That didn't take long for Utah to reclaim its swagger. A 26-14 victory in the Eastern Time Zone against Pittsburgh has helped the Utes (3-3, 0-3 Pac 12) anticipate bigger and better things as it gets ready for the bulk of conference play. Utah travels for a game with California (3-3, 0-3) on Saturday.
"We want to get six wins and qualify for a bowl game," linebacker Chaz Walker told the Salt Lake Tribune. "But our biggest goal is to go 6-0."
Part of Utah's optimism lies in the fact that its remaining Pac-12 games come against all of the league's weaker teams. Only UCLA (3-3, 2-1) has a winning record in the conference among Utah's future foes.
The defense made some big plays to erase the two early gaffes on special teams that allowed Pittsburgh to take a 14-3 lead last week. The Utes obviously are counting on a better start against the Bears.
"We have a ton of athletes on the offense and when they take the lid off, you see what happened at the BYU game, they exploded," Walker told the Tribune. "They know what they can do, and we trust it is going to happen."
The Utes have to find a way to protect QB Jon Hays, who suffered seven sacks against Pittsburgh. Some of that was Hays' own doing, as he hung on to the football too long in trying to get a play to develop.
That's why the Utes could've been forgiven for hitting the panic button when they fell behind by double digits to the Panthers in the first quarter last week. Instead, Utah banded together and made enough plays in all phases of the game to get the victory.
"It's apparent they are a tough, hard-nosed team that takes care of business," coach Kyle Whittingham said of his team to the Tribune. "We've seen that through the first six games. There is no shortage of work ethic."
Now the Utes have to nail down some execution to go along with their work ethic against the Bears, who average more than 40 pass attempts per game. As long as the Utes don't try to get into a scoring fest with the Bears -- which is unlikely, given Whittingham's ability to prepare defenses -- they should continue to feed off the momentum they gained in beating Big East foe Pitt.
The Utes now need to play better against teams on the West Coast.
--Coach Kyle Whittingham refused comment when asked about accusations from Pittsburgh DT Chas Alecxih, but OT Tony Bergstrom told the Salt Lake Tribune that he took the accusations as a compliment.
"When we get accused of that, honestly, in my mind I think, OK great, our guys are finishing plays," Bergstrom said. "They are going to the whistle and that is awesome, and I get fired up with that, but I can understand in his mind where he thinks that. It is perfectly fine. I am not offended, he can't offend me."
--DE Derrick Shelby and K Coleman Petersen earned Pac-12 Players of the Week awards. Shelby won defensive honors after scoring on a 21-yard interception return that sealed Utah's 26-14 win over the Panthers. Shelby, who was earlier named the Walter Camp Football Foundation Defensive Player of the Week, also had seven tackles, including six solos. Petersen made field goals of 23, 34, 39 and 45 yards, tying the school record for the second most in a game. The 45-yarder was a career long, and Peterson also earned the Lou Groza "Stars of the Week" Award.
--The Utes, who are off to their first 0-3 start in conference play since 2002 when they were members of the Mountain West, have scored just 14 points in each of their Pac-12 losses -- to USC, Washington and Arizona State.
SERIES HISTORY: California leads 4-3 (last meeting, 2009, Utah 37-27).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Utes rank 10th among Pac-12 schools in scoring offense, at 24.8 points per game, and that includes an assist from a defense that has scored three TDs. Utah is last in the Pac-12 in total offense at 330.8 yards per game. The offense is having trouble scoring TDs in the red zone, managing just nine in 21 opportunities on the season. The Bears may not provide any relief. They've given up 10 TDs in 19 red-zone possessions, and they've been stingy against the run, allowing just 132.7 rushing yards per game and a 3.9 yards-per-carry average.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Utes are always going to take away the run first, but Cal may be hoping to get into a shootout behind QB Zach Maynard, who has 11 TD passes (and six interceptions) on the season. The Bears average 299.3 yards passing per game, and the Utes are a bit thinner in the secondary because of the season-ending injury to FS Keith McGill. The Utes have forced 16 turnovers this season and will try to stay aggressive to help QB Jon Hays with short fields on offense. A pass rush that has generated a respectable but not spectacular 15 sacks on the season could help force Maynard into making mistakes.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We need to be more productive in the red zone. That's our biggest issue right now. The last game we were in the red zone three to four times and came away with nothing but field goals. If we can score touchdowns in the red zone, we would have won going away, but we didn't score in the red zone. In my mind, there are a lot of things we can improve upon, but the most pressing is scoring touchdowns in the red zone. It's an execution issue. We have a high percentage of penalties that have occurred in the red zone, and we have to eliminate that." -- Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Utah at California, Oct. 22 -- While the Bears own the overall lead in the series (4-3), the Utes have won two of three this millennium. The last win for Utah was the 2009 Poinsettia Bowl, that was supposed to be then-freshman QB Jordan Wynn's coming-of-age party. He threw for 338 yards and three TDs as the Utes rallied from a 14-0 deficit to win 37-27. Injuries so far have kept Wynn from fulfilling the promise of that game.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Both teams have struggled in Pac-12 play, combining to go 0-5. While the third quarter has been Utah's undoing, the Bears have struggled in the fourth quarter. Opponents have outscored Cal 38-10 in the fourth quarter this season. The team that can avoid a second-half drop in production should have the upper hand down the stretch.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
WR Dres Anderson -- The Utes are hoping that the redshirt freshman keeps maturing. He is third on the team in receptions with 18 and second in yards with 256, despite coming off the bench in three of the team's six games. If senior DeVonte Christopher is sidelined Saturday with a sprained ankle, Anderson has a chance to become QB Jon Hays' favorite target with his ability to get open.
DE Derrick Shelby -- Shelby has been the team's most productive defender on the line. He has 23 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Shelby, who returned an interception 21 yards for the game-clinching TD last week, has the team lead with five pass breakups. He has to penetrate a Cal line that has been sold protecting the QB. The Bears have allowed 11 sacks through six games.
LB/DE Trevor Reilly -- He leads the Utes and is tied for the Pac-12 lead in tackles for loss with eight. He's also third in the conference with four sacks, and he leads the league with four forced fumbles. His ability to make momentum-changing plays gives the Utes reassurance that they can end their three-game Pac-12 slide.
--FS Keith McGill will have season-ending shoulder surgery after getting hurt during Utah's 26-14 win at Pittsburgh last weekend. McGill is the fourth Ute to miss the remainder of the season because of an injury. QB Jordan Wynn (shoulder), PR Charles Henderson (knee) and starting FB/TE Dallin Rogers (knee) also are going for 2011. Wynn and Henderson are eligible for redshirt seasons.
--WR DeVonte Christopher remains questionable for Saturday's game at California because of a sprained ankle.
--RB Tauni Vakapuna also remains a question mark for the upcoming game because of an ankle injury.
--LB Jacoby Hale is recovering from a concussion, and his status is up in the air.