UC Davis coach digs into draft

Caleb Williams would not be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft if Tim Plough had a say with the Chicago Bears. The UC Davis head coach has nothing against the former USC quarterback and 2022 Heisman Trophy winner other than he does not believe Williams is the best player available at the most important position in football.

Plough would select Washington’s Michael Penix Jr., who will likely have to wait until the second round to hear his name called. Mel Kiper Jr.’s latest mock draft has LSU’s Jayden Daniels and North Carolina’s Drake Maye following Williams. Kiper also has Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy and Oregon’s Bo Nix going ahead of Penix.

Tim Plough returned to UC Davis to become head coach after Dan Hawkins resigned.

Who is Plough to think he knows better than Kiper? Plough is widely regarded for his creative offensive mind. He was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at UC Davis before leaving in 2021 to take the same job at Boise State. He was fired four games into the 2022 season and joined Justin Wilcox’s staff at Cal as the tight ends coach in 2023.

Wilcox offered to make Plough the offensive coordinator after Jack Spavital left to take the same job at Baylor. Despite being flattered, Plough opted to return to UC Davis and become head coach after Dan Hawkins called it a career. The Aggies could not offer as much money as Cal, but job security is invaluable. Plough will no longer have to worry about moving his family every year or two.

“I was happy at Cal, but it was too great of a risk (to stay there). I couldn’t do that to my wife and (three) kids,” said Plough, who was a quarterback with the Aggies for four years and started as a senior in 2007. “(UC Davis) is where I really wanted to be. It made more sense for us as a family. This is a dream.”

Caleb Williams

His one season at Cal alllowed Plough to see Williams, Nix and Penix in action. Williams had the best performance of the three against the Bears, throwing for 368 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for two scores in the Trojans’ 50-49 victory. Nix and Penix each had four touchdown passes against Cal.

Penix would be Plough’s pick because of his poise in the pocket. “The NFL game plays from the pocket and he’s the most prepared,” Plough said. “He can move in a confined space and still be accurate. He’s the most accurate thrower and the best thrower of the group.”

Plough questions if Williams can function within the parameters of a playbook instead of continually trying to improvise. “It’s his athleticism,” Plough said. “He has the ability to make plays off schedule and make something out of nothing.. He played in Lincoln Riley’s offense (at USC), so he’s had the tutelage from one of the best offensive minds in the country.”

Nix completed 77.4 percent of his passes with just three interceptions last season, but Plough is not convinced Nix can thread the ball to receivers in tight coverage. Plough added that Nix is a proven leader who could be capable of stepping into an NFL huddle as a rookie and taking charge of an offense.

Finding a quarterback is the least of Plough’s concerns in his return to UC Davis. He recruited Miles Hastings to play for the Aggies in 2019 and will have the senior behind center in the fall. Plough will be calling plays after Mike Cody did so in 2023. Cody was promoted from offensive line coach to offensive coordinator after Cody Hawkins left his father’s staff to become head coach at Idaho State.

Hastings went from throwing for 3,048 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2022, when he was a first-team selection in the All-Big Sky Conference voting, to passing for 2,380 yards and 10 touchdowns with a caeer-high 10 interceptions last season.