Carson Strong throwing the football at the first game against Cal

Photo courtesy of Nevada Athletics. Carson Strong led the offense in the first game of the season against the California Bears.

Nevada football entered the 2021 season with sky-high expectations. The Wolf Pack answered the call with a 22-17 victory on the road against a stout California Bears defense at Memorial Stadium Saturday, Sept. 4. 

Trailing 14-0 early in the first quarter, Nevada stormed back and scored the next 22 points en route to a gritty win in its season opener. It wasn’t the most polished performance in all three phases, but the Wolf Pack battled from the opening kickoff to start the season 1-0.

“It was a first game; it wasn’t pretty by any means,” Nevada head coach Jay Norvell said in a press conference. “We made a lot of mistakes. But I tell you, the kids were very resilient and (they) responded.”

Junior quarterback Carson Strong led Nevada’s potent offense, completing 22-for-39 passes for 312 yards and two touchdowns to one interception. 

The reigning Mountain West Player of the Year connected with wide receiver Romeo Doubs on a signature 43-yard touchdown in the second quarter to trim the Pack’s lead 14-13 at the half. He responded with another scoring drive capped-off by a 16-yard touchdown to Elijah Cooks to take the lead in the second half. 

Cal’s defensive front held Nevada to just 61 yards, but Strong’s powerful right arm continued to stretch the field and put points on the board. Despite his impressive performance, Strong said he could’ve played even better postgame. 

“I could have played so much better,” Strong said. “I could have been so much more efficient and taken what they were giving me, and just threw better balls.”

Nevada had 373 yards of total offense. Doubs hauled in six catches for 83 yards and one touchdown. Cooks finished with two catches for 23 yards and a score in his first game back since Oct. 24, 2020, after undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery last season. Tory Horton led all receivers with 94 yards, while tight end Cole Turned caught seven receptions for 75 yards. 

The Wolf Pack defense held the Golden Bears quarterback Chase Garbers to 177 yards through the air and three points in the second half. Nevada defensive back Isaiah Essissima forced a crucial interception late in the fourth quarter to secure the victory. 

Norvell came away impressed by his defense’s response in a hostile road environment. 

“I’m just so proud of our defense tonight,” Norvell said. “After the first quarter they settled down and started to play good defense, and played really well.”

Nevada’s special teams unit proved to be the difference. Brandon Talton connected on field goals from 44, 35 and 49 yards on all three attempts. Julian Diaz averaged 45.0 yards on his four punts to force Cal back into its own territory. 

The Wolf Pack were forced to practice in Stanford, Calif. leading up to the season opener. Heading into a difficult road atmosphere, Nevada proved why it is one of the top-tier teams in the Mountain West Conference this season. 

Nevada faces Idaho State in its scheduled home opener Saturday, Sept. 11 at Mackay Stadium. 

Isaiah Burrows can be reached at or on Twitter @IsaiahBurrows_