Cal Football: UC Davis Writer Answers 5 Questions about the Aggies
Each week during the football season we go in-depth on Cal’s opponent by asking the opposing team’s beat writer to answer five questions.
Our guest today is Bob Dunning, who serves as the Aggies’ beat writer for the Davis Enterprise. Bob is no one-trick pony, having written a daily (non-sports) column for the Enterprise for the past 50 years.
He is a 1968 graduate of UC Davis (political science) and a ’73 graduate of the UC Davis School of Law. He was a Division II All-America tennis player for the Aggies.
But Bob also has Cal ties — he informs us that his oldest son, Ted, is a Cal grad and “a firm Bear Backer.”
Here are Bob’s insights into the Aggies:
1. What makes Jake Maier such a good quarterback and how well do you expect his talents to translate against Cal defense that is rated among the best in the Pac-12 Conference?
For a long time at Division II, Davis was known as Quarterback U. Ken O'Brien being the most famous of those. First-round pick of NY Jets. I truly believe that Jake Maier, despite being "undersized" a bit (he’s listed at 6-foot), is of that caliber. One of the best I've seen in 50 years of covering these guys.
Maier is a real Boy Scout in the best sense of that word. Incredibly hardworking, super smart, absolutely no quit, a team guy all the way, believes that hard word and preparation are the keys to success.
Very quick release, which obviously will be key against Cal's defense. Not having Keelan Doss will hurt, but a veteran offensive line should help.
Maier, if given the chance and a decent offensive line, could start in the Pac-12. Without him, UCD is good, but not great. With him, they appear to be a serious contender for the FCS national championship, which is really saying something given that going into last season, they had had seven straight losing seasons.
2. It’s clear that the Davis offense is far more than merely a good quarterback. The entire offensive line returns from a year ago and Ulonzo Gilliam Jr. was a 1,000-yard back a year ago. How good do the Aggies believe they can be offensively a year after scoring just 10 points against Stanford?
Aggies absolutely could not move the ball on the ground against Stanford. (50 net yards rushing). Actually, it was 30-3, but UCD scored on a Hail Mary on the final play of the game to reach double digits. Game was never close. Stanford played it close to the vest, but was simply way too physical for UCD. I suspect it will be difficult for for either Gilliam or Tehran Thomas to get much traction against Cal unless Maier finds them out of the backfield with the short stuff and they get some space to run.
3. Davis has a schedule filled with high-level FCS games, but what is your sense of how much facing Cal — an FBS program from the UC system — means to the Aggies and their fan base?
Two games are circled on this schedule as far as the fans are concerned - Cal and North Dakota State. UCD folks always believe in miracles because of that 20-17 win over Stanford in 2005, and anytime the Aggies play a Pac-12 school, it's a big deal. Some fans think UCD should stay at this level, others are lobbying to move up, perhaps to the Mountain West. Money and stadium size would be big issues. The hope among the faithful is that Cal's offense continues to sputter like it did in the Cheez-It Bowl dud and that Maier can work his magic.
4. Who are the top players on the Davis defense and will that unit make the same level of improvement it did a year ago?
Nas Anesi, linebacker, is a real force, but more than anything, an inspirational leader. Defense improved as the year went along and yet gave up 59 points to Eastern Washington in mid-November. (Cut that to 34 against Eastern Washington in a playoff loss four weeks later.) Seniors Jordan Franklin and Roland Ocansey are solid along the defensive front that is looking for substantial and consistent improvement over 2018.
5. I read where coach Dan Hawkins promised new wrinkles and surprises this season. What do you think he means by that and should we expect any of that for the opener against Cal?
Hawkins always has a trick or two up his sleeve and he knows he'll need some magic on offense to overcome a truly stellar Cal defense. In a game like this, he's likely to be a riverboat gambler. Let it all hang out. Nothing to lose. This will not be a conservative, close-to-the-vest game plan. In the quarterfinal playoff game against Eastern Washington last year the Aggies scored with 1:13 left in the game to trail 28-27. Instead of forcing overtime, Hawkins ran a statue of liberty and UCD scored untouched. Eastern responded with a TD of its own to win, 34-29, but that gives you a sense of Dan's mentality.