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CGB Pre-Season: Nevada Roundtable

TwistNHook:  Any discussion of Nevada has to start and stop with their high powered offense, run by QB Colin Kaepernick

Let's look at his 2009 stats:

  Name G QBRat Att Comp Pct Yds Y/A Y/G TD Int Long Sack YdsL  
  Colin Kaepernick 13 139.1 282 166 58.9 2052 7.3 157.8 20 6 56 13 -107

Can we stop this guy? 

Avinash:  Fun fact about Kaepernick:

He was the MVP of the Central California Conference in football leading his school to its first ever playoff victory. In basketball he was a first team all CCC selection at forward and lead his 16th ranked team to a near upset of the number 1 ranked Oak Ridge Trojans in the opening round of playoffs. In that game Colin would score 34 points but it wouldn't be enough as Ryan Anderson would score 50 to best the Pride.

I can't wait for the second offensive duel between Wolfpack and Bears in Reno. Should be a fun barometer of where this season is going.

Kodiak:  Assuming that we took care of business against Davis and Ralphie, this is our first big test of the year.  The Wolfpack have gone to 5 straight bowls and return 16 starters from an 8-5 squad.  Last year's schedule featured close losses to Colorado St, Boise St, and Missouri.  They were blown out by Notre Dame(0-35) on the road and blew out Fresno St. at home.(52-14)  Although they lost their bowl game decisively to SMU(45-10), their top 2 RB's were injured.

Their senior QB, Kaepernick, is on the Davey O'Brien and Johnny Unitas lists.  He was rated as the #2 national prospect behind Andrew Luck by some scouts after an espn camp.  Although he struggled in their spring game (3 ints), he's a legitimate dual-threat.

They have a stud senior DE (Moch)who was WAC Defensive POY last year and is on the Lott watch list this year.  His counterpart(Basped) is also a senior and logged 9.5 sacks last year.

They also have WAC freshman of the year Wimberly(WR), and all league performers Taua(RB), Johnson(LB), and Green.(TE)

This is an experienced team that's used to winning.  They have a potent offense with a talented QB who can beat you with his arm or legs.  Last year, they led the nation in rushing(3 1000-yd rushers!) and were 2nd overall in total offense with their Pistol scheme.  It's a combination of an I-formation + spread attack.  Their playbook is diverse and their coach is apparently very good at teaching both schemes and adjustments.
On the flip side, their secondary has given up an average of 400 yds/game the last couple of years.  They lose their 3 leading tacklers from last year, including 4 db's. 

All signs point to a shoot-out.  I doubt our defense will be able to shut their offense down.  They're going to be pumped to play us at home, and they'll put plenty of points on the board.  It remains to be seen if we can match them.  This is a make or break game for Riley and the Oline.  Their secondary is weak, but they have some serious pass-rushing threats at DE.  Our tackles will need to give Riley enough time and he has to execute when given the opportunity.  Being able to pick up blitzers with backs and TE's could also be key in keeping the chains moving.

The first team to build a decisive lead and force the other to become more one-dimensional on offense (abandon the run to play catch-up) will probably win this one.  Both teams like to lean on their running game and need a strong showing from the offensive to cover for a lackluster defense.   

On paper, this one really scares me.  They have all the tools to abuse our defense and it's unknown whether our offense can pick up the slack.  If we pull this one out, it bodes well for the season and would definitely count as a quality W.  To win, we need all three phases to show improvement over last year.  Poise and mental toughness are the keys to the game.  They're going to get their shots in - so how will we respond to adversity in a hostile environment? 

Berkelium97:  I have a baaaaad feeling about this game.  If I remember correctly, I gave one of the lower scores when we were rating Cal's chances to win for each game.  I think I gave this one a 45%.  I'm not feeling any better about this game than I did when I gave that score a couple months ago.

This is going to be the first big test for Pendergast's defense, and one of the biggest tests all season.  If they can stifle this offense, I will be very comfortable as we go through the rest of the season.

Let's start with their O-line, which lost only one of its starters (Kenneth Ackerman, center).  This is a big O-line, with everyone (except the yet-to-be-named starting center) over 300 lbs.  They helped pave the way for Nevada's NCAA-best 345 rushing yards per game.  And they also allowed only 13 sacks last year.

Behind the O-line is Vai Taua, their star running back.  In 2008 he ran for over 1500 yards and last year he would have been closer to 2000 if he didn't miss three games with injuries/eligibility issues.  He had a Jahvid-esque 7.8 yards per carry last season.  That O-line seems to open holes for him pretty consistently, as his lowest ypc in a game was 6.3.  His high ypc is not so much a product of long, highlight-reel runs (like Jahvid), but instead it is due to consistent 10-15 yard runs.  This guy gets a lot of first downs.


