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How UC Davis could Surprise Stanford

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No Love, no problem?

NCAA Football: Southern California at Stanford Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Well, eat your heart out Stanford football fans. You’ve got what you wanted: a day game. But before you show up to campus bright and early for the 11 am kickoff (the earliest at home in Stanford history), don’t think the UC Davis Aggies will be a walk in the park.

The last time Stanford had an early kickoff time, it didn’t end well. Traveling to Northwestern in 2015 for an 11 am local kickoff time, Stanford came into the game ranked No. 21, but dropped the game 16-6, arguably costing the Cardinal a trip to the College Football Playoff. Too early of a kickoff time?

There are, of course, plenty of reasons for anyone to overlook the UC Davis Aggies coming into town on Saturday, September 15th. Even with running back Bryce Love out due to injury, Stanford is the heavy favorite. Some even speculate head coach David Shaw is sitting Love out to rest up for next weekend’s matchup versus No. 20 Oregon. I doubt this is the case personally, but either way, anyone could understand why a coast to victory would still be assumed.

Oregon next week means that the Cardinal are probably already thinking about the next game. Who could forget 2010 when both teams were undefeated and in Eugene? Oregon takes the game 52-31 and stomp on any chance the Cardinal had for the BCS Championship. Fast forward to 2013, Oregon is ranked No. 2 in the country, and Stanford pulls off what seemed like the Super Bowl of the west coast and beats Oregon 26-20, ending all hope for Oregon.

Oregon v Stanford

Stanford versus Oregon is one of the focal points of the season for both sides because this game still holds the high stakes it did in the past. Why watch UC Davis, when you could take this weekend and run errands or spend time with your family this weekend? Next weekend is the PAC-12 game to watch. That’s when you’ll head to the Patio to root them on, not versus UC Davis.

But the most common reason you are overlooking UC Davis is that they are an FCS school. No FCS school is going to come into Stanford Stadium and beat K.J. Costello and the receivers they have, right?

The Cardinal abused USC and shut down their offense. No chance Davis will make a dent against the new look Stanford defense. Just getting on television is the only win the Aggies will have on Saturday morning. They should be happy to be in the presence of Cardinal greatness, right?

Well, no. Davis, just like Stanford, is coming off high emotions from not only one, but two huge wins for their program. The Aggies had zero expectations this year, being picked to finish ninth out of thirteen teams in the Big Sky Conference despite entering 2018 with the number one rated offense in the Big Sky (484.7 yards per game). But they have some legitimate threats on their squad.

Davis took everyone by surprise on week one, taking down San Jose State University Spartans, in San Jose, 44-38. Now you might be thinking, “why is this a big deal. It’s SJSU. Who cares?”

Well, it is a big deal to those players and any FCS program when they beat a bowl-eligible program and its an even bigger deal to the bowl school that loses the game. The Spartans were the first FBS team of the 2018 season, in week one, to fall to an FCS team and again; a headline FBS teams try to avoid.

The Aggies came down to San Jose with a record from last year of 5-6 but racked up 589 total yards of offense by the end of the game. Even though SJSU is still experiencing growing pains with a new coach, clearly, the Spartans underestimated Davis and paid the price.

Now, the Spartans did lose their star running back in the fourth quarter, Tyler Nevens, after he ran 79 yards and had two touchdowns. One could argue this was the difference for San Jose State, but it should also not take away from a big Aggies victory.

UC Davis’ head coach Dan Hawkins was appointed as Head Coach by Athletic Director Kevin Blue (former Stanford student-athlete in golf and previous Associate Athletic Director for External Relations), back in 2016. Hawkins had come in looking to turn around his alma mater, where before his hire, the program had come off six straight losing seasons.

Being able to go to Palo Alto and secure a win or even hang with the likes of Stanford, despite the absence of Love, would indeed be a statement for him and the program. If you can recall, Stanford has fallen to Davis in the past, back in 2005, the Aggies came into Palo Alto and beat Stanford 20-17.

Davis’ Junior quarterback Jake Maier is no small time player either. The 200-pound play-caller threw for 446 yards and three touchdowns versus SJSU. Maier has bounced around from Sacred Heart to Long Beach City College before landing with a great offensive squad at Davis. Last year, his first year at Davis, he threw for 3,669 yards. Maier opened 2018 by throwing to six different receivers that had over 50 yards on the day. Now that is weaponry.

Redshirt freshman Ulonzo Gilliam also showed out week one, rushing for 132 yards on 23 carries and posting three scores against San Jose State. Davis’ NFL caliber receiver, senior Keelan Doss (who last season was a Walter Payton Award finalist) returns after accumulating 1,499 receiving yards in 2017, averaging 136.3 per game and 10.5 receptions per game. He’s 6-foot-3, 209 pounds, a smidge taller than Stanford’s star cornerback Alijah Holder, who will most likely draw the assignment on Saturday.

Week two, Davis opened up at home again San Diego and Davis blew them out by a score of 54-21, a victory which garnered their offense a No. 5 among FCS programs. The Aggies had 34 unanswered points in their home opener, and Maier threw for 302 yards and a touchdown. Another player who will make an impact on the Stanford matchup will be sophomore wide receiver Jared Harrell, who racked up six receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown against San Diego.

The UC offense can throw enough at Stanford to keep the game close, especially without Love running the ball and chewing up the clock.

Can you call the Aggies an“upset alert”? Based on their first two games and paired with Love’s injury, this is one Saturday morning that you do not want to underestimate Cardinal nation.