Four Downs: Southern Utah

California's offense failed to score a touchdown in three possessions that began in Nevada territory. That must change moving forward.

BERKELEY, Calif. – Not to invite a lecture from Nick Saban, but California should roll over Southern Utah on Saturday. With that in mind, instead of the usual four keys to win the game, here are the four keys to a successful season based on how the Golden Bears performed in their season-opening loss to Nevada.

-Protect Maynard
I'm not talking about pass protection for redshirt senior Zach Maynard, though Nevada did have two sacks, but putting him in situations where he can succeed. Maynard was forced into 14 third downs, converting only three. He was forced to throw 30 times in essentially three quarters. He was unable to truly take advantage of play-action with an ineffective running game.

That is not a formula for success for Maynard or Cal this season. Head coach Jeff Tedford's offense thrives on balance, a need exacerbated by the inexperienced group of wide receivers around junior Keenan Allen. They need simplicity, while Maynard needs easy throws.

Cal had a formula that worked quite well late last season, a successful rushing attack complimented by a high-completion percent passing offense. They need to go back to it.

-Take Advantage of Turnovers and Field Position
There are plenty of reasons Cal lost its season-opener, but one cause that has been largely ignored in the aftermath was the Bears' inability to capitalize on its best starting points. They had the ball at the Nevada 46, 43, and 27-yard line, and came away with three points from those three drives. After missing a field goal to end the first half on the first possession, the next two were three-and-outs, resulting in a punt and Vincenzo D'Amato 40-yard field goal after Nevada fumbled a kickoff.

Those opportunities must result in touchdowns going forward for Cal to win at Ohio State and in conference play.

-Shore Up That Run Defense
Set aside the success Nevada had using the quarterback as a rusher – until November anyway, when Marcus Mariota and Oregon come to town – Cal still allowed 147 yards on the ground. Stefphon Jefferson averaged 4.3 yards per carry on his 34 attempts, meaning a manageable third down was usually in the cards.

Nevada was 11-of-20, converting six-of-nine attempts of five yards or less. The average distance they had to cover was only 4.45 yards.

Blame it on the style of offense, but that's just unmanageable over the course of a season. The defensive line must get penetration on a consistent basis, which shouldn't be an issue with the talent on hand and a rotation of six to eight capable linemen. Redshirt junior end Deandre Coleman has the talent to dominate games, while redshirt freshman Todd Barr offered a nice change of pace with 1.5 tackles for loss in his first appearance.

-Develop A Consistent Pass Rush
Cal had one sack against Nevada, while allowing Wolf Pack quarterback Cody Fajardo to complete 25-of-32 passes for 230 yards. That's not good.

And while defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said Thursday that game plan for outside linebackers Chris McCain and Brennan Scarlett was conservative to avoid giving Fajardo extra chances to break containment, that still doesn't explain why a talented line couldn't apply pressure on their own. If the Nevada offensive line can keep Fajardo clean and upright, imagine what the superior front fives of USC and Oregon will do.

The return of sophomore defensive end Mustafa Jalil and more aggression from McCain and Scarlett should help, but Cal must find a way to disrupt the timing and rhythm of the opponent's passing game by whatever means necessary. It doesn't matter how experienced the secondary is, if given enough time a quarterback will eventually find a way to move the ball.

Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and covers the Pac-12 for Fox Sports/Scout.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.


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