Father knows best? We’ll see

Cody Hawkins had it made at UC Davis. Job security would be his as long as his father Dan was the head honcho. Hawkins joined his father’s staff in 2017 as a volunteer assistant to help out with the wide receivers, so no one could accuse his father of favoritism.

That changed in 2019 when Hawkins was named assistant director of football operations and recruiting coordinator – a job apparently intended for him when his father created it. Hawkins was promoted again in 2020 when he was named offensive coordinator.

Cody Hawkins wore orange as offensive coordinator at UC Davis so the players could easily spot him on the sideline. He now wears it as head coach at Idaho State.

How could Hawkins have asked for anything more at the ripe age of 32? He was directing an offense featuring players he had talked into playing at UC Davis. The Aggies went from averaging 28.3 points per game in his first season of calling plays to 35.9 in 2022.

UC Davis is averaging just 25.7 points per game this season, but Hawkins is not to blame. He left UC Davis last December to become Idaho State’s head coach. The Bengals are averaging 27.7 points a game and led all FCS teams in passing yards per game at 338.2.

Hawkins inherited a team that went 1-7 in the Big Sky Conference and 1-10 overall in 2022. Idaho State is 3-3 in the Big Sky this season. So is UC Davis, which is 5-4 overall and will have to win its final two games to stand any chance of earning a spot in the FCS playoffs.

That means Hawkins can knock his father’s team out of contention when Idaho State and UC Davis tangle Saturday in Pocatello. The Bengals are 1-6 against the Aggies, but Idaho State has a 42-41 win over Eastern Washington on Oct. 14 in its favor. UC Davis lost 27-24 to Eastern Washington on Sept. 23, leaving the Aggies at 0-11 against the Eagles.

Eastern Washington had won 12 in a row against Idaho State before squandering a 27-point lead Oct. 14. The Bengals trailed 41-14 with 1:48 to go in the third quarter, then scored 62 seconds later and three times in the fourth quarter to pull off an improbable victory.

Sacramento State is also 3-3 in the Big Sky, but the Hornets control their destiny because they are 6-3 overall and can virtually clinch a playoff berth Saturday at home by beating 1-5 Cal Poly. The Mustangs lost 48-13 to Eastern Washington in Cheney last Saturday.

UC Davis coordinates offense

Cody Hawkins did not leave the cupboard bare when he left UC Davis to become the head coach at Idaho State. Mike Cody not only inherited the title of offensive coordinator with the Aggies after two seasons as the offensive line coach, but he also got the best quarterback in the Big Sky Conference.

Miles Hastings was a first-team selection to the All-Big Sky team in 2022 after leading the conference in passing yards with 3,048 and completion percentage at 69.8 (256 of 367). Hastings threw just six interceptions, the lowest total for a Big Sky quarterback with 240 or more passing attempts. He was also picked off six times in 2021 with 152 fewer attempts.

“I am the coordinator and get an all-conference quarterback with a 70 percent completion percentage. How lucky am I?” Cody said Thursday. “(Hastings) is special. There’s no doubt about it. I’m extremely lucky.”

Jake Parks is returning after missing nearly all of last season with an injury.

Keeping Hastings healthy will be a priority when the Aggies kick off the 2023 season Aug. 31 at Texas A&M-Commerce. Hastings started the last five games in 2021 after Hunter Rodrigues sustained a concussion. Rodrigues and Hastings were expected to battle for the starting job last season, but Rodrigues left the program.

Hastings survived 11 games as the starter last season because he was protected by the offensive line, which allowed the fewest sacks in the Big Sky with 11. Hastings was sacked seven times. The Aggies will have to find replacements for two offensive linemen who earned All-Big Sky honors in 2022 – tackle Nick Amoah (first team) and center Connor Pettek (second team).

The return of Jake Parks will make rebuilding the offensive line easier. Parks was selected to the All-Big Sky first team in 2021, but the four-year starter at guard was injured in the 2022 opener at Cal and missed the rest of the season.

Mike Cody

Parks had the option of leaving UC Davis as a graduate transfer just as tackle Kooper Richardson did after the 2020 season. Richardson felt as if he was no longer wanted by the Aggies, so he entered the transfer portal and went to Sacramento State to be reunited with his father Kris, the assistant head coach for the Hornets who also coached his son at Folsom High.

Richardson returned to UC Davis on Nov. 20, 2021 for the Causeway Classic and celebrated at his old stomping grounds after the Hornets beat the Aggies 27-7 to finish 8-0 in the Big Sky. Richardson now plays for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Canadian Football League.

