Everything is about football — except football, which is about power.
No one knows this better than the Bears, and, in particular, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. On the opening drive, Cal’s offense rolled straight down the field, taking full advantage of its love for powerful football. The drive, which culminated in a touchdown by running back Damien Moore, set the offense’s tempo for the game.
The Bears’ defense would also add to the team’s control and force a Nevada 3-and-out on the ensuing series, handing the ball right back to Cal’s mauling offensive line. Almost immediately, the heart of the team would victimize the Nevada defense and rip off runs of 20 and 12 within mere moments of one another. A deep fade to wide receiver Jeremiah Hunter later, and the blue and gold suddenly found themselves in striking range. A quick pass to the flats for a touchdown by wide receiver Nikko Remigio sealed the deal.
Power and control. Simple and stingy. Hallmarks of early success, evidenced by the fact that Nevada ran just three offensive plays in the entirety of the first quarter to Cal’s 24. Bears, 14-0.
But just because you have a team on the ropes does not mean that you’ll finish them. Nevada responded by snaking its way down into Cal territory — that is, until an uncharacteristic drop by Nevada tight end Cole Turner on third and long forced the Wolf Pack into settling for a made field goal.
If one is not careful, power and authority can slip away from your grasp. While Nevada may have been down, it certainly was not out. A few drives later, and it was not just power slipping away from Cal, but a Wolf Pack receiver as well. Nevada wideout Romeo Doubs found the end zone on a 43-yard bomb from quarterback Carson Strong.
In the blink of an eye, a 10-point swing and another punt from the Bears had Nevada back in striking range. Cal was still up, but its iron fist was beginning to rust. The Wolf Pack would get the ball back with time left in the second quarter, only to squander an opportunity to score. Cal would do the same and punted right back to the Pack.
Once again, Doubs would find a way to slip away from the Bears and returned a low kick all the way back to Cal’s 41-yard line. The Wolf Pack immediately went on the hunt and came hairs away from a Strong-to-Turner connection in the end zone but settled for a field goal.
At the intermission, one thing became clear: When Cal could stay on schedule by controlling the clock and the tempo on offense, it was nearly unstoppable. Nevada, on the other hand, thrived in pushing the ball up the field in a hurry. Forcing the Bears’ defense to stop them, the Wolf Pack simultaneously applied pressure to Musgrave’s offense to keep up.
“We had to make a play and we didn’t,” head coach Justin Wilcox said. “And, unfortunately, we don’t get a do-over.”
Pressure, unlike power, is relentless. The third quarter would see a couple variations of the persisting theme of the night: a Cal punt and a Wolf Pack field goal attempt. Nevada would miss its final attempt and give the ball back to the Bears with a minute left in the quarter. With seconds left on the clock, senior quarterback Chase Garbers would finally connect deep down the field as wide receiver Kekoa Crawford reeled in the bomb and gave life to the Bears heading into the fourth.
Life often presents itself in the smallest of ways — like algae, microorganisms and successful Cal 24-yard field goal attempts. Although the aforementioned examples fail to hold any true power, such a list is not totally devoid of a spark.
Sensing an opportunity to finish the job, Strong and the Nevada offense would take two shots down the field. One ended up as a completion, but the second time, redshirt sophomore safety Miles Williams intercepted the ball on the 1-yard line, once again breathing life into the Bears.
Starting on their own one and down 22-17, the Bears returned to what worked early on and broke off runs of 38 and 15 before settling for a field goal attempt that would end up wide of the posts.
Just when it seemed things could not go any worse for Cal, they did. An underthrown ball down the sideline resulted in an interception for Nevada. With the lead, a rolling offense and control of the situation, the Wolf Pack proceeded to kill three minutes off of the clock, giving it back to Cal.
“It’s a football game; you win some, you lose some,” Garbers said. “Bad throw, ball stuck to my hand, there’s no excuses — just bad football on my part.”
With the game hanging in the balance and two minutes left on the clock, the offense took the field. Four plays later, Nevada took a knee to end the game.
“It’s a learning lesson for the whole program,” Remigio said. “I don’t know what the issue is right now.”
Power is fickle, and the Bears felt both sides of its imbalance tonight. Strong starts mean little without the ability to finish, and that is a skill that Cal will need to hone if it wishes to meet its goals.