Editor’s Note: This was published at 11pm PDT so results could have changed between publishing and the end of the game.
With the COVID-shortened season mostly behind us, I have decided to look ahead with a new series for the new season. Writing about football—professional or college—is fairly new to me just as spending most of my Saturday obsessed with college football is fairly new to me. Consequently, this series will not be a tale of the tape or an in-depth analysis of Cal football in any capacity (largely because my football knowledge is still fairly limited). Instead, I hope to have somewhat random thoughts with a couple of snarky comments and bad puns thrown in.
This series will be 10 thoughts by 10pm. There is not a particular reason I chose to harp on the number 10, but I did come to regret my decision when I said I would publish by 10pm only to realize that our first game of the season was a 7:30pm kick-off. But, I’ve started a bit, so I’ll attempt to commit to this bit throughout this season.
So, here are my ten thoughts as I watched Cal take on Nevada:
1st Round Pick? Over the last couple years, I have genuinely enjoyed seeing a college quarterback’s tape against Cal as an indication as to whether the quarterback could succeed at the next level. Somewhere along the way, Nevada redshirt junior Carson Strong became a projected first-round pick after having just one scholarship offer and a rebuff by Cal. At 6’4, Strong clearly has a big arm, which was already enough to be mildly concerned about this game. In the first quarter, with very minimal time of possession, it looked like the big arm was just a physical tool, but there was not nearly enough for this to be a potent offense. I’m not going to say whether he lived up to the hype just yet, but it is 19-14 at the time I’m writing this.
A Tale of Two Cal Teams Cal came out of the gates strong, exactly what we wanted to see after a tough 2020 season and enough concerns that the Bears were a one-sided football team. On the first drive of the game, there was a healthy mix of short passes and runs-up-the-middle that resulted in 63 yards and a touchdown. Cal sophomore Damien Moore accounted for 41 of those yards and clearly looked to be the lead back for a running back group with a good amount of depth. A forced three-and-out followed up another convincing offensive drive that led to a touchdown put the Bears up 14-0 at the end of the first quarter. Everything fell apart for the well-balanced first-quarter Cal team as the Wolfpacks scored 22 unanswered points.
Three-Pronged (Or, Four?) Running Back Group It is definitely early in the season, but the trio of Moore, senior Christopher Brooks (formerly Brown Jr.), and sixth-year senior Marcel Dancy may just be the strength of this offense (redshirt sophomore DeCarlos Brooks had just one carry at time of writing). Excluding redshirt senior Chase Garbers, the Bears gained 95 yards on the ground on 17 carries, which averages to about 5.6 yards per carry. With the Cal pass offense not quite up to snuff, the Bears may have to rely on the rush attack more than I had hoped this season.
Number 4, Nikko Remigio As a kick/punt returner in the COVID-shortened season, then-Cal junior Nikko Remigio was electric, but the Bears were unable to take advantage of it. In fact, memorable returns were called back after flags on the play. It was incredibly frustrating when Ashtyn Davis would signal for a fair-catch on his returns two years ago given his speed. In this game though, there seems to be a clear willingness for returns as Remigio started off the game with a 29-yard return. It’s certainly not an amazing return, but that shift in philosophy could be big in a future game where field position could be the deciding factor.
Five Punts and Counting After two touchdown drives to start the game, Cal followed up with five straight punts as the incredibly frustrating Bears offense could barely muster 53 yards. In previous seasons, when Cal would take the lead in the second half, the offense would “turtle” and really slow down by moving away from the limited offensive actions that were working for them. In their two touchdown drives, it was a lot of Moore; after that, Moore had just 12 combined rushing and receiving yards until the 4th quarter.
Six Cal Big Plays With Garbers and for most of head coach Justin Wilcox’s tenure, the Bears have largely struggled with big plays. This game was no different. By the 10-minute mark of the 4th quarter, the Cal offense had two passes of more than 15 yards and four rushes of more than 10 yards. If this continues to be the trend under the Musgraves offense, the Bears will have to continue to be extremely methodical with a heavy focus on no negative yards, which is not a winning formula.
Seventh-year Senior 24-year old Luc Bequette is back in blue and gold after a brief stint in maroon gold on the other coast. Bequette has played it off as him being so old he played with Jared Goff, which is certainly a long time to be in college. His sack of Strong in the third quarter was a crucial play to limit the Wolfpacks to just a field goal when it felt like the Nevada offense was getting whatever it wanted.
Number Eight, Kuony Deng Despite moving to outside linebacker in the offseason, I was expecting a fantastic season for sixth-year senior Kuony Deng. The front-seven is definitely the strength of this Cal defense as they kept Strong from being too comfortable in the pocket and forcing him to throw on the run. Deng, however, was largely quiet in this game with just 2 tackles in the game. For someone being put on many preseason watch lists, I would expect his presence to be felt more.
Nine Nevada Passing Big Plays WIth seven minutes left in the 4th quarter, the Nevada offense had nine passing plays of 15 yards or more. On the three plays that resulted in more than 40 yards, the Wolfpack wide receiver beat his man and the Cal safety was too far out of position to provide the needed help. Even with redshirt senior Elijah Hicks and an interception by redshirt sophomore Miles Williams, this Cal secondary seems to be off the standard set by the Takers. They certainly need to work on where the safeties are lining up to provide help, especially with speedier receivers.
10pm, When I Said I Would Publish This By It is admittedly really hard to write about a game without conclusive information as to how it finished. Of course, I also underestimated how long it would take to write after not having to write on deadline since college. Alas, I hope I am wrong about this, but as someone who feels like Cal is a “needs to prove it” team, this is not a great start to the season either by me or the Bears.