Cal defensive coordinator Art Kaufman is focused on Utah's offensive line

Cal defensive coordinator Art Kaufman is impressed by Utah's offensive line, but Cal may have a leg up in terms of scheme.

BERKELEY -- During his weekly address to the media on Wednesday, California defensive coordinator Art Kaufman kept coming back to the Utah offensive line, and for good reason.

"This is probably the best offensive line that we've seen this year," Kaufman said. "We're going to have to be disciplined in what we're doing."

The starting five may look a bit different than it did last year -- former tackle J.J. Dielman has moved from tackle to center, and hasn't allowed a sack in 294 snaps at the spot -- but the names and faces up front are the same. Right tackle Sam Tevi has played 217 snaps with zero sacks, and though he missed the Utes' game against San Jose State with injury, he's started 16 games over the last season and a half.

Combined with his 16 starts, the rest of the offensive line has a total of 84 starts under its belt, with Dielman and Isaac Asiata each starting the last 30 games, and JuCo All-American Garrett Bolles starting the first four of this season -- his first four in red and black.

"The best game to look at is USC," said defensive end Cameron Saffle, who made his first collegiate debut against the Utes last season. "That's what I'm looking at. The thing I notice out of the whole line, is that they play -- literally -- step for step. They've been playing each other for four years, and I think we kind of understand that that's a dangerous O-line, if they've been playing with each other for four years. Usually, guys come in as freshmen and seniors, their O-line has been with each other, so we know how dangerous they are, and we know that's going to be one of the better O-lines we go against, and my guy (Tevi), he's athletic. He'll match me, wherever I go."

Asiata's three cut blocks against the Trojans are the most in a game by a Ute this season, and he has a total of six on the season -- good enough to lead the line. During last week's game against USC, Utah rushed for 186 yards, averaging 3.96 yards per carry, down from their season average of 4.3 yards per carry.

"Utah's offensive line, they're very damn good," said Cal defensive line coach Fred Tate.

So far, the Utes have allowed the fewest sacks per game in the Pac-12 (1.25), while the Cal defensive line is seventh in the Pac-12 in sacks (9). Utah's running game is middle-of-the-pack, ranking seventh in the Pac-12 with a 173.5 yards-per-game average, but the Bears -- owners still of the worst rushing defense in the league, and one of the worst in the nation (263.5 ypg) -- are coming off their best game since Tate replaced Barry Sacks after the 2013 season, as Tate told them on Sunday.

"Coach Tate, he said it simply," Saffle said. "He said, 'I coach my position, I coach you guys, and you guys kicked ass.' There's a lot of stuff we need to work on, but if you look at our first quarter, if our whole defense was doing all of our stuff all four quarters, we would have done a lot better than we did."

Cal held Arizona State -- which came into last week's game averaging 260.7 yards per game on the ground -- to 164 yards on the ground in Tempe, and a measly 3.28 yards per carry.

"Our guys fought their butts off, from start to finish," Tate said. "We had a lot of production up front, and we were better at fitting stuff. We took our time last week, and said, 'Here's what we've got to do, this is where we're going to fit,' the whole nine yards, but I thought they played their butts off last week, and fought their tails off. Probably the best I've seen that unit play since I've been here. Probably one of the best outings of a unit that I've coached."

Utah will run a trio of running backs, headed by Zack Moss, who has in just three games burst to the head of the pack, with 243 yards on 47 carries. Right behind him is Troy McCormick, who is averaging 5.8 yards per carry, and has rushed for 181 yards in four games. Despite the injury retirement of Joe Williams, who was expected to replace Devontae Booker, the Utes seem to be in good hands on the ground, but they're at least somewhat similar to what Cal has seen the last several weeks.

"We learned from Texas, we learned from San Diego State, and we're going to be better against Utah -- better as a football team, better as a defense," Tate said. "They have the ability to run the ball, I think. I think their backs are good, their quarterback [Troy Williams] is athletic. They have the ability to, but they may be pass-oriented because of whatever. I think they'll try to run it. Why wouldn't you? We need to be men up front, fit it up, and let's go play."

Cal is 123rd (out of 128 teams) in the Football Bowl Subdivision in terms of rushing defense, but having faced Arizona State and Texas in back to back weeks -- like Utah, armed with veteran offensive lines, multiple running threats and a quarterback who has the ability to make yards with his legs -- the Bears could have a leg up.

"You're going to see some of the same things you saw the last two weeks from them, from Texas and Arizona State," Tate said. "They are that multiple. It doesn't hurt that you've seen some of those plays, some of that scheme."

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