If you're not terrified enough already, we'll also have to deal with Colin Kapernick.  His passing numbers are pretty good, but not spectacular (55.6% career, 7076 yds, 61TD, only 16INT).  He's a competent passer who takes care of the ball, but he only averaged about 22 pass attempts per game last year.  When he's not passing, he's running.  And he is a solid runner.  He ran for over 1000 yards and 16 TDs last season, and he ran for over 1000 yards with 17 TDs in 2008.  Even more terrifying: he had over 7 yards per carry both of those seasons.  He had dismal performances in their losses, though.  When his running game is shut down, the Nevada offense seems to sputter.  Even if Taua gets his usual 100+ yards, the offense had a tough time generating points when Kapernick couldn't run.


Solarise:  In 2009, Nevada went 7-1 in the WAC, losing only to the Fiesta Bowl champs Boise State [1].  The Wolfpack was only 1-4 vs non-conference teams though [1].  Looking over the box scores of all Nevada's losses, one pattern emerges.  The Wolfpack makes mistakes and turns over the ball to its opponents in all its losses (3 against Notre Dame, 5 against Colorado State, 2 against Missouri, 1 against Boise State, and 1 against SMU) [2].  In fact, Nevada's 2009 season had the overall turnover margin of -3 but -13 against non-conference opponents [1].  The Bears defense is key and needs to show up to influence the outcome of this game.

Chris Ault, the Wolfpack's Hall of Fame Head Coach, created the highly potent Pistol Offense in 2004.
Most shotgun offenses put their quarterback at five yards deep (some six, and Missouri puts theirs as deep as seven or eight) and the running back at five to six yards, aligned next to the quarterback. Nevada, by contrast, puts their quarterback only four yards back while the running back aligns directly behind him, between seven to ten yards deep depending on the play. [4]

This offense offers an unique combination of the spread offense and a single I-Back without tipping which direction he is going.  With Colin Kaerpernick, Ault has added a veer option to take advantage of his running abilities.

That term [veer] has traditionally referred to a specific type of triple-option some coaches use, but really is just one part of that concept. Nevada's version of the veer, a variety now coming into vogue again with spread teams like Florida, requires the line to "block down" to the side the run is going while leaving some normally very dangerous defender entirely unblocked -- that is the man the quarterback will "read." The reason the veer works so well, including when compared to the zone read, is that with the veer guarantees two things the zone read can't: Double-team blocks at the point of attack, and the ability to make the man the QB reads wrong, every time. (With the zone read you're just trying to control a backside pursuit defender. If he "stays home" for the quarterback, forcing a handoff, there is no guarantee the line will get double teams to the other side or that the back will find a hole.) [4]

In 2009, Nevada's top 3 rushers, including Colin Kaerpernick, all went over 1,000 yards [3].
Rushing Statistics
Vai Taua 172 1345 7.8 89 (TD) 10
Colin Kaepernick 161 1183 7.3 75 (TD) 16
Luke Lippincott 134 1034 7.7 85 9


Having success running the ball allows Ault to dial up the big play actions passes.  Coach Pendergast needs to find ways to shut down the running lanes upfront and disrupt Kaerpernick's reads in order to win on the road.




Ohio Bear:  I don't know quite how to feel about the Nevada game.  On the one hand, the suffering Cal fan in me sees this one as a trap, the kind of game that can reach up and bite us in the rear.  I think of road losses to San Diego State, Louisiana Tech, and Fresno State during the Gilbertson/Holmoe years.  But then I think about what we've done during the Tedford era and the game scares me a little less.  Sure, we lost at Utah in 2003 and then lost a bowl game to Utah last year.  But Utah isn't your run-of-the-mill "non-BCS" program.  (Hey, there is a reason they are worthy to be our Pac-12 brother now!) 

