Nevada might not yet have won the respect it thinks it deserves playing in the shadow of Boise State in the Western Athletic Conference, but California coach Jeff Tedford is ready to call the unbeaten Wolf Pack a Top 25 team after they stormed past his Pac-10 Bears 52-31.
"If I had a vote, I'd vote for them," Tedford said Friday night after many of the fans in the sellout crowd flooded the field at Mackay Stadium. "They'd be competitive in the Pac-10."
Colin Kaepernick ran for 148 yards and three touchdowns and passed for 181 yards and two more scores for the Wolf Pack (3-0), who entered the game leading the nation averaging 592 yards total offense and tacked on another 497 Friday night. They will play at BYU next Saturday.
"Their offense is so tough," Tedford said. "I think they can run that offense against anyone. They know what they are doing and they're hard to stop."
Marlon Johnson scored on a 65-yard interception return for Nevada, and Vai Taua added 151 yards rushing — including a 54-yard run that made it 45-24 with 7:43 left.
Shane Vereen ran for a career-high 198 yards and three touchdowns for the Bears (2-1), who had a 22-1-1 record against Nevada entering the game and had won their only previous contest in Reno 81-6 in 1915. Kevin Riley passed for 277 yards and a touchdown but also threw his first three touchdowns of the season.
"This team is now in the history books," Nevada coach Chris Ault said. "It's been coming. It's been a long while.
"It's a great win, no question about it. It's great not only because it's a Pac-10 team (but) because Cal is a good football team. They are going to win a lot of games this year. ... This gives us the confidence that we can play with anybody."
Kaepernick moved into a tie for seventh with Missouri's Brad Smith in career rushing touchdowns with 45. In three games this year, the 6-foot-6 senior has thrown for six touchdowns and run for seven.
"This is the biggest win of my career, definitely," Kaepernick said.
It was the ninth time in their career that Kaepernick and Taua have each surpassed 100 yards rushing in the same game. Last year, they teamed with Luke Lippincott to become the first backfield trio in NCAA history to each rush for more than 1,000 yards in the same season.
"It's a big momentum win. This is something we hope to carry on through the whole season," Taua said. "It doesn't matter who we play, our O-line comes to play every week," he said.
The Bears were without linebacker Mike Mohamed, the Pac-10's leading tackler a year ago who was out with a sprained toe. They entered the game leading the nation in fewest yards allowed, averaging 161 per game. But Nevada had 297 by the half while holding Cal to only 136 as the Wolf Pack scored on four of their five possessions for a 24-14 lead.
On the first series of the second half, Vereen ran 50 yards for a touchdown to pull Cal to 24-21. Nevada went three and out on the next series, but six plays later Marlon Johnson stepped in front of Riley's quick out intended for Keenan Allen and raced 65 yards down the sideline for a 31-21 lead.
Vereen ran for 35 yards and Riley passed 32 yards to Miller to set up Giorgio Tavecchio's 22-yard field goal that made it 31-24 with 5:14 in the third quarter.
Nevada went up 38-24 4 minutes later after Rishard Mathews caught a 29-yard pass from Kaepernick near the goal line, had it stripped by Cal's Marc Anthony but was determined by the officials' review of the videotape to have recovered the fumble with the nose in the end zone for a score.
An interference call on Nevada's Isiah Frey on third-and-8 kept a drive alive for the Bears, who moved inside the Wolf Pack 10. But Riley overthrew an open Sofele in the end zone on third down, was called for delay of game while trying to go for the score on fourth-and-goal from the 6 then had his pass tipped away by James-Michael Johnson with 10 minutes left in the game.