Opponent Outlook: UC-Davis

In the weeks leading up towards the start of fall camp, Devils Digest's Joe Healey will provide an off-season preview of ASU's 2011 opponents. The first article in this series examines the team the Sun Devils will face in their season opener: UC Davis.

UC-Davis Aggies

Game Date (Kickoff Time): Thursday, Sept. 1 (7:00 p.m. PST)

Head Coach: Bob Biggs (19th season, 136-71-1)

Conference: Great West (Football Championship Subdivision)

2010 Record: 6-5 (3-1 Great West/2nd)

Honors Candidates: OL Robert Ayoette, Sr.; S Byron Gruendl, Jr.; K Sean Kelley, Sr.; OL Ray Wilburn, Jr.; QB Randy Wright, So.

Key Departures: LB Dozie Amajoyi, WR Sean Creadick, TE Dean Rogers, DE Eric Sobotka, OL Mark Tos

Impact Newcomers: LB Reece Ludwig, Jr.; RB Tavior Mowry, Fr.; TE Atlas Smith, Fr.; OL Parker Smith, Fr.; WR Dane Turner, Fr.

2011 Schedule

9/1/11 at Arizona State

9/10/11 at Montana State

9/17/11 San Diego

9/24/11 at Hawaii

10/1/11 Bye

10/8/11 Humboldt State

10/15/11 UT-San Antonio

10/22/11 at South Dakota

10/29/11 at Southern Utah

11/5/11 Cal-Poly

11/12/11 North Dakota

11/19/11 at Sacramento State

2010 Results

at California (5-7 2010 record) (L, 52-3)

Portland State (2-9) (L, 41-33)

at San Diego (5-6) (W, 38-24)

at Weber State (6-5) (L, 20-9)

at San Jose State (1-12) (W, 14-13)

South Dakota (4-7) (W, 17-13)

South Alabama (10-0) (L, 24-21)

Southern Utah (6-5) (L, 55-24)

at North Dakota (3-8) (W, 35-16)

at Cal-Poly (7-4) (W, 22-21)

Sacramento State (6-5) (W, 17-16)

Team Analysis

Since joining the FCS ranks from Division II in 2004, the Aggies have pulled off a couple FBS shockers, headlined by an upset of Stanford in 2005—though in the defense of the Cardinal, that was a way different team than the one in Palo Alto today.

UC-Davis also took down a 1-12 San Jose State team last season; perhaps a bit of karma for the Spartans after bailing on their previously arranged matchup set for last season with the Sun Devils for a greater payday elsewhere, a late switch that ultimately was a strong contributor toward ASU being denied a postseason appearance.

However, as ASU fans have seen when the Sun Devils face in-state FCS foe Northern Arizona, there seems to be viable substance to the motivational factors summoned by the underdog surrounding the "big brother-little brother" matchups of FBS and FCS teams from nearby areas.

Of course, this proximity philosophy applies to the combination of the aforementioned FBS programs UC-Davis defeated and the Aggies much more than it does for this pairing in Tempe.

In layman's terms, the chip on the shoulder that the Lumberjacks have had in recent games at ASU—which has created some mild nail biters for Sun Devil fans—rarely surfaces when FCS teams from other states travel to Sun Devil Stadium, as evidenced by large-margin wins over Portland State and Idaho State the past two years.

Additionally, despite UC-Davis' winning record in 2010, half of their six victories came by a single point, while the Aggies fell at home by eight to Portland State, the team ASU waxed by 45 in the season opener.

For the Aggies, virtually all offensive responsibility will be placed on the arm of Wright, as UC-Davis ranked 112th of 117 FCS teams averaging only 79.8 rushing yards per game in 2010—and that was without the likes of Vontaze Burfict, Jamaar Jarrett, Junior Onyeali and Will Sutton ever standing across the line of scrimmage. Leading rushers Nick Aprile (389 yards, six TDs) and Josh Reese (317 yards, two TDs) return from 2010 but neither was much of a force last season as both averaged below four yards per carry.

UC-Davis' output through the air fared much more respectably last season than their ground efforts, standing 34th among FCS teams with an average of 223.4 yards per game as Wright completed 58.9-percent of his passes for 2,432 yards with 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions en route to Great West Conference Rookie of the Year honors.

To begin 2011, Wright will be forced to find new focal points for the aerial attack, as over half of UC-Davis' receiving production is gone from 2010 with the departures of Creadick, who ranked 17th in the FCS in receiving yards per game, as well as Rogers, an All-American in 2010 and a three-time First-Team All-Great West selection.

Junior Anthony Soto (29 rec., 344 yards, two TDs) is the team's leading returning receiver, but behind him no returning player surpassed 165 receiving yards on the year.

In all, by force or by choice, the Aggies will look to first-year contributors at multiple skill positions to help drive the offense.

Defensively, UC-Davis ranked 81st after yielding 372.2 yards of total offense per game while also allowing an average of 26.8 points each contest. Additionally, barring a surprise contributor the Aggies pose zero threat to the quarterback in pass rush as the team collectively only returns 8.5 of its measly 17 sacks from 2010.

Sobotka, the team leader in sacks (5.0) is gone, as are three of the team's top five tacklers from last year.

Senior linebacker Jordan Glass (66 tackles, 4.5 TFL) is the team's leading returning tackler, followed by safety Byron Gruendl (57 tackles, 7.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks), the Aggies' returning leader in sacks and tackles-for-loss.

UC-Davis' special teams expect to be solid as senior kicker Sean Kelley and junior punter Colton Schmidt both return after earning all-conference accolades in 2010.

Expectations

Anytime a major FBS program faces competition from the FCS level, the "no-win situation" mentality can exist as anything shy of a massive blowout often evokes widespread concern. These types of matchups, however, are somewhat of a necessary evil in that they essentially provide a glorified scrimmage to FBS teams with highly competitive non-conference schedules such as ASU's in 2011. Despite the substantial mismatch, of course, the Sun Devils certainly can't fully overlook the Aggies because somewhere in the FBS universe each year, it seems as though at least one team gets the dunce cap for wetting the bed against a lower division opponent. In ASU's season opener, nerves and excitement will be firing on all cylinders as the eagerly anticipated 2011 campaign kicks off—but the worst thing that could happen is for the Sun Devils to surf exclusively on the momentum of enthusiasm and not focus on playing sound football.

Perhaps the main question at hand will be whether the Devils play with full aggression or showcase a more conservative approach as not to tip their hand to Missouri, the next week's opponent.

ASU's two most recent matchups with FCS teams not from Flagstaff ended in similar fashion – a 54-9 victory against Portland State last season and a 50-3 win over Idaho State in the 2009 opener—which may serve as a litmus test for fans to prepare their expectations for this contest.

UC-Davis may present a slightly stiffer test than the Big Sky opponents ASU has faced the past two seasons, but the margin of victory surely should be similar in size to the past two season openers.

As with all FCS matchups, the main goals are properly executing the game plans, maintaining health and allowing the starters to get enough reps to get their feet wet but also rest for the next week's showdown.

There's no logical reason for the final tally to be remotely close, but regardless the margin of victory the more prominent issues of evaluation may be the team's synchronization and overall quality of play, which will be the first steps to help accurately materialize expectations for ASU's potential in 2011.

With UC-Davis' inept run game and reloaded stock of receivers, ASU should be able to terrorize the Aggie offense early and often and then capitalize on shortened fields, assuming that the Sun Devils maintain full intensity on both sides of the ball and avoid switching to a cruise control setting at an early point.

In general, the caliber of athletes and overall depth on ASU's roster should prove to be far too much for UC-Davis to remain competitive, even within the first half of play.


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