Nevada downs Cal 31-24 in opener

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By Ted Lee
Posted Sep 1, 2012
If by BearInsider Staff or Contributor, this article is Copyright © 2014 BearInsider.com


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Chris Harper celebrates his touchdown (photo by Michael J. Burns/goldenbearsports.com)

Aside from the final score, it was a lovely afternoon.

In its first game in the newly renovated Memorial Stadium, in front of an announced capacity crowd of 63,186, the California football team, despite moments of brilliance, found themselves undone by sloppiness in the form of penalties, dropped passes, and missed defensive assignments in losing to Nevada 31-24.

Aside from the final score, it was a lovely afternoon.

In its first game in the newly renovated Memorial Stadium, in front of an announced capacity crowd of 63,186, the California football team, despite moments of brilliance, found themselves undone by sloppiness in the form of penalties, dropped passes, and missed defensive assignments in losing to Nevada 31-24.

After falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter, Cal rallied to tie the scored at 24 in the fourth quarter on a 13-yard pass from Zach Maynard to Chris Harper, but the Wolf Pack were able to later drive 61 yards for the game-winning touchdown, converting on two third-down plays, before Stefphon Jefferson scored on a two-yard run to give Nevada a 31-24 lead with 36 seconds left.

Nevada eschewed a chance to kill the clock and attempt a field goal in favor of going for a touchdown.

“Our offense was doing really well and our defense was doing really well also,” said Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo, who was 25-of-32 for 230 yards and ran for 97 more, including a 49-yard touchdown. “Coach (Chris) Ault had a good game plan installed so we had all of the confidence. No matter what he said, no matter what he called, we didn't doubt it. Because once you start doubting it, you're not going to be able to convert.”

The Bears had one last possession but when a pass from Maynard to Harper was fumbled by the freshman receiver at the Nevada 37, the Wolf Pack recovered and were able to run the clock out.

“Obviously coming into the stadium, there was a lot of hype and energy,” said Cal head coach Jeff Tedford. “It was great to be home, but you want to come out and play better and win the football game and we didn't get that done. We tried to keep our guys' emotions under control. It was great to see a great crowd. I'm sorry we didn't play better and let the fans down. We have to get back to work now.”

For anyone who thought that the Bears' fortunes would be helped because Colin Kaepernick no longer played quarterback for Nevada, he, now of the 49ers, formerly indelibly etched in the memories of Cal fans as the architect of Nevada's 52-31 win in 2010, Cody Fajardo proved to be nearly as vexing.

The 6-foot-2 sophomore was a more than capable triggerman for Nevada's pistol offense, throwing for 230 yards, running for 97, and causing chaos for the Bear defense all afternoon long. While he didn't shred the Bear defense with his running to the extent that Kaepernick did, his 49-yard run to put the Wolf Pack up 14-0 put the Bears in a whole they spent most of the afternoon trying to dig themselves out of.

Cal's early game offense might have been thrown out of sync by a decision to start Allan Bridgford at quarterback. While Maynard was thought to be the team's starter, he was benched for most of the first quarter for having missed a tutorial session this summer. Even though the coaching staff knew that Maynard would see some disciplinary action, the decision wasn't announced until Friday.

During the week, reps weren't modified; Maynard still took most of the first team reps, while Bridgford took occasional reps, but there was no sign that anything different was going to happen during the game.

Bridgford started and nearly provided a memorable start to the season, by attempting a long pass to Keenan Allen that was just a yard behind his outstretched arms. Cal's offense was having difficulty finding its rhythm early; a personal foul penalty killed a possession that would have given the Bears a 3rd-and-4; a Bridgford-to-Allen lateral which has potential ended badly when Allen slipped, resulting in a two-yard loss.

“We missed a couple of balls on the first possession of the game, but it wasn't completely Bridgford,” said Tedford. “We were out of sync on some communication.”

While Isi Sofele was expected to be the team's primary ball carrier this spring, all five first-quarter carries by tailback went to C.J. Anderson. Anderson finished with 14 carries for 66 yards while Sofele had five carries for 21 yards.

“Both (of them) are slash,” said Tedford. “(Running backs) Coach (Ron) Gould keeps his finger on the substitutions. He does a good job of getting those guys in and out. It just worked out that when C.J. Was in there a lot of the reads were (hand-offs) instead of keeps by the quarterback.”

As Cal's offense was having its issues; the defense was also struggling. Nevada was able to sustain long possessions – if it wasn't Fajardo with the run, it was Jefferson up the middle or Fajardo taking advantage of the Bears' defenders playing off of the receivers.

