Playing it safe can be risky

Hunter Ridley kicked a 33-yard field goal as time expired in the first half Nov. 4 to give UC Davis a 17-7 lead against Portland State. The Aggies launched the 13-play, 75-yard drive with 5:26 to go and had three timeouts, so a touchdown was hardly out of question.

UC Davis coach Dan Hawkins answered that question, however, after running back Lan Larison was stopped for a 3-yard loss on first down at the Aggies’ 33-yard line. Hawkins let 27 seconds tick away by not calling a timeout as soon as Larison hit the synthetic turf.

Junior Trent Tompkins leads UC Davis in receiving yards and is second in rushing.

By the time Hawkins called his first timeout with 2 seconds remaining, UC Davis had wasted nearly 3 minutes by not stopping the clock. Portland State tied the score with 10 points in the third quarter when UC Davis could have entered the fourth with a lead.

All of that was easy to dismiss after UC Davis won 37-23. Hawkins got away with playing it safe in a game the Aggies had to win to stand any chance of making the FCS playoffs. UC Davis kept its postseason hopes alive last Saturday with a 21-14 victory at Idaho State.

Sacramento State, Montana, Montana State and Idaho are assured of representing the Big Sky Conference in the playoffs by having seven victories and being ranked in the FCS Top 25. UC Davis is 6-4 and unranked, so the Aggies have one objective Saturday afternoon.

Sacramento State’s Josh Cashiola sacks Portland State’s Sam Huard.

UC Davis will have to snap a three-game losing streak against Sacramento State in the Causeway Classic to have any shot of making the 24-team playoffs. With so much on the line for the Aggies, Hawkins cannot afford to play it safe as he did with Portland State.

Doing so against the Hornets last season did not work. One example was in the second quarter after a punt pinned the Aggies as their 14-yard line. A 1-yard run, a 2-yard pass and an incompletion forced a punt that gave the ball to the Hornets at the 50. Two passes for 31 yards led to a 19-yard touchdown run by Asher O’Hara to give the Hornets a 17-3 lead. Sacramento State never trailed in a 27-21 win.

In 2021, UC Davis was shut out in the first three quarters of a 27-7 loss. The Aggies scored first in 2019 on Jake Maier’s 76-yard touchdown pass to Kris Vaughn and took a 17-13 lead into the fourth quarter. Kevin Thomson rallied the Hornets with a 51-yard touchdown pass to freshman Marshel Martin IV and a 33-yard scoring run with 3:04 to play.

UC Davis will face Martin, who hails from St. Patrick-St. Vincent High School in Vallejo, for the last time on Saturday. The senior had a 39-yard touchdown reception last Saturday in a 41-30 victory over Cal Poly. The score was his second of the season. Martin had 12 in 2022.

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.