Football: Wolf Pack, Bears square off tonight |

Football: Wolf Pack, Bears square off tonight

by Joe Santoro

Rarely in the 104-year history of University of Nevada football has so much opportunity come wrapped in a nice, neat package and placed on the Wolf Pack’s doorstep for the taking.

All that’s left to do is open the door and grab it.

“This is a great opportunity for us,” said Pack quarterback Colin Kaepernick of Friday night’s (7:05 p.m.) game against the California Golden Bears at Mackay Stadium. “But in the past we’ve had great opportunities before as well and we just didn’t capitalize.”

There will be a bowl game atmosphere down on north Virginia Street as the Wolf Pack hopes to improve to 3-0 for the first time since 1991. The game against the 2-0 Bears will be watched by a likely sellout (29,993) crowd at Mackay Stadium as well as a national television (ESPN2) audience.

“It’s a terrific opportunity,” Pack coach Chris Ault said.

There’s that word again. What, exactly, is the opportunity facing the Pack?

Well, the Pack will be hoping for its first victory over a Pac-10 team since it beat Washington in 2003, its first victory over Cal since 1903 and its first victory over a ranked team (Cal is 24th in the USA Today coach’s poll) since it beat No. 16 Fresno State in 2005.

“We have a point to prove,” Pack linebacker James-Michael Johnson said.

There will be a ton of opportunity facing the Pack on Friday.

The Wolf Pack is looking to be 3-0 for the first time since it moved to Division I-A (the Football Bowl Subdivision) in 1992. Ault has never beaten a Pac-10 team.

The last time a 2-0 Pack team played Cal, it lost 12-0 in 1901. And, oh yeah, Cal is 22-1-1 in its all-time series with the Wolf Pack.

“It’s always exciting whenever you get an opportunity to play someone that is supposedly better than you,” Kaepernick said. “But the thing that it really means if we have a chance to go 3-0 and stay undefeated.”

Ault, whose team will be playing its third home game in 15 days, did his best to remind everyone that this is just another football game in the middle of September.

“It’s a great opportunity but we’ll have more opportunities down the road (at BYU on Sept. 25 and Boise at home on Nov. 26, to name two),” Ault said. “This is just the opportunity presented to us this weekend.”

The game will match the nation’s top-ranked offense (the Pack at 592 yards a game) against the top-ranked defense (Cal at 160 yards a game). Yes, something has to give.

“They (Nevada) are very, very good at what they do,” Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. “They are very precise, very disciplined and have the guys to do it. It’s going to be a major challenge for us to slow those guys down a little bit.”

Cal knows all about the Wolf Pack’s Pistol offense and the fact that the Pack led the nation in rushing in 2009 and are sixth (295 yards a game) this year.

“It’s definitely a challenge for us to see if we can stop the run and see where we fit in the nation,” Cal linebacker D.J. Holt said. “We want to be one of the best

defenses in the nation and this will be a great steppingstone for us to overcome.”

It doesn’t appear that the Wolf Pack can sneak up on Cal.

“They (Nevada) are definitely not a team to sleep on,” Holt said. “They have one of the top offenses in the country.”

“I don’t see how you can take this team (the Pack) for granted,” said Tedford, now in his ninth season (69-35 record) at Cal.

Cal also presents some tough challenges for the Pack. Cal quarterback Kevin Riley, a senior, is third in the nation in passing efficiency and has thrown for 455 yards and seven touchdowns in two victories over UC Davis (52-3) and Colorado (52-7). Cal running back Shane Vereen has 126 yards and three scores on 30 carries.

“They are going to have a lot of great athletes on the field,” Pack safety Duke Williams said. “We’ll have to be ready for their speed.”

The teams last met in 1996, with Cal and head coach Steve Mariucci taking a 33-15 decision in Berkeley. The Pack head coach that day was Jeff Tisdel. Ault has never coached against Cal.

“The most important thing for us is to worry about ourselves,” Ault said, echoing a statement he’s made before every game this year. “We have to do what we do well and not worry about what they (Cal) will do. For us, it’s about improving every single day.”

The winner on Friday night gets to keep its undefeated record for another week.

“If you look at it from their (Nevada’s) standpoint, (they are) not (from) a BCS conference, this would be a gigantic win for them,” Riley said. “And if we win, that’s what we’re supposed to do.”