Football: 10 Things to look for – Nevada vs. Cal |

Football: 10 Things to look for – Nevada vs. Cal

by Joe Santoro

1. The nations’ best offense (Nevada) versus the nation’s best defense (Cal)

Early-season statistics are always misleading and this is another example. California has a good defense but it is certainly not the best in the country. The Bears have played UC Davis and Colorado, two teams that will struggle to score on everybody they play this season. The Pack offense, though, should be in the Top 10 all season. But it will be interesting to see if this Pistol offense can pile up yardage and, more importantly, points against a fast, athletic, BCS conference defense.

2. Cal QB Kevin Riley against Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick

The Wolf Pack clearly has the best quarterback on the field in the vast majority of its games. That factor is the biggest reason why the Pack wins the majority of its games. Riley, though, poses a difficult test for this Pack defense. Riley is third in the country in pass efficiency. In other words, he is Chris Ault’s dream quarterback. The Cal QB isn’t going to turn into Michael Vick or Tim Tebow and run you ragged like Kaepernick will, but he will pick you apart through the air. This is the first of many good quarterbacks (Riley, Kellen Moore, Ryan Colburn, Diondre Borel, Nate Enderle, Bryant Moniz) the Pack will face this year. The same can be said for Cal against Kaepernick, who is third in the nation in total offense at 384 yards a game.

3. Wolf Pack running game against the Cal defense

The Pack’s Pistol offense starts with the run. The Pack, which led the nation in rushing a year ago at 345 yards a game, is sixth this year at 295 a game. Cal’s defense, though, is third in the nation against the run, allowing just 135 yards a game. The Bears, though, have played two anemic offenses and had huge leads in both games so those numbers might be a bit misleading.

4. Battle of turnovers

Both the Wolf Pack and Cal have done a tremendous job of winning the turnover war this year. Cal is plus-5 (sixth in the nation) and the Pack is plus-2 (23rd in the country). Both teams have turned the ball over just once this year. And neither quarterback has been intercepted yet.

5. Can the Pack deal with adversity?

Everything has gone according to plan so far this season for the Wolf Pack. They have jumped all over their first two opponents and cruised to a pair of victories. Both games were less strenuous than a couple of touch football games on the beach. This Pack team has played with absolutely zero pressure this year. They have never trailed for so much as a single second. They have, in fact, been up by double digits for 102 of 120 minutes of game action this year.

6. Vai Taua versus Shane Vereen

In addition to seeing two of the top quarterbacks in the country, this matchup also pits two of the best running backs. Vereen, like Taua, is one of the most explosive backs in the nation. Since taking over for an injured Jahvid Best with four games to go in the 2009 season, Vereen has 792 yards and nine touchdowns in six games. He’s had a nice, easy first two games, running for 126 yards and three scores on just 30 carries. So he’ll be rested and ready to go on Friday. Taua, too, has had a nice, easy first two games with 169 yards and three scores on 27 carries.

7. Homefield advantage

Will the Pack have a decided homefield advantage, enough so that Cal is extremely uncomfortable for the entire game? The game will likely be a sellout. But how many tickets have been gobbled up by Cal fans looking for a fun weekend in Reno? We’ll see. There are a lot of Cal fans in northern Nevada and they’ll come out of the shadows on Friday night. Most of them probably never thought they’d live long enough to see their beloved Bears play a game in Reno. Cal, though. is used to playing in front of hostile crowds in the Pac-10 so they certainly won’t be stunned by a road gathering of 30,000. Butit’s time a national ESPN audience sees that Boise State is not the only tough place to play in the WAC.

8. Can the Pack score against Cal?

This is without question the most embarrassing rivalry in the history of Pack football. Cal owns a 22-1-1 edge in the all-time series and have won the last 11 meetings between the two schools. The biggest problem the Pack has had against Cal is simply scoring points. The Pack has never scored more than 15 points in any game against Cal. They’ve only scored more than seven in a game twice. Cal has pitched 15 shutouts in 24 games against the Pack. The combined score in this rivalry is (hide your eyes, Pack fans) is 789-66. Two things in the Pack’s favor this time? Cal has never played a game in Reno and has never faced a Chris Ault offense before. The rivalry starts Friday night.

9. Can the Wolf Pack avoid a slow start?

The key to this game might be the first 10 minutes. The last thing the Pack wants is to fall behind 14-0 early and then having to abandon its running game. This Pack team is one of the best in the nation when playing with a lead, especially at Mackay Stadium. 

10. The seasons starts now

The first two games were nothing more than a glorified Silver & Blue scrimmage for this Pack team. The season starts Friday night. Beating Cal at home is crucial for this program for two important reasons. The first reason is for confidence. The Pack beats Cal and then going to BYU and trying to win eight days later will not be so daunting. The Pack beats Cal at home and they will have the confidence to do the same to Boise State in late November. The second reason a victory over Cal is important is because it will energize northern Nevada. A victory over Cal is exactly the type of victory northern Nevada has been waiting for from this football program. Selling tickets for the non-Boise State games the rest of the year (and next year and the year after that) at Mackay won’t be a problem.