Dances with Wolves: A CGB Roundtable on the Season Opener vs. Nevada

Can Zach Maynard do to Nevada what Colin Kaepernick did to Cal in 2010? If so,it will be an extra sweet stadium opener for Cal.

September 1, 2012 is a day we as Cal fans have long been waiting for: it is the grand opening of new Memorial Stadium. It promises to be a day to remember for Cal fans., who will see the old, antiquated Memorial transformed into a jewel of a campus sports venue.

Yes, the opening of Memorial Stadium is significant. But there is also the matter of a football game to play that day. And this one's not a gimme. No sir. Cal did not reach out to Presbyterian or another school of that ilk to play the first game at new Memorial. The opponent is the University of Nevada, somewhat of a nemesis. The last time the Bears and Wolfpack met, it was not a happy time for Cal. Behind unstoppable quarterback Colin Kaepernick, now backing up Alex Smith with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind for the San Francisco 49baughs in the National Football League, Nevada's pistol offense tore apart the Cal defense on the way to a 52-31 victory in Reno. That game changed the tune of the Bears' season (one that ended without a bowl game) and helped catapult Nevada to a 13-1 record and a win in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

But that was 2010. What do your CGB writers think of this year's meeting between the Bears and Wolfpack? Behold the CGB roundtable.

LeonPowe: I think we're going to come out strong on this one - not because its Nevada. But first game back in new Memorial? I don't see how do anything but roll on this one. And the ostrich is long gone. Cal wins and wins big.

Well, that's a pretty confident opening salvo from LeonPowe. Find out what the rest of CGB's braintrust thinks, after the jump.

Kodiak: There are a lot of games circled on Cal's schedule this coming year. We travel to Ohio State. 'SC is a national title contender. Oregon could be as well. UW has plenty of under-currents as a revenge game. And despite the league's best efforts to marginalize the rivalry, the Big Game remains huge.

And yet, the home opener against Nevada might be the most important game of the season. We absolutely can't lose this one. There has been plenty of grumbling after a couple of lackluster seasons. But, the one ray of hope that has kept the majority of demons at bay has been the promise of the SAHPC and a renovated Memorial Stadium. These are the facilities which would finally permit us to compete on even terms with the rest of the conference. Well, here we are. No more excuses.

In theory, Cal should hold a talent edge and the home-field advantage of a jacked-up crowd plus amped players should be a factor. The Old Blue in me can't help but fret that we really haven't shown any ability to stop a properly run Pistol offense. Over the past couple of years, we stopped ucla the first year they installed it. Last year was a different story, and we had two senior safeties, and two senior ILBs. Coach Pendergast seems to favor running a scrape exchange where the defensive end crashes on the tailback while passing off contain on the QB to either a middle linebacker or a safety. We're going to have new starters at both ILBs and at least one safety spot. Although their QB struggled a bit last year, he was still WAC Freshman of the Year. One interesting wrinkle is that Nevada's new OC is a run n' shoot devotee. My worry meter rises...but slightly. I actually think that the more run n' shoot principles Nevada tries to incorporate, the less effective they'll be at running their Pistol. And I just jinxed the living Oski out of us, didn't I?


The most likely candidate for shadowing the Nevada QB would be Josh Hill. He's a smart player and has greatly improved his technique to become a sure tackler. I just worry whether he has the speed to cut off the edge. I suppose if the Nevada QB is running free down the sidelines all day, we'll have our answer. On the plus side, the fact that Cal now runs the zone read as part of our staple offense should at least help the defense in terms of preparation. I'll conveniently block from memory the fact that during the spring game, the zone read was almost like one of those unstoppable plays in NFL Blitz.

Defensive worries aside, this is also a game where we expect to see an improved offensive line and a composed Zach Maynard. Fortunately for us, Nevada's defense was questionable last year and also replaces a number of starters. We should be able to run on them. And we'll need to make them pay if they try to double or triple team Keenan Allen.

