Entering tonight’s season opener against Nevada, Justin Wilcox was 9-0 in nonconference games as Cal’s head coach. The Bears looked like a team bound for the Rose Bowl after going up 14-0 in the first quarter, and Wilcox’s unbeaten streak seemed safe. Of course, that was before junior Carson Strong showed why he’s one of the top-rated returning quarterbacks in college football this season, passing for 312 passing yards and two touchdowns. While Cal’s offense looked stilted for most of the game, Strong carved the Bears up. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s offense finally established a running game midway through the fourth quarter, but the passing game did not keep up.
Cal’s secondary is not what it used to be
Sophomore defensive back Collin Gamble made his first start for the Bears on Saturday, and his lack of experience was apparent. With six minutes left in the second quarter, Nevada wide receiver Romeo Doubs burned Gamble on his touchdown reception. Strong completed multiple deep balls later on, including a 46-yard pass to wide receiver Tory Horton early in the second half, as well as a 42-yard pass to Horton again at the beginning of the fourth quarter. An interception by safety Miles Williams shortly after Horton’s second big play of the night was some consolation for a secondary that couldn’t keep up.
Big plays are still hard to come by
While Strong and the Wolf Pack receiver corps tore Cal’s secondary apart, redshirt senior quarterback Chase Garbers resorted to checkdown passes and pitch plays. Cal’s longest play of the night — a 38-yard run from running back DeCarlos Brooks — simply did not match Nevada’s 233 yards on completions of 15 or more yards. Garbers’ deep ball to the right sideline late in the third quarter landed somewhere between Nikko Remigio and Jeremiah Hunter, and it is still unclear who the intended wide receiver was. Down 22-17 with under five minutes left, when the Bears needed a big play the most, the fourth-year starter threw an interception.
Cal’s special teams are cause for concern
The Bears’ kicking and punting units were subpar at best. The Bears were forced to punt five times, and punter Jamieson Sheahan failed to pin the Wolf Pack in its own 20 on every occasion. With just more than seven minutes left in the game, kicker Dario Longhetto missed a 40-yard field goal attempt that would have made it a two-point game. While special teams did not cost Cal the game, their ineffectiveness certainly didn’t help.
Cal’s game MVP
Remigio’s 101-yard, one-touchdown game is enough to make him Cal’s MVP on the night, which says much more about the Bears’ offensive struggles than it does about the 5’10” wide receiver’s performance. Sophomore running back Damien Moore receives an honorable mention for his 95 all-purpose yards, one touchdown and hard-nosed carries in the first quarter.
Seventh-year senior defensive end Luc Bequette, who played at Cal for his first five years of eligibility before transferring to Boston College last season, started in his 54th college game and 43rd for the Bears. Garbers threw the ball 38 times for 177 yards, which averages to just 4.7 yards per attempt. Strong had twice as many yards per completion (14.2) as Garbers (7.1).
The Bears will head to Fort Worth, Texas next Saturday, Sept. 11 to play TCU. The Horned Frogs started their season 1-0 after blowing out Duquesne 45-3 at home. TCU’s main man is junior quarterback Max Duggan, who is in his third season as the starter for head coach Gary Patterson’s team. Duggan entered 2021 as the undisputed starter for the first time and was on fire against the Dukes, passing for 207 yards and an interception on just 19 attempts. TCU’s defense finished first in the Big 12 in the three seasons prior to 2020 and is poised to be one of the best in the conference again this year. Based on Cal’s offensive performance today, the Bears could be in for a long flight home after Saturday’s away game.
William Cooke covers football. Contact him at [email protected].