1. The Cal Defensive Line
James Looney has been at his best over the last two weeks, and if he and Cameron Saffle can convey their energy to the rest of the line -- as they did in holding Arizona State to 100 yards less than its season average in rushing -- then the Bears will be in good shape when it comes to shedding blocks from a veteran Utes offensive line, and a three-headed running back monster in Zack Moss, Armand Shyne and Troy McCormick. In the first half against the Sun Devils, Cal held them to 10 points, but after halftime, things got away from them. The same happened with Texas, where the Bears held the Longhorns scoreless in the third quarter, but still allowed 568 total yards of offense, and 34 first downs -- 10 more than the Cal offense was able to tally.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1711859-kaufman-focused-on... "I think we're a young football team," said Looney. "A lot of players we have playing right now haven't played before. I feel like some guys get complacent. That could hurt you in games, especially like you see against ASU. We got complacent and gave up a lot of points in the second half."
The Bears allowed Arizona State to score 31 points in the fourth quarter, while Utah, after going down 24-10 in the early goings of the second half against USC, outscored the Trojans 21-3 down the stretch, and USC has many more athletes than Cal on defense.
"I think we need an edge about ourselves," Looney said. "That can do us some good, and continue to make us play hard ... The offense has been playing great. We have one of the best offenses in the country, but we can't just rely on the offense. I don't want that. I want our defense to win games. I feel like defense wins championships. That's where your team is built. If you give up no points a game, the majority of the time, you're going to win. That's how we need to be."
Line coach Fred Tate said that his unit performed as well as any unit he's ever coached, last week, but the defense as a whole only really came to play in the first half. Cal has no room to be complacent, with 36.62% of opponents' plays resulting in a first down or a touchdown (118th in the nation), a 45.78% third-down conversion rate for opposing offenses (111th), 263.25 rushing yards per game given up (123rd) and 491.75 yards of total offense given up per game (117th).
"During the game, you feel like we're playing really well, and you come out of the halftime break with a different mindset, thinking you've just won the game already," Looney said. "I think that attitude can catch up to you. I think it did against ASU."
2. Youth in the Secondary
The Bears can't afford any such costly penalties against the Utes, which won't make many mistakes itself, although the Utes aren't nearly as disciplined as in years past, ranking 80th in the nation in fewest penalty yards, while the Bears rank 96th. With Evan Rambo likely on the shelf, safeties coach Greg Burns has been giving Jaylinn Hawkins the extra work he's been craving, since now, he's the No. 2 behind Luke Rubenzer.
"He's looking good," Burns said. "He's already got it. Now, he's got the opportunity to do it. I didn't give him enough [last week]. This week, to help him out, get him in the rotation, I plan on using him, and right now, to this point, he's doing just fine. I expect that he's going to be playing."
Burns worked with Hawkins specifically on safety press situations on Wednesday.
Hawkins and cornerback Josh Drayden were thrown into the fire last week after first-half injuries to Rambo (sprained knee) and No. 1 cornerback Darius Allensworth, but the fact that Hawkins started life as a wide receiver, then a big corner, and has now moved to safety, helps the Bears when it comes to both coverage and run support.
"The biggest thing he brings to it is that when he was a corner, he was a big corner, so that's a good transition, from a body standpoint," Burns said. "Now, you've got a big corner playing safety, which means, now, we have an athletic safety. For all the things that we need to do, he's picking it up, and I'm excited about him getting a chance to get some reps. There's always been confidence. It's just, how much does a three get a rep? Now, he's obviously a two, so now, he's getting more reps, so he's improving and doing things that he knew he knew he could do, and I knew he could do, but the reps didn't give him a chance to do it."
Given how much Utah has started to use its tight ends, safety play and linebacker play, particularly over the middle, should be of paramount importance to Cal this Saturday.
3. Make Williams Pass
Troy Williams has been inconsistent downfield, as we saw early in the final drive against USC, where Williams went 0-for-2 before a bad ball was saved by that pass interference penalty, giving the Utes new life. But, since he was criticized as a recruit at Harbor City (Calif.) Narbonne for running too much, he's become focused on becoming a better pocket passer, and he certainly has become that. But, it's still not natural to him.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1711890-bear-republic-podc... If Cal can take away the run game like it did against Arizona State, and force Williams to go down field for Tim Patrick -- Utah's only true downfield threat, averaging 19.2 yards per catch -- there's a better chance for turnovers. The aforementioned safety press situation could come into play against Cory Butler-Byrd, who's going to come out of the slot and make plays over the middle.
Making Williams pass, though, isn't the end-all, be-all. He has to be uncomfortable when he does, and that's where Looney and Saffle come in.
"We've played good defense at times," said head coach Sonny Dykes. "When we have opportunities to make plays, whether it's sack the quarterback or get an interception on a tipped ball, we've got to make those plays and get off the field. We had [ASU] in more long yardage situations in the first half than we did in the second half, and they did a better job of staying ahead of the chains in the second half, so we've got to do a good job on first down, get them in second and long and third and long. I think the unit's going to keep getting better. I've been really impressed with Cameron Saffle. I think he played his best game on Saturday, and he's been one of our most consistent players."
Saffle is tied for ninth in the conference in tackles (28), ranks third in tackles for loss (4.5) and 19th in sacks (2.0), and if he can come off the edge and put a shoulder on Williams, and if linebacker Ray Davison (second in the Pac-12 with 8.5 tackles per game) can hold point against the run, the Bears are going to be much better off on the back end.