying to score points,” Gould said. “But we needed more chunk-yardage plays of 15 to 40 yards because now you change field position. We also needed to score more touchdowns when we got inside the red zone.”
The Aggies tied for fifth nationally in red zone offense, scoring on 29 of 32 trips inside the 20. But nine of those scores resulted in field goals. UCD ranked 100th nationally among the 123 FCS schools in averaging 121.8 rushing yards per game.
“A lot of it was a lack of continuity,” Gould said. “When you are running the football efficiently, it takes all 11 guys doing their job.”
Senior offensive tackle Christian Schneider and senior running back Manusamoa Luuga, both captains, insist the Aggies will be better this season. Because of experience throughout an offense that returns 10 starters, the Aggies expect to be more in sync and more physical.
“We definitely are going to be more smashmouth,” said Schneider, a four-year starter. “Our freshman year (in 2013), when we had Gabe Manzanares running behind us, we were among the Aggies’ all-time best rushing teams (with 1,828 yards, eighth best dating to 1960). That’s something we are going to try to do this year, so our goal is to be the most physical team on the field at all times.”
The Aggies finished the 2013 season, Gould’s first, with a 5-7 record. Now UCD is trying to rebound from back-to-back two-win seasons.
Schneider and Luuga will lead the way after getting bigger, faster and stronger during the offseason while working under innovative strength coach John Krasinski.
The 6-foot-6 Schneider has gone from 275 pounds last season to an imposing 310 while building strength and explosiveness. He also shifted from right to left tackle to protect the blind side of quarterbacks Ben Scott and C.J. Spencer.
Under new offensive-line coach Tim Keane, Schneider is joined up front by right tackle Kyle Sulka (6-4, 275 pounds, junior), left guard Alex Hanes (6-7, 305, senior), right guard Julian Bertero (6-7, 305, junior) and center Kevin Gavigan (6-1, 285, senior). Also in the mix is Ramsey Hufford (6-3, 296, sophomore), who played in all 11 games last season at guard.
Gould likes how Schneider has taken the leadership role on the line from Parker Smith, the only offensive-line starter lost from last season’s team.
“He’s the first guy you want off the bus,” Gould said. “At 310 pounds, we love to run behind him, and he’s taken pride in making sure the offensive line is more physical. He’s set that mindset.”
The 5-9, 215-pound Luuga leads an experienced group of running backs. Junior Justin Williams and sophomores Joshua Kelley and Mitchell Layton have started during their UCD careers.
Luuga said game experience is a huge plus with the running backs better able to lock in with the offensive line.
“It’s not about knowing what our assignment is as a running back. It’s about knowing our O-linemen’s assignments, too,” Luuga said. “It’s just doing the next-level things in terms of mental preparation as well as the physical stuff in the weight room.”
Luuga led the Aggies in rushing yards (613), rushing touchdowns (six) and receptions (51) last season and is 28 yards short of 1,000 rushing yards for his career.
34.2Points allowed per game last season by UC Davis, which finished 2-9
Big Sky coaches and media pundits don’t anticipate much improvement from the Aggies, despite 47 returning lettermen. UCD was picked to finish 13th by the coaches and 12th by the media in preseason polls.
Schneider looks forward to trying to prove them wrong.
“I go against the defense every day, and the talent we have on both sides of the ball is plenty enough to compete with anybody and beat anybody in our league if we believe,” Schneider said. “It’s good that people don’t see us as a threat. I love to be the underdog, love to be overlooked.
“We want teams to look at us as an easy week, so we can come out and pop them in the mouth and show them what Aggie football is about.”
College football previews
- Sunday: The national scene
- Monday: Cal
- Tuesday: Stanford
- Wednesday: Sacramento State
- Today: UC Davis
Three UC Davis players to watch
JARED HARRELL, WIDE RECEIVER, FRESHMAN
The St. John Bosco-Bellflower graduate has been so impressive he will start Saturday against Oregon. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Harrell was an All-Trinity League first-team selection and made the Long Beach Press-Telegram Dream Team his senior year. He caught 48 passes for 912 yards and 11 touchdowns in helping nationally ranked St. John Bosco to a 13-1 season.
RUSSELL REEDER, LINEBACKER, SENIOR
The 6-3, 225-pound Reeder, a captain, will anchor the middle of the Aggies’ defense, which looks much improved over last season, when UCD allowed 448.8 yards and 34.2 points per game. Reeder was third in tackles last season with 45, despite missing the last two games because of injury.
DARRYL GRAHAM, SAFETY, JUNIOR
Graham developed into one of the team’s most durable players on an injury-plagued defense. He played in all 11 games and led the Aggies with 76 tackles, including a season-high 14 against Cal Poly. He also had 48 solo tackles, 18 more than any teammate.
UC Davis football schedule
vs. Southern Oregon
vs. Weber State
at Eastern Washington
at Southern Utah
vs. Northern Colorado
at Cal Poly
vs. Portland State
at Montana State
vs. Sac State