There are reasons to feel good about our chances.  Sure, Nevada runs its fancy "Pistol" offense and can move the ball well; prolifically well, at times.  But Nevada's losses last year to Notre Dame, Colorado State, and Missouri last year make you wonder how good they really were.  On the other hand, they did win 8 straight games after an 0-3 start and sort of hung around in the Boise State game before losing 44-33 (after falling behind 20-0).  So you could make the case that Nevada regrouped and improved after a horrendous start to 2009 and should have momentum heading into this year, especially with a capable veteran quarterback in Colin Kaepernick.  
So, yeah, I can think of any number of reasons why Cal might lose this game.  But I am determined to fight my suffering Cal fan mentality about this one.  I am optimistic about this game, even though it is our first roadie of the season.  Hopefully, the national television audience will inspire our Bears to take it up a notch and lessen the possibility of getting caught in a trap.  Plus, I like our chances of doing some damage offensively.  Nevada might score a lot of points -- but they give up a lot of them, too.  Nevada yielded about 400 yards of total offense a game last year and gave up 30 points or more in seven of their 13 games.  I have to believe we will move the ball and move the ball well.  And if we can do it on the ground with Vereen, we might be able to shorten the game and keep the Nevada "Pistol" in the holster.  
I won't expect our defense to totally shut down Nevada.  It would be nice, but I won't count on it.  (If Clancy's guys want to pleasantly surprise me and prove me wrong, I say YES PLEASE!)  But if we can get a turnover or two and turn those into points, maybe we can take control of the game. 
I see this game playing out kind of like Nevada's home game against Missouri last year (also an ESPN Friday night game).  The game stays close early, perhaps even with Nevada having the lead in the 3rd quarter.  But then, we take control of the game, perhaps by wearing them down, getting a home run play from Vereen or Marvin Jones, converting a turnover, or maybe all of the above.  Last year, Nevada had Missouri down 13-12 early in the 3rd quarter before Mizzou scored 19 straight points to seize the game and eventually win 31-21.  This year's game will test our nerves in a similar way, but, like Missouri last year, Cal will also prevail in the end. 
Prediction: Cal 31, Nevada 21. 

NorCalNick:  I was scared of Nevada - about 8 months ago.  When Nevada kinda sorta gave Boise St. a game up in Idaho I started to worry about the Wolfpack.  Kapernick was getting all kinds of praise around the blogosphere and even from the media.  They were the lock of bowl season!

And then they lost to SMU by 35 points.  The same SMU that lost to Washington St.  And it wasn't even a fluky, turnover fueled defeat!  They gave up 460 passing yards!  The vaunted pistol only gained 137 yards.  If this game illustrated anything, it's that Nevada probably isn't the best team playing from behind, because they can't run the ball on every down.

Now, it wouldn't be fair to judge Nevada based on one bowl game.  But honestly, the best team they beat last year?  Probably Fresno St., at home.  They got crushed by a mediocre Notre Dame and were badly outgained by a mediocre Missouri team.  There is nothing in their 2009 resume to suggest that they're capable of playing with average to above average BCS teams.

The only thing that scares me is that outside of Boise St., this is clearly Nevada's biggest game of the season, with a night-time national audience.  Hopefully lots of Cal fans make the trip east on interstate 80 to help neutralize some of that advantage.

TwistNHook:  Predictions?  My sole prediction is thatt his is a high scoring one

Berkelium97:  The Cal defense can probably contain this offense, but I won't believe it until I see it.  I think Nevada takes this one 42-38. 

NorCalNick:  I'm saying that Cal's run defense wins the day.  Bears 34, Nevada 20

Atomsareenough:  Cal 37, Nevada 24

Avinash:  So everyone seems to think the key matchup will be Cal's defense trying to stop Nevada's offense. Let's look a little bit at the Pistol Offense:

If you want to compare it to Pac-10 offenses, the Pistol is a curious hybrid of Oregon's and Cal's running schemes. The quarterback lines out in shotgun, but with the halfback still lined up behind him and the quarterback closer to the line of scrimmage. You have to be able to figure out where the quarterback makes his decision with the zone read, but it's a little bit tougher than figuring out because the handoff is to the back of the defenders.

The runs are pretty straightforward (some inside zone, some veer, some zone read). They have no real interest in running to the outside, which should leave the cornerbacks primarily concerned with pass coverage. Defensive line play will be key here. Can Cameron Jordan force the double teams Tyson Alualu received the majority of last season? Will Derrick Hill be able to penetrate between 600 pounds of center and guard, since Jeff Mead is not likely to be able to handle the nose tackle one-on-one? If the defensive line can open things up for the linebackers to slip through, it'll go a long way toward keeping the Wolfpack from rolling. The Wolfpack running backs concern me a little bit, especially Mike Ball, but really it was great offensive line play that set up the three thousand yard rushers last season. Being 7th in tackles for loss allowed in the country is a good indicator of that.

If the run blocking is excellent though, it falls on the secondary to not bite on the fakes and not play too strong against the run--with all the pressure looks Pendergast likes to send, you'll see plenty of one-on-one coverage assigments the Bears have to win. Kaepernick is experienced and they return receivers who played with Kaepernick, so there will be a lot of connection there. For all the talk about aggressive scheming, it'll take a disciplined effort by Cal's secondary to make sure the passing game doesn't set up the running attack (a la Oregon 2009).


LeonPowe:  Cal 28, Nevada 14


Kodiak:  Cal 41, Nevada 38