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Pack’s pressure defense contains Cal

Steve Puterski
Nevada Appeal News Service

RENO – Giving up 502 yards and 31 points usually is a recipe for losing.

However, it was more than good enough for the Nevada defense on Friday night.

The Pack and its pressure defense took control early and dropped No. 24 California 52-31 at Mackay Stadium.

Cal QB Kevin Riley entered the game third in the nation in passing efficiency (205.27), though the Golden Bears crushed UC Davis (52-3) and Colorado (52-7) in their first two games.

Nevada coach Chris Ault has been preaching not just improving pass defense, but the Pack’s defense overall.

“It was a great win,” Ault said. “I thought our defense hung in there and answered. (We) didn’t back up and didn’t back down.”

Cal running back Shane Vereen, though, torched the Nevada defense for 198 yards on 19 carries for three touchdowns. Riley, on the other hand, went 23-of-37 for 277 yards and three interceptions. Nevada also sacked Riley twice.

“We played pretty good,” Nevada linebacker James-Michael Johnson said.

The defense, though, was able to make the big play when it needed.

After a Nevada three-and-out on offense, sophomore free safety Marlon Johnson picked of a Riley pass and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown, a play Ault said changed the flow of the game. The score gave the Pack a 31-21 lead.

“I thought Marlon read that just right,” Ault said. “He timed it just right. It was a great job.”

With 9 minutes, 53 seconds left in the game, the defense came up big again holding on a 4th-and-10 from its own 18 yard line. Riley dropped back, fired a pass to Michael Calvin, but Johnson undercut the throw and almost intercepted the pass.

“I took my eyes off it and pulled my hands down too fast,” Johnson said.

Nevada’s running then iced the game on the ensuing possession when running back Vai Taua bolted 54 yards for a score to put the Pack up 45-24 with 7:43 left.

Though the offense came through again, it was the defense rising to the challenge of a BCS opponent.