UNLV Football: First Look At The California Golden Bears
The defensive-minded Golden Bears will welcome the UNLV Rebels in non-conference play September 10.
An early fall matchup between two teams with a lot of questions to be answered.
UNLV Football: First Look at 2022 Non-conference Opponents
Location: Berkeley, California
Series History: This will be the first meeting between UNLV and California.
2021 Record: 5-7 (4-5 Pac-12)
Head Coach: Justin Wilcox (sixth year at California, 26-28 overall). Wilcox recently signed a new contract extension through 2027 season, and there’s a sense of guarded optimism the program can reach a bowl game this season. The Golden Bears haven’t really threatened for a division title during Wilcox’s tenure, but they’ve had a tendency to be a pain in the ass for most teams playing them on a given Saturday.
Last year was no exception. The Golden Bears finished 0-5 in games decided by eight or fewer points, though they gave up just 24.2 points on average in those games. They also scored home wins against Oregon State and USC and defeated rival Stanford on the road, so while no one is thinking of them as serious contenders once again, they could still possess as much potential to surprise as ever.
Lu-Magia Hearns, CB
Hearns will look to build on a true freshman year that saw him emerge as a starter in 8 games last season, with arguably his best game against Stanford (4 pbu, 1 int). He joins a secondary as one of three sophomores projected to start, and with a game at Notre Dame in mid-September, the Golden Bears’s secondary will be tested early.
Daniel Scott, S
Named to the first-team All-Pac-12 by Pro Football Focus, Scott returns for his senior year as one of the team’s top tacklers. With three interceptions last year, he’ll be asked to anchor a secondary that will be challenged throughout the season.
Matthew Cindric, C
At 6-foot-4 and 295 pounds, Cindric returns having earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors in 2021. His versatility at center and guard (27 games over 3 seasons) will be beneficial as this year’s line is projected to include just two returning starters.
Jack Plummer, QB
Plummer transfers in from Purdue, where he started 13 games over the past three years. That experience (and two years of eligibility remaining) will be tested as an offense returning only three starters will likely lean on its passing game early and often.
Jackson Sirmon, LB
Sirmon led Washington last year with 91 tackles, and now comes to Cal through the transfer portal. He’ll join a young but deep linebacker group, big on tackles but less on experience. Being coached up by Wilcox and DC Peter Sirmon (Jackson’s dad) will help with the transition.
Starting with a new transfer quarterback and only a few returning starters, the offense will need to quickly find an identity and be able to rely on it throughout the year. That strength could be in the form of an aggressive passing game, as coaches have been pleased with Plummer’s intermediate and deep throws, and a couple of promising wide receivers in Jeremiah Hunter (18.5 ypc last season) and redshirt freshman J. Michael Surdivant.
The running game is facing similar challenges and will rely on junior Damien Moore and freshman Jaydn Ott. As a unit lacking depth and experience, the running game will need to show promise to help an offense ranking 51st in offensive efficiency.
Overall, the offense looks most experienced along its offensive line, and improving from a 5-7 campaign last season will demand even more from that unit. Improving on last year’s 75th ranked offense, at 386.0 yards per game, will be a good start, but for some of the goals this team has, it’s only a start.
The Golden Bears have always been known as a defensive team under Wilcox, and that will continue into 2022. Much like the offense, the defense may not return many starters, but there is experience on this side of the ball, and transfers and returning players will help significantly. Defensive lineman Brett Johnson, out for all of 2021 after a car accident, returns this year and adds to a front seven that is arguably the strength of this team.
Last year’s defense ranked second in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, at 22.2 points per game. Can this year’s unit produce similar results? Perhaps more importantly, the team’s 2021 turnover margin of +10 ranked second in conference, eleventh nationally.
Cal could pose some problems with a typically potent defense, but the Golden Bears are replacing a number of starters on both sides of the ball, including an offense that hasn’t been great to begin with in recent years. This will be an early test for both teams, especially considering relatively young quarterbacks and potentially explosive passing games. Provided the Golden Bears can avoid too many big mistakes, that should be enough to overcome the Rebels to hold serve at home.
California 27, UNLV 17