Cody was never worried about Parks leaving because “it wasn’t any question for Jake. Once he found out about the (severity of the) injury, he said he was coming back. In this day and age of college football, it’s tough to come back because guys want to leave for another school. Jake could play at 100 schools, but he’s very loyal. He wants to finish what he started here.”

Speaking of starting, Cody’s coaching career began in 2012 at UC Davis as a graduate assistant after playing two seasons as a receiver with the Aggies. Cody transferred from Sierra College to UC Davis because then-Aggies coach Bob Biggs promised there would be opportunities for Cody to become a coach once he was finished as a player.

Biggs believed Cody had what it takes to be a coach. And he was right.

Aggies open by closing out win

Four minutes stood between UC Davis and an improbable victory at Tulsa last Thursday. The Golden Hurricanes had three timeouts , but stopping the Aggies and forcing a punt would have been far better than resorting to calling timeouts to stop the clock. All Tulsa needed was enough time to kick a field goal to avoid losing at home to an FCS team after being a 22-point favorite.

UC Davis had just dodged a bullet when Chris Venable slammed into Tulsa wide receiver Kenyon Stokes at the Aggies’ 8-yard line and forced a fumble. The ball bounced through the end zone because Erron Duncan arrived in time to prevent any Tulsa player from recovering it for the go-ahead touchdown.

“The fumble caused by Venable was amazing. The next thing that was amazing was to watch Erron Duncan go 100 mph to get to the ball,” UC Davis coach Dan Hawkins said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “As soon as it was a fumble, the first thing that came into my mind was we’ve got to get on that. If they get the ball, we go home with a nice try instead of a nice win.”

Sealing a 19-17 victory would require the Aggies to make two first downs and force the Golden Hurricanes to spend their timeouts. Wide receiver Kris Vaughn added to the degree of difficulty by being called for a fast start on first down to put the Aggies at the 15-yard line with 15 yards to go to maintain possession.

A 6-yard run by Ulonzo Gilliam was made possible by 6-foot-5, 233-pound tight end McCallan Castles aligning right and pulling left to pave the way for the running back through the hole. Castles followed by catching a pass from quarterback Hunter Rodrigues for a 12-yard gain and a first down at the 33.

Tulsa stopped Gilliam for no gain on the next play. It was his sixth carry in which the junior did not gain an inch. Thirteen of his 25 carries went for 3 or fewer yards. Hawkins credited his son Cody, the Aggies offensive coordinator, for sticking with the running game even though Gilliam was not having much luck.

“(The Golden Hurricanes are) pretty stout up front,” Hawkins said. “The tendency is when you play a team with a dominant defensive front that you give up on the running game and then everything else collapses. We kept chipping away.”

UC Davis finished with 88 yards rushing, its lowest total since managing just 63 against Sacramento State in the 2019 Causeway Classic.

Gilliam has been a workhorse for the Aggies since arriving from Merced High in 2017. He paid his dues for a year as a redshirt and then became a starter in 2018. In the opener at San Jose State, Gilliam ran for 143 yards and scored three touchdowns in a 44-38 victory. The Aggies also beat the Spartans in 2010 for their first win against an FBS team since climbing to Division I in 2007.

His hands have also been put to good use. Gilliam’s 124 receptions are the most by a running back in school history. His 124th came at the perfect time last Thursday with UC Davis facing a third-and-4 at its 49-yard line after Tulsa called its third timeout with 1:56 to play. Rodrigues faked a handoff to Vaughn on what appeared to be a jet sweep to the left as Gilliam slipped out of the backfield to the right for an 8-yard reception to seal the deal.

“He’s a real special player. He’s unbelievably tough,” Hawkins said of Gilliam. “He’s someone our offense leans on.”

The University of San Diego knows that all too well. In 2019, Gilliam ran for 139 yards and two touchdowns as the Aggies pulled out a 38-35 victory over the Toreros. His 1-yard scoring run with 3:35 to play was the difference. San Diego was one yard away from winning when Devon King forced a fumble that Isaiah Thomas recovered to bail out UC Davis.

Hawkins can only hope his players will not take San Diego lightly or suffer a letdown after knocking off Tulsa. “We’re not going to overestimate Tulsa or underestimate anybody else. That’s just not how we roll,” Hawkins said. “You may outscore (San Diego), but they will not beat themselves. They’re a tough out. It helps you as a coach because you’d better be on it because you know they’re going to be on it.”