Nevada features Colin Kaepernick, one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. Nevada leads the nation in total offense, and Kaepernick is third in the nation individually in total offense heading into the Cal game, averaging 384 yards a game.
He's averaging 110.5 rushing yards per game, and has completed 71.2 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He had 402 total yards in the Wolf Pack's 51-6 victory over Colorado State on Sept. 11 while completing 21 of 29 passes.
Kaepernick is in his fourth season as a starter, and he is playing at home against Cal.
Those facts are worrisome enough, but the fact that Oregon's Jeremiah Masoli and Washington's Jake Locker, both of whom have the same kind of run-pass skill set as Kaepernick, blistered the Bears last season makes Kaepernick a bigger concern.
Masoli ran for only 21 yards against Cal last season, but he completed 21 of 25 passes for 253 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 42-3 Oregon victory in which Masoli left the game after three quarters.
Locker did not play the entire game against Cal either, because his work was so devastating. He rushed for 77 yards while completing 19 of 23 passes for 248 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 42-10 victory over Cal.
The Bears simply could not cope with the dual threat those athletic quarterbacks offered. It will be up to new Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast to figure out a way to cope with it this year. He has some speedy linebackers at his disposal that may help in the form of outside linebackers Mychal Kendricks and Jarred Price, who had outstanding games in the 52-3 victory over Colorado.
However, Kaepernick and the Wolf Pack pistol offense will put a lot of pressure on cornerbacks Marc Anthony and Darian Hagan, neither of whom were starters at the end of last season when Locker tore apart the Cal secondary.
What helps make Kaepernick effective is the presence of Vai Taua, a 5-10, 220-pounder considered one of the best running backs in the country. He is a two-time first-team all-Western Athletic Conference selection.
Exercising some ball control, something Cal failed to do against Oregon and Washington last season, may be Cal's best response to Kaepernick's talents, and the Bears have been focusing on that this season.
For that to happen, tailback Shane Vereen needs to be more effective running the ball than he was in the first two games, and quarterback Kevin Riley must continue to be efficient in the short-passing game.
One other thing needs to be mentioned. Cal was ranked in the coaches poll on Sept. 12, coming in at No. 24, and the Bears have a history of not playing well when they are ranked.
NOTES & QUOTES
The Nevada game will be Cal's first road game of the season, and until last season, the Bears had struggled mightily on the road. In 2009, however, Cal went 4-2 on the road.
SERIES HISTORY: Cal leads 29-2-1 (last meeting 1996, 33-15 Cal).
Cal was ranked No. 24 in the coaches poll released Sept. 12. It is the seventh straight season in which Cal has been ranked in one of the two major polls at some point of the season.
Cal is ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense, and Nevada is ranked No. 1 in the county in total offense.
The Bears are on the road for five of their next seven games, starting with Nevada. Cal opens Pac-10 play Sept. 25 on the road against Arizona.
A Cal win would give the Bears a 3-0 start for the third straight season. The Bears are opening with three non-conference foes for the third straight year.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Cal has scored 52 points in each of its first two games and has demonstrated no glaring weaknesses. The quality of the opposing defenses has not been high, and the Bears' offensive output in the Sept. 11 game against Colorado was aided greatly by the plays made by the Cal defense. The Bears defense scored two touchdowns and set Cal up for several other scores, so the offense has not been as dominant as the scores suggest. QB Kevin Riley ranks third nationally in pass efficiency and has not made many mistakes, but he has missed on a few throws and still has to prove he can be consistent. TB Shane Vereen has not been as productive as expected. The one obvious improvement is at wide receiver, where freshman Keenan Allen and senior Marvin Jones have performed well.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Cal's defense has been better than expected, especially in the Sept. 11 win over Colorado, when it applied constant pressure on the Buffaloes quarterback. The Bears had six sacks, forced five turnovers and scored two defensive touchdowns. The three interceptions suggest Cal is playing the ball in the air better than it did last season, and linebacker play, which was a major question when the season began, has been pretty good. Mike Mohamed, Mychal Kendricks and Jarred Price are the linebackers who have stood out. The secondary, which was the weakness last season, has performed well, in large part because of the pass rush.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We get to test our run defense to the max." -- Cal safety Josh Hill, on the challenge of Nevada's ground game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Cal (2-0) at Nevada (2-0), Sept. 17 -- Cal has outscored Nevada 1,031-85 over their 32 meetings, but the teamd have met only once since 1934. The only previous time Nevada played Cal in Reno was 1914. Nevada has scored 100 points in its first two games and Cal has scored 104, so you'd expect a high-scoring game. Nevada was 5-1 at home last season, losing only to Missouri 31-21. Nevada coach Chris Ault invented the pistol offense that is being used by some other teams now.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The pass rush on both sides will be critical. Cal must protect QB Kevin Riley to help Riley avoid making crucial mistakes. Nevada has 12 sacks this season, so it can apply pressure. The Bears must do something to make Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick uncomfortable. If he is given time to do what he wants, he will pick the Bears apart by running or throwing. Cal must contain Kaepernick without ignoring Nevada TB Vai Tuau, a two-time first-team all-conference selection.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Kevin Riley -- He is always the pivotal player for Cal. When he avoids the game-changing mistakes, the Bears usually win. He may face some pressure from Nevada, something he has not had to deal with in the first two games. He currently ranks third in the country in pass efficiency, having thrown seven touchdown passes and no interceptions. He started out well last season, too, before struggling in some games.
LB Mike Mohamed -- He had 14 tackles and an interception return for a touchdown against Colorado, and he will be a key component in containing both Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick and TB Vai Taua. He is the Bears most consistent defensive player, and he needs to make a big play or two against Nevada.
WR Keenan Allen -- The freshman was merely average against Colorado after having a huge game in the opener against UC Davis. He is the Cal player most likely to produce a big play, and he can do so in a number of ways -- as a receiver, runner, passer or kick returner.
Backup CB Steve Williams had surgery on his thumb on Sept. 14. He will miss the Nevada game, but it is unclear how long he will be out.
LB Mike Mohamed sat out several days of practice because of a toe injury, but he is expected to play against Nevada.
TB Shane Vereen has had at least one reception in all 28 collegiate games he has played.