Pack in for a tough battle at Cal
For the Nevada Appeal
The Nevada Wolf Pack surely doesn’t expect to sneak up on the California Golden Bears this time around.
“They are obviously going to have a chip on their shoulder when they play us,” Wolf Pack safety Duke Williams said of today’s (noon kickoff) season opener at Berkeley, Calif. “I’m sure they are going to want some revenge.”
The Bears, which will christen a remodeled Memorial Stadium against the Wolf Pack on Saturday, have been waiting for this game for two years. The last time the two teams met, the Wolf Pack steamrolled the Bears, 52-31, on Sept. 17, 2010 before a lively crowd of 28,809 at Mackay Stadium.
“It was a special atmosphere that night,” Pack coach Chris Ault said. “The community really got behind our football team.”
The community simply fell in love with the 2010 Wolf Pack that evening, setting the stage for a memorable 13-1 season that included a Western Athletic Conference title, an upset win over Boise and a Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl win over Boston College.
And the Cal victory jump-started the whole remarkable season.
“That was the first game that year that gave us confidence that we could beat anybody,” said linebacker Albert Rosette, who backed up starters Brandon Marshall, James-Michael Johnson and Kevin Grimes that magical evening. “That game gave us momentum for that whole season moving forward.”
Rosette is one of 14 players on the current Wolf Pack roster that played against Cal two years ago. Five of those players — guard Chris Barker, tight end Zach Sudfeld, wide receiver Brandon Wimberly and safeties Duke Williams and Marlon Johnson — started on that memorable evening.
“That was the game that we played the best for all four quarters that whole year,” Ault said. “It was the game that told the kids, ‘Hey, we’re a pretty good football team.'”
The Wolf Pack dominated the Bears, jumping out to a 21-7 lead by the middle of the second quarter. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick ran for three touchdowns, Vai Taua rushed for 151 yards and Johnson made the play of the game, returning an interception 65 yards for a touchdown and a 31-21 lead in the third quarter.
“I remember one of our former players (offensive lineman Shahriar Pourdanesh) coming into our locker room before the game to talk to us,” offensive tackle Jeff Nady said. “He really sparked us, got us going.”
“He gave us a real good rah-rah speech,” said Barker of Pourdanesh.
The Wolf Pack never trailed against Cal two years ago.
The Bears, which suffered through their worst season in the 10-year era of coach Jeff Tedford in 2010 at 5-7, remember the game at Mackay all too well.
“Two years ago, a lot of the guys weren’t in their spots and weren’t trusting each other,” said safety Josh Hill, who had eight tackles that evening.
The Bears never stopped the Pack’s pistol offense that night, giving up 497 yards and six touchdowns on defense.
“If we do what we’re supposed to do, we’ll be OK this time,” Hill added.
Hill promised that the Bears will be ready for the pistol on Saturday.
“Overall, I know our preparation will be better than it was two years ago,” he said.
Cal led the Pac-12 in total defense a year ago, allowing 332.9 yards a game. The Bears also led the Pac-12 in passing defense (204.2 yards a game), were fourth against the run (128.7) and fourth in points allowed (24.2). They also gave up the fewest first downs in the conference at 17.4 a game.
The Bears this year will be without linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year as a senior in 2011, but their defense is still supposed to be a team strength with Hill and fellow defensive backs Marc Anthony and Steve Williams, linemen Aaron Tipoti and Deandre Coleman and linebacker Chris McCain.
Tedford, though, knows his defense will be tested by the Pack offense once again.
“Their scheme is difficult to stop,” said Tedford of the Pack’s pistol attack. “We will have our hands full.”
Kaepernick and Taua, who did the most of the damage against Cal two years ago, are gone. But Tedford knows the Pack still has weapons.
“Their quarterback (Cody Fajardo) is much more experienced now than he was last year,” Tedford said. “He’s athletic. It’s obvious they recruit to that offense, no doubt. They need a mobile quarterback and he’s that. He brings a lot of the same things (as Kaepernick).”
Cal also has a talented quarterback in senior Zach Maynard. Maynard struggled early last year in his first year as Cal’s starter but still passed for 2,990 yards and 17 touchdowns. Maynard also has his favorite target back in wide receiver Keenan Allen (98 receptions for 1,343 yards and six scores) as well as running back Isi Sofele (1,322 yards and 10 touchdowns).
Allen caught just one pass for eight yards against the Pack two years ago. In that game, in fact, he had more tackles (two) than receptions as he had to drag down Pack defensive backs Doyle Miller and Williams down after they picked off a Kevin Riley pass. Sofele ran the ball six times for 18 yards against the Pack as the main backup to Shane Vereen, who had 198 yards three touchdowns against the Pack two years ago.
“Early last season, his game management was up and down,” said Tedford of Maynard. “But the second half of the season he played real well. We’re a much different team now going into the season than we were going into last season.”