Back and forth with The California Aggie

Aug. 28, 2014, 3:38 a.m.

In advance of Stanford football’s game against UC-Davis on Saturday, The Daily’s Michael Peterson chatted with Ryan Reed, a sports writer at The California Aggie, to preview the contest.

Michael Peterson (MP): UC-Davis travels to Stanford Stadium on Saturday as a huge underdog. The Aggies, who play in the FCS, are only 2-9 against FBS opponents in the last 10 years and haven’t posted a winning season since 2010. Yet, the last time these two teams met in 2005, UC-Davis pulled off the 20-17 upset of the Card. Despite recent struggles, how much confidence can UC-Davis draw from its past success at Stanford Stadium?

Ryan Reed (RR): There has been some quiet confidence from most of the Aggie fans that I have spoken to about the game and much of that is drawn from the fact that we beat Stanford the last time that we met. We are also entering Ron Gould’s second year as the UC-Davis head coach and are returning a strong running game, thanks to senior Gabe Manzanares, and a potentially powerful defense.

Sophomore Michael Rector (above) and the deep Cardinal receiving corps will look to start the season off with a bang against UC Davis. (TRI NGUYEN/The Stanford Daily)
Sophomore Michael Rector (above) and the deep Cardinal receiving corps will look to start the season off with a bang against UC-Davis. (TRI NGUYEN/The Stanford Daily)

On the other hand, Stanford went 5-6 during the year that we beat them and finished sixth in its conference. Now, given that Stanford is ranked in the top 15 nationally, confidence for a repeat upset isn’t very high.

MP: Ron Gould really seemed to settle into the role last season, going 5-3 in the season’s final eight games. What are the expectations for him and the team this season, and could this be the year that the Aggies post their first winning season since 2010?

RR: Expectations are certainly higher for Ron Gould and his team this season. The Aggies went 0-4 in their first four games and averaged 8.5 points per game over that time. The team, and the offense especially, began to hit its stride when it played Idaho State in the fifth game of the season and averaged over 24 points per game after that. Much of this was due to the breakout of Manzanares, who hit double-digit rushing yards in seven out of the last eight games after averaging 54 yards per game in his first three contests.

One of the biggest problems that the Aggies faced last season was closing out games. UC-Davis entered halftime tied against both Cal Poly and Northern Arizona University only to lose to the two by a combined 29 points. If they had been able to pull out both of those games, they would have finished 7-5 instead of 5-7. Even against UNR, their Division I opponent last season, the Aggies played a relatively even first half and ended up down 13 due to a missed field goal. The second half was a completely different story, as UC-Davis gained a total of 42 yards. With Gould and the team more settled into his system, they will hopefully be able to play a more even and consistent 60 minutes.

MP: The Cardinal have become known for their ability to stop the run, especially evidenced in last year’s 26-20 win over Oregon when the Ducks managed only 62 rushing yards. If Manzanares is unable to get going against the Card’s front seven, do the Aggies have enough in the passing game to put together a few scoring drives?

RR: Whether our passing game will be able to sustain scoring drives is by far the biggest question for the Aggies coming into the season. We know, and have seen, what Manzanares can do to help the offense, but the UC-Davis quarterback situation is far more questionable. Randy Wright more or less held the quarterback position for the last four years and did a solid, if unspectacular, job. Now, the Aggies will be starting one of three quarterbacks who are battling for the starting job, none of whom have any previous collegiate experience. Likewise, our receiving corps is not very dangerous despite returning three of the four catch leaders from a season ago. Senior Corey Galindo, who was second in receptions last year, had only 28 and was followed by Manzanares, who had 27 for 385 yards. Given that the Aggies did not score more than 10 points in a game in which Manzanares was held to under 100 yards rushing, I have a hard time seeing their offense as much of a threat with him neutralized.

MP: Sometimes teams will schedule easier games at the start of the season in order to build up to late season battles. But for UC-Davis, this is easily its toughest game of the season. Do you think playing Stanford in the first week will benefit or harm the Aggies?

RR: I’m conflicted on whether playing your hardest opponent first is a good idea. Most FCS teams, given that they are usually the weaker opponent, play their hardest games at the beginning of the season. I see the merit in doing so, largely because it forces the team to be ready to play its best at the beginning of the season. Likewise, an unlikely win would give them a lot of momentum going into the season. On the other hand, gaining just 42 yards in the second half against UNR last year certainly put a damper on any hope of a great season and likely deflated the team’s confidence. Having an early, challenging game did not seem to make them any more prepared as they lost the next two contests by an average of 21 points. I’d like to hope that playing against superior competition will push them to be greater than they would have been otherwise, but last year’s results are in direct contrast with that ideal.

MP: It might be highly unlikely, but with 2005 in mind, we know it’s possible. What needs to happen for the long-shot Aggies to pull off another improbable upset?

RR: In most cases, the underdog seems to win one of two ways. Firstly, they can force their opponent into a shootout and score the last touchdown. Given the Aggies’ offensive skills, I’d bank on that not happening. The other option is keeping the score low, holding onto the ball for a long time, and forcing turnovers. With Stanford’s strong offensive line, quarterback play and spectacular receiver Ty Montgomery, it seems like a long shot. Still, the only true opportunity for the Aggies to steal a victory is to intercept a few passes and let Manzanares pound the ball on the ground. If they can keep the score low, but still put some points on the board, they may have a slim chance.

Contact Michael Peterson at mrpeters ‘at’

Michael Peterson is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily. He has served as a beat reporter for football, baseball and men’s soccer and also does play-by-play broadcasting of football and baseball for KZSU. Michael is a senior from Rancho Santa Margarita, California majoring in computer science. To contact him, please email him at mrpeters ‘at’

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