Nevada opened the scoring on a 16-play, 80-yard drive, marked by conversions on 3rd-and-2, 3rd-and-inches, and 4th-and-1. The last play came from the Bear 6-yard line where a Fajardo keeper on 4th-and-1 gave Nevada a 1st-and-goal from the 4. Jefferson scored on a 2-yard run, two plays later to put the Wolf Pack ahead.

With the Bears managing just 20 yards on their first three possessions, Maynard entered the game late in the first quarter to a good ovation from the crowd; and on the first play he threw a 20-yard completion to Jacob Wark and it seemed like the offense would be back to its old self. But later in the possession came two overthrown passes and the Bears were forced to punt.

On the following possession, Nevada took all of two plays to go 64 yards, with Fajardo scoring on a 49-yard touchdown run. On a 1st-and-10 from the Cal 49, he faked a handoff to the inside which sucked in the defense, and by the time he took off around the right side, only linebacker Chris McCain was anywhere near him. Fajardo outraced McCain and a closing Kameron Jackson to put the Wolf Pack 14-0, and hopes of a glorious opening day home victory were fast disappearing.

The Bears finally scored on their fifth possession of the game, when Zach Maynard threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Bryce Treggs. Cal was facing a 1st-and-10 from the Nevada 37, when they lined up with Treggs and Keenan Allen lined up the left side of the line of scrimmage. Both receivers ran up field and as Allen slanted towards the post, the Nevada safety chose to follow Allen, leaving Treggs facing single coverage from Wolf Pack cornerback Khalid Wooten. With Maynard's throw hanging in the air, Treggs sprinted towards the ball, leaving Wooten in his wake, easily catching the pass for a touchdown.

“It was a route that was a fake and a post outside,” said Treggs. “Keenan had a route inside and he was actually the first read. So I just ran my route and Zach saw me late. He threw it up and I caught it. It was something I've been working a long time for.”

The play of both freshmen receivers was a one of the game's high points for the Bears as both seemed to adjust to the offense and showed enough speed and elusiveness that will cause opposing defenses fits as the season rolls on. Both players had a touchdown in their Cal debuts, Harper finished with five catches for 58 yards, while Treggs finished with three catches for 63 yards.

“I thought (Harper and Treggs) played decent for their first game,” said Tedford. “Treggs dropped a ball and we need to get Harper to secure the football. (Harper) made a really nice run on that one play, but the ball came out at the end. For young freshmen receivers, they came in prepared. Treggs made a nice catch on the touchdown. Those guys have a bright future.”

The Bears limited Nevada to a three-and-out, and on its subsequent possession had a 1st-and-goal from the Nevada 10, but Maynard was sacked on a 3rd down from the seven. Vincenzo D'Amato missed a 31-yard field goal that would have closed the deficit to four, but given how rough the first half went, Cal had to be OK with a 14-7 halftime deficit.

Early in the third quarter, Nevada stretched its lead to 14 on a 12-play, 79-yard drive, when Jefferson scored on a two-yard touchdown. The defense was able to put Nevada in long yardage situations, but Nevada was able to make big plays when it needed to, completing a 10-yard pass on 3rd-and-10, and making another 10-yard play from a 2nd-and-13.

While the Bears have usually used a nickel formation on third down, they went with one much more frequently against Nevada. Between the five defensive backs and Nevada spreading out its skill players, the Bears found it difficult getting help from its secondary in trying to control the line of scrimmage. And while the Bears were able to prevent big plays, Saturday turned out to be a death of a thousand cuts.

The Bears drew back to seven at 21-14 on a 39-yard touchdown run by Allen.

Facing a 1st-nd-10 from the Nevada 39, Maynard handed the ball to Sofele, who ran to the right. He lobbed the ball to Allen who was running the opposite direction. As Allen circled to the left side of the field, Maynard chipped Nevada lineman Lenny Jones with shoulder block, keeping him from Allen. Allen, then turned upfield and showed why he's one of the top talents in the country, using speed, vision and quick feet to get to the end zone. He raced between Wooten and a diving DeAndre Broughton, outran linebacker Albert Rosette.

Maynard for his part didn't have the sharpest of games. He made some nice throws but on others he seemed to hesitate. Part of this was because Nevada dropped their defensive backs deep and it wasn't until late in the game that Cal decided to try to exploit the defense by throwing underneath the coverage.

“Zach did some decent things,” said Tedford, “But there are other areas he needs to improve with. He threw some good balls, but there are some open guys he needs to hit. He is better than what he played today.”

