Utah Offensive Line vs Cal Defensive Line
Utah Offensive Line
The Utah line had a sub-par performance last week at Pittsburgh. Pitt has a talented front-7 who found themselves in the Utah backfield often throughout the afternoon against the Utes. Ute QB Jon Hays was hurried for much of the afternoon and was sacked a total of 7 times. Pitt brought pressure from all over the field and made it tough on the line to pick up the different blitz packages. Linemen Tony Bergstrom and Sam Brenner are Utah's strengths on the line. John Cullen continues to win a high percentage of his matchups, but he also continues to draw penalty flags in each game he plays. Red zone false starts and personal fouls have marred what has statistically been a pretty good year for Cullen.
Cal Defensive Line
Cal runs a base 3-4 defensive scheme. The strength on the line for Cal is the defensive ends. Ernest Owusu and Trevor Guyton present an athletic challenge for Utah similar to what the Utes faced against Pitt. Owusu is among the top defenders in the conference when it comes to sacks and tackles for loss, while Guyton had a career high eight tackles and a fumble recovery last week against USC. Nose tackle Aaron Tipoti isn't their most experienced on the line but he is good at diagnosing a run and clogging running lanes. The athleticism from these starters may give Utah occasional issues, especially from the ends, but this line is not as good as the Pitt defenders Utah saw last week. The Utes have faced better lines this season and aren't at a disadvantage at any position. This is a matchup the Utah line will win.
Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends vs Cal Linebackers
Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends
John White IV is coming off of a monster weekend where he ran for 171 yards averaging just less than 5 yards per carry. His running kept Utah moving in an otherwise ugly offensive performance from the Utes. White has rushed for 671 yards on the season and is averaging over 110 yards per game. Harvey Langi is still listed as the sole backup to White. Langi rushed for 3 yards on just 2 carries against Pittsburgh. At tight end, the Utes received some bad news after the game Saturday when it was announced that Dallin Rogers would miss the rest of the season after he injured his knee against Pitt. Rogers has been Utah's most productive tight end to date. Both Jake Murphy and Kendrick Moeai returned to action last week after injuries had kept the two sidelined for a large part of the early season.
Mychael Kendricks and D.J. Holt are the leaders of a very strong linebacker group for Cal. Kendricks is Cal's active leader in tackles, tackles for loss, sacks, and fumble recoveries. He is good enough to dominate a game and will require special attention on Saturday. Holt, along with freshmen OLB's Chris McCain and David Wilkerson, round out a complete starting-four for the Bears. Cal's experienced inside linebackers have an edge in the middle against the run. The big question for the Bears is whether or not their speed and athleticism, along with their 3-4 scheme, will allow them the ability to bring pressure off of the edges against the pass. If Utah is going to attack this group it will have to be on the outsides against McCain and Wilkerson. Their inexperience is the major weakness of this group and will need to be exploited if Utah wants to succeed.
Utah Quarterback and Wide Receivers vs Cal Corners and Safeties
Utah Quarterback and Wide Receivers
Jon Hays won his first game as an FBS starter last week against Pitt. His numbers were less than spectacular, but he didn't turn the ball over and managed to pick up a few 3rd downs through the air despite very heavy winds and an even heavier pass rush from the Panthers. The Utah receiving corps was without star receiver Devonte Christopher due to an ankle injury, but Utah's depth stepped up in his absence. Dres Anderson led the wideouts in receptions while Luke Matthews scored the Utes only offensive touchdown of the afternoon. Christopher remains questionable for this week's game, so Anderson, Matthews, Reggie Dunn, and Kenneth Scott will once again need to step up. Highly-touted freshman Quinton Pedroza saw his first action last week against Pitt. The youngster had no receptions but will likely see more and more playing time as the season progresses.
Cal Corners and Safeties
Seniors D.J. Campbell and Sean Cattouse are Cal's rocks at safety. Both players are aggressive, love to tackle, and fly around the football. Cattouse is Cal's active leader in interceptions and pass breakups so he'll likely be making plays in the passing game on Saturday. The Bears are young at corner where freshman Stefan McClure and sophomore Steve Williams get the bulk of the work, but young doesn't mean bad by any means. Against USC McClure helped limit the nation's leading receiver to just 5 catches for 36 yards, while tallying 9 tackles and a fumble recovery in the game as well. Utah's top 4 receivers are good enough to play with and beat this secondary, but the quarterback situation for the Utes will severely limit the success of this group. Look for McClure to lock up with speedsters Dunn and Anderson when they are on the field, forcing Hays to find other options downfield. I'm not sure he'll be able to do it consistently.
