Here you are Cal fans: a blast from the past. Former BearTerritory publisher A.W. Prince, now running SilverandBlueSports.com and covering this week's opponent-Nevada-joins us to talk in-depth about the Wolf Pack in this week's Q&A.
BearTerritory: How is the 2010 Nevada team different from a year ago?
AWP: Nevada accomplished some memorable things last year, including their fifth-straight bowl game under Hall of Fame head coach Chris Ault, who is known nationally for inventing the Pistol offense. The Wolf Pack led the country in rushing and saw three players rush for over 1,000 yards in 2009. They were the first team in NCAA football history to hit that mark. Furthermore, those same three rushers-Colin Kaepernick (now a senior), Vai Taua (now a senior) and Luke Lippincott (graduated)-also ranked No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 in yards per carry nationally. In my opinion, that is one of the most incredible statistics I've ever come across in college football.
Nevada also posted the highest number of yards per carry in the past two decades, and barely missed Army's all-time mark set in the 1940's. Those stats show why the Pistol offense is so respected. No matter what player you plug in there, the numbers are likely to follow.
Still, experience is a major factor in any system, and Nevada now has that in 2010. This senior class is arguably the best in school history, with five players likely to be selected in the NFL Draft next April. They are talented and currently rank as the No. 1 offensive in the country after just two weeks. Some could say that's a fluke, but since the Wolf Pack finished No. 2 in 2009, it would surprise nobody if that number stays consistent in 2010.
The Achilles heel for Nevada has been their defense, but even some of those concerns have been addressed with the addition of new defensive coordinator Andy Buh, a former Nevada player who has completed coaching stints at Cal and Stanford, respectively. Last year, he was Stanford's co-Defensive Coordinator. There has always been talent on that side of the ball for the Pack, but now it seems to be organized much better, especially the secondary.
This is a much more polished, experienced group. They have hosted Texas Tech, Missouri and Boise State over the past two seasons, so they know what a big game atmosphere is all about.
BT: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is always a threat to run, but how is he through the air?
Kaepernick was the top rushing quarterback in the country a year ago, and ranks among the Top 10 rushing quarterbacks in college football history right now. He already has 43 rushing touchdowns in his career, and trails all-time rushing QB leader Pat White (West Virginia) by just over 1,300 yards.
Simply put, Kaepernick is the most talented quarterback I saw enter college football from a Northern California school since I watched Aaron Rodgers play at Butte a number of years ago. He's without a doubt a lesser-known Terrelle Pryor-type of talent to most college football fans, yet he is extremely high on the radar of NFL scouts. NFL trainer Chip Smith-father of former Cal fullback Zach Smith-told me last summer that he felt sorry for the receivers after watching Kaepernick throw the ball at his Competitive Edge Sports complex in Atlanta.
Cal fans will see a young man that can absolutely sling it with the best in the business, which is what separates him from a lot of talented rushing QBs in college. Kaepernick has thrown for 65 touchdowns and over 7,600 yards in his outstanding career, against just 16 interceptions.
The one knock on Kaepernick is that he might throw the ball too hard; might throw a pass that is considered "tough to catch". But when he's had experienced receivers, like he did in 2007 and 2008, plus once again this year, that has never been a complaint. In addition to that, Kaepernick has shown much more touch this year.
BT: What kind of running game can Cal expect to see?
AWP: I covered Cal during the 2004 season when they were the second team since 2000 to average over 6.0 yards per carry for an entire season. Those were the days of J.J. Arrington and a talented youngster named Marshawn Lynch. West Virginia's rushing attack with the aforementioned White, plus Steve Slaton, and USC's backfield with Reggie Bush and LenDale White were also great rushing teams in the ensuing years. So I've seen some pretty good ones.
But the thing that caught my eye about Nevada, and something I think Cal fans will see for themselves this Friday night, is the Wolf Pack's consistent ability to run down hill on opponents out of the Pistol offense. Based on misdirection, veer and option-based offensive principles, the Pistol is very hard to defend because you simply can't see who has the ball a lot of times.
I know what the Pac-10 has to offer Cal this year, and there's no question that Oregon's ground game is going to be a big challenge for Cal to stop. The Ducks, who Nevada will host next year, do it very well of the read option.
But the Wolf Pack is no joke when it comes to rushing. They are one of the best in the country, and it'll be a great test for the current No. 1 ranked defense.
BT: What are the Pack's biggest question marks or perceived weaknesses this season?
