The California Golden Bears' 52-31 loss to Nevada on Sept. 17 dispelled any notions that the Cal defense was as strong as it showed in the first two games against weak opponents, and it again raised the issue of Kevin Riley's reliability as a quarterback.
Riley has not been effective against teams with a strong pass rush, and Arizona had six sacks when it beat No. 9 Iowa on Sept. 18. Plus, the Bears must play the Wildcats in Tucson, Ariz., where they are especially tough.
Cal's humbling defeat, in which the Bears could never slow the potent Nevada offense, removed Cal from the top 25 in the coaches poll and tempers the notion that the Bears will be a contender in the Pac-10.
It did not eliminate the idea that the Bears can compete for the Pac-10 title, though, because the conference seems wide open, and losing to Nevada in Reno is not as tragic as it may seem.
For one thing, the absence of Cal's best defensive player, linebacker Mike Mohamed (toe), could partially explain the Bears' defensive problems against the Wolf Pack's offense, which has been productive against nearly everyone. Mohamed is expected to play against Arizona, but he was expected to play against Nevada, too.
Arizona, despite its offensive successes, does not run the option nearly as effectively as Nevada, which scorched the Bears with the option expertly run by Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick. The option and a mobile quarterback have given Cal problems in recent years. The last three mobile quarterbacks Cal has faced -- Kaepernick, Washington's Jake Locker and Oregon's Jeremiah Masoli -- ran all over the Bears in lopsided Cal losses.
The Wildcats' Nick Foles does not fall into that category.
Cal did show it has a capable tailback in Shane Vereen, who showed outstanding moves while rushing for 198 yards against the Wolf Pack. He had touchdown runs of 59 and 50 yards, and the Bears will need his running threat to aid the passing game.
Riley had a decent game statistically, but again he made the critical mistake, throwing an interception that was returned for a Nevada touchdown after the Bears had reached the Nevada 37-yard line trailing by just three points midway in the third quarter. Riley has had a tendency to commit that one vital mistake that turns the game, and the loss to Nevada was no different.
He threw his first three interceptions of the season against the Wolf Pack, and each one seemed to change the momentum of the game.
Coach Jeff Tedford said before the season he is trying to be less uptight, because he believed that feeling trickled down to his players and contributed to the decline of the team's performances after the early setbacks in past seasons. He wants to relieve the pressure, and it will be interesting to see how Tedford reacts to the loss, and how the players react to a coach who is trying to be more relaxed.
NOTES & QUOTES
Cal has lost 11 of the past 14 games in which it was ranked in the top 25 of one of the two major polls.
WR Marvin Jones had a career night for the Bears with 12 catches and 161 receiving yards, the most by a Cal receiver in three years. He has 21 receptions through the first three games, more than twice as many as any teammate.
The start of the 2010 season is similar to the start of the Bears' 2008 season, when Cal won its first two games at home, climbed into the rankings, but lost its first road game decisively despite being favored. In 2008, Cal was 2-0 and ranked No. 25 in the coaches poll when it was overrun by Maryland. This time 2-0 Cal was ranked No. 24 in the coaches poll when its defense was dominated by Nevada.
Cal actually outgained Nevada 502-496, but it was a deceiving statistic. The Wolf Pack was far more efficient offensively. In the first half, Nevada had 16 first downs to four for Cal.
Cal had won 30 straight games in which it scored 30 points or more before losing to Nevada 52-31.
GAME BALL GOES TO: RB Shane Vereen -- He rushed for a career-high 198 yards, eclipsing his previous high of 193 against Stanford last year. But unlike the Stanford game, when he carried the ball 42 times, Vereen had just 19 carries against Nevada, averaging 10.4 yards a carry. He had touchdown runs of 59 and 50 yards and another run of 30 yards. Vereen's runs were of the spectacular variety, involving impressive cutbacks and shedding a lot of tackles.
KEEP AN EYE ON: WR Marvin Jones -- Although freshman WR Keenan Allen was receiving most of the publicity earlier, Jones has become the team's top receiving threat. He had 12 catches for 161 yards against Nevada, and he made a remarkable 39-yard reception in the fourth quarter, catching a ball along the left sideline that was thrown over his left shoulder as he went out of bounds. Jones was able to drag his right foot inbounds before landing out of bounds with his left foot.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm not sure Mike would have made a difference. There was a lot of open area out there for Kaepernick to run. I wouldn't put it on that." -- Cal coach Jeff Tedford, to the San Francisco Chronicle, on the effect of not having LB Mike Mohamed available to help stop Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: The Cal running game. TB Shane Vereen, the Bears' chief running threat, had not looked like the Vereen of last season in the first two games, suggesting that his preseason hamstring injury might be hampering his production. He broke out in a big way against Nevada on Sept. 17, rushing for 198 yards on a number of impressive runs. Any doubts that he is not back to peak condition were dispelled.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Cal's run defense. Although Nevada also racked up 181 yards passing, the coverage by Cal's secondary was actually pretty good. Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick was simply extremely accurate and had time to throw. Defending the run was another issue, though, as the Bears could not come close to stopping Nevada's option, which is similar to what Oregon runs. Not only did Kaepernick have room on the outside nearly every time he ran, amassing 148 rushing yards, but Nevada TB Vai Taua had 151 rushing yards, mostly up the middle.
LB Mike Mohamed (toe) missed the Nevada game but is expected to play Sept. 25 against Arizona. However, the Cal coaching staff had been confident in the days leading up to the Nevada game that Mohamed would play, so his status remains a question.
Freshman WR Keenan Allen had only one catch for 8 yards against Nevada, and that reception did not come until the fourth quarter.
TB Shane Vereen caught one pass against Nevada and has caught at least one pass in all 29 games he's played at Cal.
LB D.J. Holt had 16 tackles, the most by a Cal player in three years.