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August 27, 2012

Nevada defense has lost key playmakers



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BERKELEY -- How do you attack a largely-untested offensive line? How do you force a quarterback known for his inconsistency right back into his old habits? How do you make him pay for that reversion?

You shut down the run, you disrupt the line, you flush the quarterback from the pocket, pursue him and then pressure him into throwing into the teeth of the defensive backfield.

Last season, Nevada excelled at all of the above. Linebacker Brandon M. Marshall led the Wolfpack with 102 stops, adding 7.5 tackles for loss two sacks, four pass break-ups, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

With his hand in the dirt ahead of Marshall, defensive tackle Brett Roy registered 66 tackles and six pass break-ups as he blasted through opposing offensive lines for 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss.

When the ball was in the air, cornerback Isaiah Frey was a terror, leading the team with 16 pass break-ups, 21 passes defended and five interceptions.

This year, though, Nevada has none of those defensive weapons.

That said, the last time the Bears faced the Wolfpack was no picnic. In a word, head coach Jeff Tedford called that 2010 match-up in Reno "disappointing."

"They're a very good football team, but we went in there on the first drive and we got the ball intercepted, and didn't play well on defense," Tedford said. "We didn't do a good job of defending the pistol, so it was a very disappointing outing. We let them get the momentum in that game and had to come back. We were coming back, and then we threw an interception for a touchdown, which really got the crowd into the game. We didn't play to our full potential."

Last season, starting quarterback Zach Maynard threw 12 picks -- fourth-most in the conference -- and even with Frey gone, he'll still have to contend with strong safety Duke Williams, who ranked third on the team last season with 83 tackles. Tedford said that as Cal prepares for Nevada this week, they are hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst - going into the Sept. 1 opener as if the Wolfpack still has its best defenders.

"You always have to assume that they're good players," Tedford said. "I'm sure they are. It's schematically, more than anything. I think their safeties more than anything are as good as any safeties we play in our conference, as a tandem of safeties."

Free safety Marlon Johnson only had one pick last year in 10 games, but tallied 53 tackles.

"They're a good football team," Tedford said. "I know they're well-coached. I know they're a tough, disciplined team. We're not going in looking at if there are any weaknesses anywhere. It's about how we prepare and how we play."

Taking Roy's place on the inside is inexperienced sophomore Jordan Hanson -- who didn't record a single tackle last season - and junior Jack Reynoso, who tallied 24 stops, four tackles for loss and two sacks in 2011.

Taking over for Frey will be junior transfer Markus Smith, partnered with veteran Khalid Wooten. Wooten ranked fourth on the team last season in tackles with 73, adding one tackle for loss, four picks, five break-ups and three forced fumbles.

Last season, Cal skill position players -- running backs, tight ends and receivers -- committed 15 fumbles. Last time the Bears faced the Wolfpack, of course, the game turned on a turnover -- an interception that went right through the hands of then-true freshman Keenan Allen.

"They play very hard, they have good corners, they cover well, the safeties are excellent, they play very hard up front," Tedford said. "They're a hard-nosed group that plays very, very hard, so we're going to have to be physical. We're going to have to meet their passion when it comes to the game."


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