Cal held an explosive Nevada offense with likely a future NFL quarterback to two touchdowns on Saturday night.
But after the Bears’ 22-17 loss, Cal coach Justin Wilcox couldn’t be satisfied by what he saw.
“We battled, but the explosive plays,” he said. “ It’s really frustrating.”
Carson Strong completed three passes of at least 40 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown strike to Romeo Doubs that got Nevada within 14-10 midway through the second quarter.
The Wolf Pack had nine pass plays of at least 15 yards, and twice converted long third-down plays on the drive opening the third quarter that put them in front.
“At the start of the third quarter, defensively we came out and got them in two third-and-longs and they converted them,” Wilcox said. “We needed to make a play somewhere, to knock a ball down, and we didn’t quite do it. That’s where the momentum really swung.”
Strong, the Vacaville native who is regarded as a possible NFL first-round draft pick, was 22 for 39 for 312 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
“The quarterback is very good,” Wilcox said. “They made the play and we didn’t. On the defensive side, it was the explosive passes that really hurt us.”
DECLINING THE PENALTY: Cal trailed just 19-14 midway though the third quarter when Strong threw incomplete on third-and-18 from the Bears’ 32-yard line and Nevada was flagged for holding.
Had Wilcox accepted the penalty Nevada would have faced third-and-28 from the 42. He declined it, and Brandon Talton responded with a 49-yard field goal that pushed the margin to eight points.
Wilcox said he made the call because he thought a 49-yard kick was perhaps his limit. He cited Talton has having a career-long of 53, although the two-time all-Mountain West placekicker actually has made one from 56.
Either way, he defended the decision but also took responsibility.
“You back ‘em up 10 (yards), there’s no doubt you have a chance to get them out of field goal range,” he said. You also have other risk factors, whether it’s a penalty that can give them a first down or they can get 10, 12, 14 (yards) and get a closer kick.
“He made the kick so it’s the wrong decision.”
DISAPPOINTING THE FANS: The Bears played in front of their home fans for the first time in 658 days after competing in a vacant Memorial Stadium during the pandemic in 2020.
A crowd of 35,117 showed up for the opener, and the players embraced the moment. They also felt badly they couldn’t reward those fans,
“For me it was extremely exciting,” said seventh-year senior defensive end Luc Bequette. “It was fun to live vicariously through the freshmen in their first experience being in front of fans. I was telling them to take in every single detail of it.
“We’re all lucky to be here in this environment. We love our fans, love our stadium, love our atmosphere. We’re very sorry we didn’t bring a win today.”
Senior wide receiver Nikko Remigio felt the same emotions.
“It was incredible,” he said of the atmosphere. “I’m even more upset we couldn’t bring home a win for them. Aside from all the heartache that a loss takes on a program and each and every one of us players and coaches, to not be able to bring home a victory for the fans is even more disappointing.”
Cover photo of Carson Strong by Neville E. Guard, USA Today
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo