Instead, the Golden Bears completed their undesired trilogy by allowing 450 yards and 31 points in an upset loss to Nevada, Stefphon Jefferson scoring his third touchdown of the afternoon with 36 seconds left in the game for the final margin.
Cast as the ruthlessly efficient gunslinger this time around was Wolf Pack sophomore quarterback Cody Fajardo, stepping into the role previously played by Colin Kaepernick and UCLA's Kevin Prince.
"I thought the quarterback played excellent," Cal head coach Jeff Tedford said. "He threw with confidence and accuracy. It comes down to making plays. He made plays."
Fajardo completed 25-of-32 passes for 230 yards. He also ran for 97 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. But beyond mere numbers, impressive as they were, he continually made plays at the most critical moments.
There was the 10-yard pass to Zach Sudfeld on third and nine one snap after Cal had forced and nearly recovered a fumble. The ensuing play was a 23-yard pass to Aaron Bradley, taking Nevada from their own 22-yard line to Cal's 45 on a drive that would end in a short Jefferson touchdown run.
Said linebacker Chris McCain of that three-play sequence: "Some guys held their head. We just let frustration get the best of us. The touchdown hurt us."
That frustration would continue on third down, as Nevada converted 11-of-20, 7-of-11 coming in the second half. Contrast that with Cal's putrid 3-of-14 mark.
"You can't win a game being in third and 15, and third and 14, and third and 12, and some of that was self-inflicted," Tedford said. "We weren't able to convert third down and stay on the field, and they were able to convert third down."
Fajardo's mastery of the option was also evident, knowing exactly when to slip the ball into Jefferson's belly or keep it, as he did on his 49-yard scoring scamper. That misdirection continually confused the defense, forcing them back into the bad habits that were so evident two years ago at Nevada.
"Nevada, they are just very fast," McCain said. "They have a fast scheme. They like to do a lot of confusions, mess with your eyes. It was just execution all around."
To a man, Cal defenders swore they would not repeat the mistakes of the past, not try to do more than each individual assignment. But they did overreach, spotting Nevada a 14-0 advantage in the process, something McCain took responsibility for.
"Early on, it was eyes," he said. "Somebody was probably looking in the backfield when they weren't supposed to, missing their keys. I just didn't execute."
With a trip to Ohio State looming, running an offense with similar elements but with superior athleticism, there isn't much time for Cal to resolve its longstanding issues. There's also the little matter of Oregon in November.
The question now is if can Cal do in two weeks what it couldn't manage with all summer to prepare.
Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and covers the Pac-12 for Fox Sports/Scout.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.