Weber State football aims to contain dynamic UC Davis run game
You’re not alone if it feels like déjà vu this weekend at Stewart Stadium.
Just six months ago, the ranked Weber State Wildcats hosted the ranked UC Davis Aggies in Ogden for a Big Sky Conference football game.
With FCS football back in the fall, the two teams repeat the matchup and the location to open conference play for the 2021 season, this one kicking off at 6 p.m. Saturday. Weber State will be faced with the same task as six months ago, and try to repeat the same feat: stop UC Davis’ dynamic run game.
In March, WSU held the Aggies to 185 rushing yards on 53 attempts, or 3.5 yards per carry, in an 18-13 win.
Stirring the drink: junior quarterback Hunter Rodrigues, with junior running back Ulonzo Gilliam Jr. taking the bulk of the handoffs. But UC Davis (3-0) isn’t afraid to line up a back in shotgun for a power-run game, either.
“They do a phenomenal job of putting your linebackers in conflict. You’ve got a lot of plays where the action is going one way and the read is going the other,” WSU head coach Jay Hill said about the Davis offense. “They have a lot of misdirection stuff with their fly sweep that puts you in conflict. And then they have a lot of guys who can step back in that quarterback position and run the ball. What they do in the run game is very hard.”
On run plays (removing sacks), Rodrigues runs for about 33 yards per game while throwing the ball for 253 yards per outing on a 67% completion rate. He has six touchdowns to one interception through the air and the Aggies’ offense is taking off through the air as well.
“The quarterback plays at a very high level not only in the run game, but also in the throw game,” Hill said. “So we’ve got our work cut out for us on that side of the ball. I really like what they do.”
Gilliam Jr. is averaging 99 rushing yards per game and he, Rodrigues and Lan Larison are all at 5 yards per carry. Receiver CJ Hutton has 40 rushing yards on just five carries this season. Hutton and Jarred Harrell (15 catches, 270 yards) are the primary receiving targets.
Weber State (1-2) hopes the talents of “shifty” junior college transfer quarterback Chayce Akaka will go a considerable way in helping the WSU defense prepare for Rodrigues and company.
“We’re not trying to do anything out of the ordinary, we’re just trying to play our football,” linebacker Sherwin Lavaka said. “But having a scout team quarterback like Chayce Akaka, he’s running all over the place in practice and it makes it easier when the game comes.”
Harrison Epstein, Standard-Examiner Weber State cornerback Eddie Heckard (5) tackles UC Davis quarterback Hunter Rodrigues during the third quarter at Stewart Stadium on Saturday, March 13, 2021.
So far this season, UC Davis held FBS Tulsa to 17 points (a 19-17 win) and San Diego to 7 (in a 53-7 win) before playing the only common opponent between WSU and Davis in Dixie State. Davis defeated Dixie 60-27 at home, Weber topped Dixie 41-3 on the road.
Both sides speak highly of each other, and coach Dan Hawkins is trying to win his first game against Hill in five tries.
“They’re smart, they’re disciplined. We like to compare them to our defense here at Weber,” WSU receiver Ty MacPherson said. “They play similar coverages, a lot of them are strong, just good, disciplined dudes. So we’re excited for the challenge this week.”
Hawkins says the diagnosis for Weber State is the same as it always has been.
“They’re going to run the football, they’re going to take care of the football, they’re going to pound the football on you, they’re going to get into more run-oriented sets, but then they’re going to take shots in play-action,” he said. “They’re going to give you a lot of problems on special teams and play hard.
“And defensively the same way, they’re going to be gap sound, they’re going to get up on you and cause you problems. No weaknesses. I’m not just saying that. If we want to beat Weber, we’ve got to play good football and that’s just the facts. Because they’re going to play good football.”
Hawkins also said WSU senior Rashid Shaheed might be second only to Eastern Washington QB Eric Barriere when it comes to the most dynamic, game-changing talents in the Big Sky.
ODDS & PREDICTIONS
Jeff Sagarin, longtime college football computer ratings guru, ranks all of FBS and FCS together. His system ranks Weber State 112th nationally and UC Davis 114th.
Using his prediction formula and accounting for home-field advantage, Weber State is favored by 4.6 points.
Where last week’s game was windy with thunderstorms flirting in the afternoon, WSU and UC Davis will have clear skies ahead of kickoff. The high is 84 degrees with winds up to 10 mph from the southwest.
The temperature is forecast to be 80 degrees at kickoff, and will be around 72 degrees as the sun sets and the second half begins.
TV & RADIO
No. 14 Weber State and No. 12 UC Davis kick off at 6 p.m. The game will be broadcast on local TV by KJZZ, with Dave Fox, Alema Harrington and Steve Tate on the call. That broadcast will also be carried nationally on the subscription ESPN+ service, available on the ESPN mobile/streaming app or at espn.com/watch.
Steve Klauke and Jerry Graybeal have the radio call on 103.1 FM or 1031thewave.com