AWP: Nevada really made a big effort to improve their special teams and secondary this season, bringing in former Cal defensive backs coach Mike Bradeson, plus one of the top young defensive minds in the game in Buh. Both have been instrumental in helping out those units, starting this past spring.
But there's no question that Nevada's top weakness the past two seasons has been their secondary. Some of it was pure youth, with true freshmen manning key spots, while the additional blame can be placed on the terrible scheme they ran, with the former defensive coordinator running basic man-to-man schemes even on third-and-long situations. Needless to say, that unit got burned a lot. It didn't help playing pass-happy teams like Texas Tech, Missouri and Boise State during those years too. Some of the stats are inflated when teams pass the ball 50-60 times a game.
It remains to be seen how the secondary unit will perform in 2010, but early indications are that they are much improved. Sophomore safety Duke Williams is a big-time talent and a ferocious hitter that didn't play in the Pack opener, yet returned for Colorado State. His presence made a tremendous difference in the 51-6 thumping of the Rams.
Nevada also added some special teams punch with former Oregon signee Rishard Matthews on special teams. He spent this past season at Bakersfield C.C. leading the country in punt returns.
BT: Any injuries that Cal fans should know about?
AWP: Corbin Louks is the only major one; he's out for another 2-3 weeks. He was a former Bay Area QB star who ran the Wildcat at Utah for a season, and did a great job of it. He transferred to Nevada last year though and sat out, doing the John Lynch thing and moving over to safety. He played real well in the spring and fall, so its' a loss.
The back-ups are solid though. Marlon Johnson has come on real strong, Bubba Boudreaux is a big hitter and Williams, who sat out the first game, is a beast at strong safety.
Mike Ball was sick some of last week, and that's why he didn't play all that much against CSU. He'll be back to 100 percent for Cal.
Former Cal signee L.J. Washington has missed the first two games of this year with a knee injury, but he looks like he might play this week. I know he really wants to.
BT: What can we expect from the Wolf Pack defense?
AWP: They run a 4-3. They have five sacks in two games, and they are very good at getting pressure on the QB. Dontay Moch is a monster. I mean, how the Pac-10 let that kid get to Nevada out of Chander, Ariz., is beyond me. Zack Madonick is another guy playing at a very high level at DT, and they have a big 300-pound three-technique kid named Big Willie-Willie Faataualofa-who is coming on hard right now.
The Nevada defense has taken its lumps over the past two seasons, and it has been a case of both good and bad. The Pack rushing defense ranked No. 6 in the country in 2008, and No. 22 last year. Both those numbers are good. The Nevada pass defense has been atrocious though during that same time frame. No defense has given up more passing yards than the Pack. There are reasons for that, and one includes the scheme that was used by former Defensive Coordinator and new Portland State head coach Nigel Burton. It also comes down to who Nevada has played, and after facing Missouri (twice), Boise State (twice), Hawaii (twice), SMU, Texas Tech and Notre Dame, the Pack D' has faced a lot of pass-happy programs.
Nevertheless, Nevada has made a number of moves to counter those issues, bringing in a new safeties coach, Mike Bradeson, and a new defensive coordinator, Buh. Both have served time at Cal and are remarkable coaches.
But is ranking 70th, especially after facing an FCS (Eastern Washington) team and a dismal FBS (Colorado State) team, improvement?
Considering that two of EWU's scores were off an 82-yard screen pass and really great 74-yard, reverse field a la Marcus Allen type run by Taiwan Jones-arguably the top FCS player in the country who finished second to Jahvid Best in the 2007 California 100-meter track final-the numbers are a bit distorted. With the way Nevada's offense has scored-scoring on 16 of its 20 offensive drives this season alone-opponents are going to get their shots at the Pack defense. That's just how it is when your offense scores like that. If the Pack end the year in the top 50 defensively, it will be considered a tremendous improvement by Buh and company.
BT: Any other notes of interest?
AWP: Dominic Galas' younger brother, Matthew, is a true freshman center at Nevada. I'm very close with the family. Matthew is a chip off the old block, redshirting this season but he'll be the starter at Nevada in two years.
Also, Marvin Jones was a high school teammate of Nevada guard Chris Barker. I knew both well back when they were recruits, and they are good friends. Marvin, along with Dasarte Yarnway, are probably my two closest confidents on the team. Barker will be one of the rare four-year O-Line starters in Nevada history when his career is over.