Football Fast Forward: California

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By Nicolas Kranz, California Golden Blogs

Considering what happened the last time Cal faced Nevada, perhaps the focus should be on 60 minutes of football. But this isn't just any game. It's a game that Cal fans have been looking forward to for years - the first game in a renewed, renovated Memorial Stadium. Years upon years upon years sitting on splintered seats, visiting ancient bathrooms and fearfully waiting for the Big One to finally strike are over. A year of watching games in the beautiful-but-inadequate-for-football AT&T Park is over. It's been a long time coming.

But once the pomp and circumstance ends there will be a game to play, and Nevada has been too successful under head coach Chris Ault for Cal to take the Wolf Pack lightly. And in case any bear backers were in danger of making that mistake, all they need to do is remember Cal's humbling 52-31 defense in Reno two years ago. Still, Cal fans will be confident - the Bears haven't dropped a non-conference home game since 2003.

After a stunning 13-1 season in 2010, the Wolf Pack took a step back with a 7-6 record in 2011. Losing a pair of 1,000 yard rushers in Colin Kaepernick and Vai Taua certainly had something to do with that. Redshirt freshman Corey Fajardo saw part-time duty and took his lumps at quarterback, but he finished the year with some promising performances as a passer and a runner. He enters this season as the unquestioned starter with a WAC Freshman of the Year award under his belt.

Cal's defense will be looking to prove that they can stop the pistol offense after two poor showings over the last two years against Nevada and UCLA. Meanwhile, Ault brought in a new offensive coordinator, Nick Rolovich from Hawaii. Rolovich's run-and-shoot background may well add another challenge for Cal's defense to deal with. Will the Bear defense be vulnerable as they break in new linebackers to replace D.J. Holt and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Mychal Kendricks?

Nevada's biggest concern is likely a statistically mediocre defense looking to replace two all-conference performers. The Wolf Pack defense was generally solid against WAC competition but struggled in two games against BCS teams. Granted, nobody expects anybody to slow down Oregon anymore, but against the Bears, Nevada will have to prove that they have the talent to get stops against a major conference foe.

Matchups to watch:

SS Duke Williams vs. WR Keenan Allen
True, as a safety Williams won't be matched up one-on-one with Cal's all-Pac-12 wide receiver. But defensive coordinators leave Allen in single coverage at their own risk. Here's guessing that Nevada's best secondary defender will be shadowing over to help double cover Allen. If Cal can get the ball to Allen, it could be a long afternoon for the Wolf Pack defense.

Cal offensive line vs. Nevada defensive line
This battle is intriguing in part because there is so much uncertainty on both sides. Cal lost Mitchell Schwartz and Justin Cheadle to graduation and Mark Brazinski to a torn ACL. Nevada lost four major contributors across the defensive line. Which team will have the advantage? With that kind of personnel turnover, your best guess is as good as mine!

Cal's edge defenders vs. the pistol
When Cal was gashed by Kaepernick and UCLA's Kevin Prince, it wasn't for lack of speed, strength or talent. It certainly wasn't for lack of ability to stop a team that runs a spread offense with lots of zone read plays. It just appeared to be a lack of execution and discipline, as overly aggressive Bear defenders overcommitted to the running back, leaving the quarterback acres of yardage on the edge. Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast won't be lacking for tape to review to figure out how what went wrong, but fixing it is another matter. It will be up to the defensive ends and outside linebackers to stay disciplined and not get fooled by the play fake.

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