The script was perfect: Memorial Stadium was flush with excitement after a 21-month absence, the Cal football team showed promise, and the opponent seemed beatable. All the Bears needed to do was take care of business, and the narrative would take care of itself.
Until it didn’t.
With optimism abounding, Nevada walked into Berkeley and destroyed any hopes for a grand season in a 31-24 stunner.
“We didn’t play very well,” said head coach Jeff Tedford. “There were way too many mistakes. Communication breakdowns, key penalties; we just weren’t sharp.”
The Cal defense looked helpless against the inside-outside option attack of the Wolfpack, who utilized the pistol formation to read-option the Bears to death.
“Their offense spreads you thin,” Tedford said. “You have to stop the dive, you have to stop the quarterback on the edge and you have to stop the pitch. You really have to be disciplined with your eyes.”
With quarterback Zach Maynard on the bench to start the game due to a missed tutoring assignment, the Bears were forced to start backup Allan Bridgford. The junior looked uncomfortable and unprepared, completing just 1-of-8 passes and stalling the offense on his three drives.
Meanwhile, Wolfpack quarterback Cody Fajardo left the Cal defense looking mystified. His read-option attack fooled the Bears the entire first quarter, the outside linebackers unable to contain the speedy Fajardo from breaking to the outside. Running back Stefphon Jefferson (35 carries, 140 yards) trucked through the defense with a bruising running style, taking inside handoff after inside handoff and moving the chains in short-yardage situations.
Fajardo and Jefferson teamed up for two touchdown drives in the first quarter, sticking the Bears in a 14-0 hole before Maynard’s second drive.
Maynard returned at the end of the first quarter but failed to get the offense going until the middle of the second. He found Bryce Treggs on a 37-yard touchdown strike to pull Cal within seven with 4:38 remaining in the second.
The beginning of the second half brought another Fajardo-Jefferson touchdown march, putting the Bears two touchdowns down halfway through the third quarter.
But the elusive momentum wave started to shift toward the Bears on the ensuing drive. A squib kick and a personal foul penalty gave Cal favorable field position, and Maynard quickly completed a 12-yard out to Treggs to put the Bears at the 39-yard line. Keenan Allen showed his first-round athletic ability on the next play, cutting and juking his way to a 39-yard touchdown run on a reverse.
A Nevada fumble on the kickoff stuck Cal at the Nevada 27 on the next possession, but the offense stalled and settled for a field goal.
Maynard (17-for-30, 242 yards, 2 TDs) found freshman Chris Harper on a 13-yard touchdown strike to tie it up at 24 with just under eight minutes remaining.
“It was an average day for Zach,” Tedford said. “He’s better than he was today.”
But the momentum train came to a halt when Nevada took possession at the 40-yard line with 4 minutes left. Fajardo slowly and methodically moved the ball down the field, completing short pass after short pass to set the Wolfpack up for a crucial 3rd and 4 at the Cal 38 with 2 minutes left. Fajardo completed a 20-yard pass to his tight end, and Nevada scored on a Jefferson run three plays later.
In the end, Cal’s defense was simply overmatched by the speed and agility of Fajardo.
“This is a setback for us,” Tedford said. “We let the fans down today.”
Michael Rosen covers football. Contact him at [email protected].