The battle for the top of the Big Sky takes center stage on Saturday afternoon when the Weber State Wildcats return home to host the UC Davis Aggies. Of the seven Big Sky schools to take the field this spring, only these two still have unblemished records, as all five others have at least one loss next to their names.
Both squads won their first game of the season, with the Aggies riding high after a 10-point road win at Idaho last weekend while the Wildcats were spectators this past weekend — due to its game at Cal Poly getting postponed — after toppling Idaho State 49-21 on Feb. 27. Weber State's win was enough to keep the Wildcats in the top spot — narrowly ahead of North Dakota State — in this week's Athlon Sports FCS Power Poll, with UC Davis checking in at No. 20.
UC Davis at Weber State
Kickoff: Saturday, March. 13 at 3 p.m. ET
TV: Pluto TV
Spread: Weber State -9
When UC Davis Has the Ball
After two seasons and just six total games of on-field experience with UC Davis, Hunter Rodrigues has grabbed hold of the starting quarterback job in his junior season and had a strong starting debut. Rodrigues completed 23 of his 29 passes against Idaho, throwing for 243 yards and three touchdowns after totaling 142 yards of offense in those previous six games. Two of Rodrigues' touchdowns went to Carson Crawford — who led the way with eight receptions for 120 yards — with the other finding Jared Harrell, who finished second on the team with 55 yards.
In the run game, Ulonzo Gilliam Jr. has already added his name to the school record books, and he picked up right where he left off against the Vandals. Gilliam moved into fourth on the career list in both carries and rushing yards on the strength of his 26-carry, 145-yard effort, which also moved him into the top 10 all-time in all-purpose yards. His 26 rushes marked the fourth straight game dating back to last season with at least 20 attempts and the seventh such effort in his last eight.
Weber State held Idaho State off the scoreboard in the first half while the offense jumped out to a 14-0 lead. And even though the Bengals managed 21 second-half points, the Wildcats' offense kept the game out of reach. One big reason for Weber State's defensive success was the ability to cause havoc in the backfield, notching six sacks and nine tackles for a loss against Idaho State. Sherwin Lavaka led the effort with a pair of sacks, while Jayden Palauni and George Tarlas recorded 1.5 apiece.
When Weber State Has the Ball
When he takes the field on Saturday, quarterback Bronson Barron will be making just his second start with the Wildcats. After signing in 2018 and returned from serving an LDS Church mission to Ghana, the freshman went 17-for-27 with 312 yards and four touchdowns in his debut. Barron did well to spread the ball around, as five different pass catchers notched multiple receptions. Ty MacPherson led the way with 93 yards on three receptions, while Rashid Shaheed and Athlon preseason All-America running back Josh Davis tallied five catches apiece and combined for three of Barron’s four touchdown passes.
In addition to Barron's success through the air, Weber State also had its way on the ground in the opener. Davis' receiving totals supplemented his 106 rushing yards and a score on just 11 carries. Daniel Wright Jr. was next in line with 86 yards on just four attempts, while Dontae McMillan (nine att., 51 yds.) added a pair of touchdowns.
UC Davis' game script was largely the opposite of Weber State's in its opener. Whereas the Wildcats jumped ahead early and cruised to the win, the Aggies needed 13 fourth-quarter points while holding Idaho scoreless in the final frame. Connor Airey and Isaiah Thomas each grabbed an interception, with Airey also adding a sack and two tackles for a loss in the come-from-behind win.
A wave of momentum is boosting both of these teams after they began their 2021 season with wins. Running back Ulonzo Gilliam Jr. has been and will continue to be the primary driving force behind UC Davis' offense, but Weber State's attack features a host of dynamic playmakers that will likely prove to be too much for the Aggies to contain.
Prediction: Weber State 38, UC Davis 27
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.