From a prediction standpoint, I suspect that we'll give up some big plays early as our overly aggressive and adrenalized young defense miss a few assignments. However, I think that we'll settle in and adjust. I'm not expecting anything more than average special teams play, but minimizing critical errors would be nice. As long as our Oline and offense shows up to play, we should pull this one out.

TwistNHook: The last time we went up against Nevada, it was their QB who absolutely tore us up. With Kaep gone, can we catch a break?????????????

No.

If Cody Fajardo's invitation to the prestigious Manning Passing Academy didn't send signs that he was headed to a position among college football's elite, perhaps this will.
Fajardo was one of 34 quarterbacks named to the Davey O'Brien watch list, an award given annually to the nation's top quarterback.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Southern California native was one of just three sophomores selected, along with Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater. He was one of two Mountain West quarterbacks nominated, along with Fresno State's Derek Carr, and one of six non-BCS quarterbacks on the list.

As a part-time starter last season, Fajardo completed 68.8 percent of his passes, which is thought to be a school record, for 1,707 yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions. He also rushed for 694 yards and 11 scores and was named the WAC freshman of the year.

Looks like their QB is as good as ever! And he is a sophomore.

unclesam22: Honestly, I think that this game scares me more than any other game on our schedule. I still have nightmares about the last Nevada game, mostly because it came out of nowhere. But that Nevada team was a really good team that had a great and experienced QB and ended up losing only one game all season and beat Boise St. So I'm going with a few assumptions here:

1. This Nevada team is not as good as that Nevada team.
2. Cal's D has had a whole offseason to think about, stew on, watch film, scout, and prepare for this team and this offense.
3. It is the first game back in Memorial and I think that the players will be ready to come out and show that THIS IS OUR DOMICILE!


So while I think we'll give up the odd long play or two, I don't see Nevada having the tools to stop our Offense and I think that the D will do enough to win the game. And I agree with Kod, this really might be the biggest game of the season. Win and exercise some demons and get some positive momentum early, lose and all bets are off and unless the team comes close to running the table the rest of the way, Tedford is probably out. Sad, but that's the reality. It's a worse case scenario, but we're Cal fans, so we live in those. But with all that being said, I still think we win a decently close game and I'd be perfectly happy with that.

atomsareenough: "Honestly, I think this game scares me more than any other game on our schedule."

Well, I'm glad you were able to talk yourself out of it in the rest of your comments, because I for one am not really seeing it. Let's see, what would be the reasons to be scared?

1. We haven't performed consistently against the pistol, and a very good Nevada team beat us handily at their place a couple years ago.
2. Chris Ault is a hell of a coach.
3. Their young QB appears to be relatively promising...

Okay, that's pretty much all I've got. Now, those are legit reasons for concern, but not for overwhelming fear. I believe that Wolfpack team from a couple years ago was a legit Top-10 team. This one... well, I don't have any reason to believe that it is. This time we're playing in Berkeley, not in Reno. This time we have all offseason to prepare. This time we've played against them and other pistol/zone read teams and know how the scheme works, so hopefully we won't be caught with our pants down. If we're not prepared and ready to play in this game, at the grand re-opening of Memorial Stadium, well... that's a serious indictment of the coaching staff. I think we'll be ready to go.

Anyway, should we take them seriously as a legit opponent? Yes. Are they more than capable of beating us on their best day/our worst day? Yes. Am I wayyy more concerned about Ohio State, Oregon, USC, Stanford, Washington, UCLA, etc...? Yes.

Berkelium97: I am glad this is not the 2010 Nevada team. Kaep is long gone and Vai Taua is but a distant memory. Two years removed from that 2010 disaster, Nevada is a team without much experience on offense.

