It is pretty damn hot.
With excessive heat warnings and record-high temperatures, the onset of September has Northern Californians working up a sweat. Namely, a billow of severe sunshine is baking the region from San Jose to Sacramento to the grand gates of Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium — just in time for Cal football’s second week of action.
While the weather forecast fortunately anticipates cooling temperatures by this weekend, the Bears are nonetheless looking to bring the heat as they challenge the UNLV Rebels in a continuation of nonconference play. Slated for 1 p.m. Saturday in Strawberry Canyon, this contest will feature a compelling clash of predominantly young and new offenses, each with competing agendas to endorse.
A FCS program battling in the Mountain West Conference, UNLV is an organization of historic struggles. In the seasons spanning the 20-year period from 2001-2021, the Rebels notched a ghastly lopsided record of 70 wins and 177 losses. In fact, the program has earned just a singular winning season in the past two decades, with a 7-6 finish to their 2013 campaign.
However, the introduction of Marcus Arroyo as head coach of the Rebels in 2020 stirred a gleam of hope for supporters of the Las Vegas collegiate program. With assistant coaching experience at Cal, Oklahoma State and Oregon in his repertoire, Arroyo has sought to transform the organization through recruitment and the transfer portal. His 2022 player catalog pieces together talent from Michigan State, Tennessee, Louisville and more. On Aug. 27, he saw it all come together as UNLV demolished Idaho State 52-21 — an impressive showing in their season opener.
A team that was once denoted as a laughingstock, UNLV was on fire in the week zero Vegas heat — scoring on all seven of its first-half possessions. Quarterback Doug Brumfield showcased his characteristic composure balanced with his fiery ability to generate explosive plays. The 6’5” left-handed play caller completed 21-25 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns against Idaho State, a performance that earned him Mountain West Conference Player of the Week honors.
On the other end of Brumfield’s explosive heaves was yet another standout: redshirt sophomore receiver Ricky White. The Michigan State transfer staged an enthralling run in his debut for the Rebels, catching eight passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns – one of which a 72-yarder in the second quarter. UNLV starting running back Aidan Robbins further fueled the offensive production with 10 rushes for 35 yards and three touchdowns against Idaho State.
In analyzing UNLV game film and looking ahead to Saturday, Cal defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon hopes to see his defense combat the Rebels’ offensive weapons with faster and increasingly physical play. Sirmon classified UNLV’s offense as a “pistol run” style of play, in which the Rebels will play to their strengths in a vertical downhill run-game.
“The depth of the back and the challenge of the run-game is going to be a challenge for us on defense … we need to tackle better, that is something I am going to say probably every week,” Sirmon said.
Cal’s defense will look to perform with aggression and efficiency, while correcting inevitable minor miscommunications on the fly and applying pressure on the passer. Offensively, the Bears hope to continue developing Plummer’s comfort in his role and his cohesion with the receiving and running game.
As it goes, a sound performance and victory over UNLV this Saturday could propel confidence and momentum for Cal as the talents of Pac-12 play loom near, while a shaky showing could alter the complexion of the upcoming season. “Weather” or not the Bears can remain undefeated in non-conference play will come down to two primary components: heating up on the offensive side, while keeping their cool defensively.