Nevada pistol to fire shots at host Bears

Simone Anne Lang/File
Defensive End Chris McCain celebrates after a tackle in the November 5, 2011 game against Washington State in San Francisco.

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After a year spent at temporary home AT&T Park, the Cal football team will assuredly be fired up for its return to Memorial Stadium this Saturday at noon.

Head coach Jeff Tedford, however, is quick to remark that the new facilities won’t win football games.

“What’s going on between the lines is the most important thing,” he said. “It’s important we bring a product to the field.”

Because last time Nevada and Cal faced off, the Wolf Pack did most of the firing.

Nevada’s pistol offense dismantled the Bears, 52-31, on Cal’s first road trip of the 2010 season. As Tedford put it, “it wasn’t pretty.”

Cal has a history of struggling against the pistol offense. Last year at the Rose Bowl, a maligned UCLA squad rushed for 294 yards en route to a 17-point wipeout of the Bears.

“It wasn’t nothing so much that they did, it was mostly on our part, on our end,” said senior cornerback Marc Anthony. “It was just people not being in their gaps, people having bad eyes and not being where they’re supposed to.”

The Cal defense was otherwise solid against the run last season, ranking fourth in the Pac-12 with 128.7 rushing yards allowed per game. But the Bears have to replace six starters on defense, including Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Mychal Kendricks. And they’ll have to do it against a Nevada club that had the 10th best ground attack in the nation last year (247.5 rushing yards per game).

2011 was a rebuilding year of sorts for the Wolf Pack, who finished 7-6 following a brilliant 13-1 campaign in 2010 that included an overtime upset of national title-hopeful Boise State.

The drop-off was partly due to the loss of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who amassed 329 total yards and five touchdowns in the win over Cal that season. Starting Saturday’s game will be Cody Fajardo, the reigning WAC Freshman of the Year. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Fajardo threw for 1,707 yards and rushed for 694 in 2011 but struggled with injuries down the stretch.

“He’s just as good, maybe even a little better than Kaepernick,” Anthony said. “We’re just gonna approach him like we did Kaepernick and try to contain him as much as possible and force him to be a thrower instead of a runner.”

Countering Fajardo will be the Bears’ own mobile signal caller in Zach Maynard. The senior will look to build off last year’s strong finish, in which he emerged as a capable game manager following an interception-heavy first half of the season. He’ll be throwing to a stable of young, inexperienced receivers aside from his half-brother, preseason All-American Keenan Allen.

The junior leads a team that has a large task at hand — to have its performance on the field be as improved as the stadium up above. It all starts with avenging an embarrassing loss.