Maynard was 17-of-30 for 247 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions, but knew that both he and the team are capable of much more.

“The defense didn't do much of anything that was unexpected,” Maynard said. “It was a lot of cover four. They didn't do anything out of the ordinary. They didn't blitz as much as I thought they were going to. They stayed in zone a lot and sat on a lot of routes. We knew about everything that they were doing. We just have to find a way to execute better.”

When Nevada fumbled the following kickoff, Cal's Kameron Jackson recovered it and the Bears were able to close the deficit to four at 21-17 when D'Amato kicked a 40-yard field goal. Still, the Bears will lament a missed opportunity. On a 1st-and-10 from the Nevada 27, Maynard rolled right and momentarily had an open Richard Rodgers down deep, but Maynard hesitated, had to wait, and by the time he was able to throw the ball, Rodgers was covered and the ball was incomplete.

Cal had a chance to take the lead or cut further into it when they drove the ball into Nevada territory. An earlier Maynard-to-Allen 34 yard completion was nullified by an ineligible man downfield penalty, but the Bears used series of completions to Keenan Allen and Treggs to get the ball down to the Wolf Pack 22.

Early in the fourth quarter, on an 3rd-and-8, Maynard was chased from the pocket and as he scrambled he fumbled the ball. While he wasn't going to get the first down, if he'd held onto the ball, it would have resulted in a makeable field goal attempt from around 40 yards. But Nevada's Jack Reynoso recovered the ball, giving Nevada the ball on their own 21.

Nevada boosted their lead to seven at 24-17 after a 14-play, 57 -yard drive, ending with a 39-yard field goal by Allen Hardison. The Wolf Pack, which was 11 of 20 on third down conversions for the game, converted on 3rd-and-10 and 3rd-and-6 to continue their drive. Even though the Bears allowed 450 yards, it wasn't as if they were overrun – they were able to put Nevada in long yardage situations, it was just a matter of them being able to hold their mettle and execute plays.

Yet the Bears were always in the game and it looked like they might be able to pull out the win if they could sustain a decent level of play for a few minutes.

They tied the score at 24 on a five-play, 66-yard drive, when Maynard threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Chris Harper. Harper was lined up on the right side of the field, ran back behind the line, caught a short pass from Maynard and ran into the end zone easily. The key play on the drive was 32-yard pass from Maynard to Allen on 2nd-and-15 on a catch and run.

Allen had an unusually subdued game for him with five catches for 69 yards, three punt returns for 39 yards, and three runs for 33 more yards. He appeared to be on the verge of bouncing a few big plays, but he slipped several times throughout the day.

Both teams exchange punts before Nevada embarked on what was eventually the game-winning touchdown drive.

The Wolf Pack faced 3rd-and-2 from the Cal 38; a stop here would have forced Nevada to make a tough decision about whether to go for it or punt, a first down would almost assuredly put them in field goal range.

Fajardo completed a 16-yard pass to tight end Zach Sudfeld giving Nevada the ball on the Cal 24 and whatever momentum there was left now swung entirely in the Wolf Pack's favor.

“He kind of bobbled it in the air,” said defensive back Brandon Wimberley. “[But] he's 6' 7”. They hit him in the legs and he had a chance to catch it again. When he came down with it, I knew from there that we were going to win. There was 1:20 left at that time. I just looked at him and said 'Let's go.'”

With a 3rd-and-8 from the Cal 22, it appeared that Nevada would be well within their rights to center the ball and kick a field goal, but Fajardo rolled right and threw a 19-yard pass to receiver Wimberley to put the ball on the Cal two, setting up Jefferson's game-winning touchdown.

There was some thought that Nevada might have scored too soon. They easily could have run down the clock and ended their possession with little or no time on the clock.

By scoring when they did, the Wolf Pack had to withstand a kickoff return and two plays before clinching victory.

As for the Bears, they head into next week's game against Southern Utah knowing that they let a game get away that they easily could have won. For all of the offensive discombobulation and the difficulties that the defense had, it took some unusually good execution by the Nevada offense to beat Cal.

Still, an early loss with games against Ohio State and USC, not too far off in the distance, this was a game the Bears if they wanted to beef up their credentials and show that this might be a year where they can spring a surprise or two. That opportunity's not lost just yet, and while it is harder to see than it was Saturday morning; an opening game doesn't make or ruin a season.

But that second game on the schedule now looks a bit more important.

“To come away at home with a loss is pretty tough on everybody,” said Maynard. “We have to be safe tonight and come back ready to work. We have another big game next week. It's the next game, so it's the biggest game and we've got to come prepared.”

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