We have already discussed Cody Fajardo's impressive accuracy. He has a solid 7.8 yards per pass, although his 1:1 TD-interception ratio leaves a bit to be desired. Still, not bad for a freshman. Fortunately for us, his top target Rishard Matthews (1364 yds, 8TDs) has taken his talents to South Beach as a recently drafted member of the Dolphins. Even better--Matthews isn't the only receiver who has graduated. Nevada's receivers accumulated 2,824 yards last season; 2,484 of those yards are from players who were seniors last year. The only returning receivers are Aaron Bradley (336, 3TD) and Necho Beard (4 yards). The only other player with notable production was tight end Kolby Arendse (340, 2TDs). While Fajardo may be a good QB, he has a depleted receiving corps. Of course, that's not a problem because Nevada can run wild on you (brother).

Top RB Lampford Mark (yes, he has a last name for a first name and a first name for a last name) graduated and his backup Mike Ball (no relation to Monty Ball, I hope) will be the top RB. Ball ran for a respectable 704 yards and 3 TDs. Stefphon Jefferson ran for 429 yards but piled up 5 TDs. While I'm sure they'll get their yards this year, Nevada isn't going to have a triumvirate of 1000-yard rushers like they did in 2009.

Vincent S: I don't think we'll have too many problems handling Nevada. I expect some opening day jitters, but I'm more interested in gauging the atmosphere of the stadium. If there's a buzz in the air, I will feel very good not only about the Nevada game, but the season as well.


solarise: Nevada is a quality opponent to gauge Zach's growth. I think we win without any TOs.

Ohio Bear: I think we win the game, but I don't expect it to be easy. Nevada is a good opponent and they have a capable QB who can do some damage if the defense doesn't bring its A game.

This will be an emotional game for our Bears, what with it being not only the season opener but also the grand opening of new Memorial Stadium. I expect that the Cal fans will bring an enthusiasm unknown to mankind for this one, as it's a season opener unlike any other. I expect the team will match that enthusiasm on the field.

Kodiak: Winning this game is pretty important to me for two reasons. First, I want to beat Nevada to make up for our loss to them in 2010. Second, it's Cal's first home game in the new Memorial Stadium. Losing that first home game in a new stadium would suck. Imagine the epic deflated feelings that people would experience if Cal lost its first home game in a new stadium.

I think Cal should win on both sides of the ball. Cal has plenty of experience handling the zone read offense thanks to Oregon. I see Cal Defensive Coordinator Clancy Pendergast having the team very prepared. Cal should win this one comfortably.

Berkelium97: I don't believe we have said much about the Nevada defense or special teams.

A quick perusal of their stats suggests this is a "bend but don't break" type of defense. They are pretty average in many major categories: rush defense, pass defense, points allowed, sacks, TFLs, turnover margin. They ranked around 60th in each of these, right in the middle of the pack. Three stats stand out, however. Despite giving up 220+ passing yards per game, they held opposing QBs to a passer efficiency rating of only 115.15. That's good for 22nd in the nation (and 17 spots higher than us last season). To support the BBDB idea, they only allowed opponents to convert 36.17% of their third downs (34th nationwide) and score 73.17% of the time in the red zone (13th nationwide). Fortunately, when Nevada allows opponents to score in the red zone, they usually give up TDs instead of field goals.

Their special teams appear to be right out of the Alamar playbook. They give up 13.47 yards per punt return (109th) and 23.43 yards per kick return (93rd). Their so-so punter Jake Hurst has graduated and they appear to kick by committee. Hurst, Anthony Martinez, and Allen Hardison took turns kicking field goals last season. Hardison will likely be the starting kicker this fall. He's a solid kicker with range up to 50 yards.


TwistNHook: Score predictions?

atomsareenough: 52-31 the other way.

Vincent S: 48-31

Ohio Bear: Palms of Victory: Cal 35, Nevada 27.

HydroTech: 105-0

Berkelium97: I can see this one being fairly competitive, but it's tough to vote against Tedford in a home opener--especially the kickoff at New Memorial.

Cal 41, Nevada 24.

unclesam22: Cal 35, Nevada 27. (Ed. note: Didn't I see that score somewhere before?)

CGB readers, how do you think this game will go? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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