Keep Fajardo Under Wraps
It shouldn't have been a surprise that Cody Fajardo seized hold of the Nevada starting quarterback job as a freshman. At famed Anaheim (Calif.) Servite, he played his best in the biggest games, directing an option offense that demands the same level of precision as the Pistol under Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault.
Fajardo was effective, completing 68.8 percent of his passes while rushing for 11 touchdowns, and should be even better in his second season. The challenge for the California defense will be maintaining its discipline and not letting Fajardo take over the game as fellow Pistol signal-callers Colin Kaepernick and Kevin Prince of UCLA did the past two seasons.
The easiest way will be for a defensive line as gifted as any in the Pac-12 to use its superior athleticism and tear into the backfield. Nevada has experience on the line, likely to start three seniors and one junior, but defensive ends Deandre Coleman and Mustafa Jalil are built to overpower them.
Create Red Zone Blues
In its seven wins a year ago, Nevada's offense was exceeding effective in turning trips inside the 20-yard line into touchdowns, with 25 scores in 36 possessions (69.4 percent). That mark plummeted all the way down to 40.9 percent (nine touchdowns in 22 possessions) in defeat.
Cal must turn up the pressure when Fajardo and co. are in position to score.
The formula was pretty simple in 2011. When quarterback Zach Maynard played well, Cal usually won; when he turned the ball over and struggled with his accuracy, Cal lost and usually by big margins.
The challenge will be continuing the progress the redshirt senior showed last November with a group of freshmen receivers around junior Keenan Allen. Maynard must be judicious and not force Bryce Treggs, Chris Harper, Darius Powe, and Maurice Harris into situations where they overreach. Nor can he force the ball recklessly to Allen, who will surely face extra attention on every play.
Instead, the passing game must rely heavily on the tight ends and running backs. Head coach Jeff Tedford must also use the punishing running of Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson to keep Maynard out of third and long.
Efficiency will be the key.
Avoid Opening Day Jitters
As was evident on Thursday night across the country, it takes some time to get into a groove. Missed tackles, turnovers, and unnecessary penalties were in abundance early on.
Cal must do its best to get through the first quarter without making any damning errors, especially with the added emotion of returning to Memorial Stadium. The atmosphere will be electrifying, but players cannot fall into the trap of trying to do too much. Nevada proved two years ago it is more than capable of exploiting such over-exertion.
Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and covers the Pac-12 for Fox Sports/Scout.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.