Utah Defensive Line vs Cal Offensive Line
Utah Defensive Line
Derrick Shelby is turning into a one-man force on the Utah defensive line. Shelby had his best game of the season, and arguably of his career, last week as he piled up ridiculous stats including 7 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and an interception that he returned for a touchdown. Shelby has been better each week and has become a player opposing teams need to gameplan around. Pitt's explosive running back Ray Graham was held to his season low in yardage and attempts as the Ute line allowed the nation's second leading rusher just 46 yards on 12 carries. While some on the Ute line play better than others, there isn't a weak player in this group.
Cal Offensive Line
The offensive line for the Bears is very talented and very experienced. Across the line the Cal linemen boast a combined 113 starts which makes this one of the most skilled and experienced fronts the Utes will face all season. Cal has blocked well, too. As a team they're averaging 139 yards per game on the ground and have only given up 11 sacks. Junior right tackle Matt Summers-Gavin will have the tall task of facing Derrick Shelby. He's good enough to slow him down, but the way Shelby is playing lately will make this a nightmare matchup for Summers-Gavin. This game will push the Cal line as far as they've been pushed all year, but you can't underestimate an experienced line. They may run for 100 yards against the Utes, they may not. Either way, I expect their time together and their experience will help them to fare well.
Utah Linebackers vs Cal Running Backs and Tight Ends
The news of Keith McGill's shoulder injury that will keep him out for the remainder of the season has forced some changes at the linebacker position. Brian Blechen, who was moved to linebacker this year after playing safety as a freshman, has been moved back to safety and Coach Whittingham says he expects Blechen to play safety for the rest of the year. The Utes will likely make Trevor Reilly a full-time linebacker now to replace Blechen, a decision made easier because of Reilly's play this season. After six games middle linebacker Chaz Walker is tied for second in the Pac-12 in tackles and tackles per game. Walker was named to the Phil Steele midseason all-conference first team for his play so far this year.
Cal Running Backs and Tight Ends
Cal hopes Isi Sofele, former Cottonwood High star and Utah target, is the next in a long line of great tailbacks to come out of the bay area. Sofele, now a junior, is off to a good start this season. He's averaging 5.3 yards per carry and over 90 yards per game with 4 touchdowns scored. His production ranks him 5th in the Pac-12 and 46th nationally among running backs. C.J. Anderson, Cal's change-of-pace back, has scored three TDs of his own this year after moving his way up the depth chart from 3rd to 2nd. At tight end the Bears' Anthony Miller is among the top in the conference. Miller started the year strong and has scored twice this season, both against Colorado, but his production over the last couple of games has dropped. He is still a major threat though and will need to be marked closely by Matt Martinez. Trevor Reilly and Chaz Walker will get a lot of help up front, but will likely contain the Bears run game for most of the evening.
Utah Corners and Safeties vs Cal Quarterback and Wide Receivers
Utah Corners and Safeties
Eric Rowe will have a new partner with him in the defensive backfield for the foreseeable future. The move of Brian Blechen from linebacker to strong safety will permanently shift Rowe to his natural position at free safety. Blechen won't be limited to safety, and when he's at linebacker Michael Walker will take his place, but most of his time will be spent at safety from here on out. Rowe has started all six games this season as a true freshman and has played very well in each game. He leads the backfield in tackles and is fourth on the team with 32 total stops. On the outside, Conroy Black and Ryan Lacy continue to be lights-out cover corners. Add emerging corner Mo Lee to the mix and Utah has developed a very strong secondary out of a group of players that was highly questioned before the start of the year.
Cal Quarterback and Wide Receivers
Quarterback was a question mark for Cal heading into the season, but Buffalo transfer Zach Maynard began the season strong leading the Bears to a 3-0 start. The schedule quickly turned difficult though and over the last three games Cal is 0-3, including last week's game against USC in which Maynard turned the ball over four times leading to multiple Trojan scores. The Bears have weapons in the pass game that can make plays when Maynard gets the ball to them. Receivers Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones are two of the best receivers in the country and will give the Utah secondary fits if the Utes can't pressure the quarterback. Allen currently leads the nation in receiving yards, has scored a touchdown in four different games this year, and has posted over 100 yards receiving five different times this season. Marvin Jones, while statistically not quite on the same level as Allen, is every bit as good. Jones has at least one reception in 31 straight games and is Cal's active leader in receptions, yards, and TDs. Simply put, if Maynard has time to make his reads and throw from the pocket, it could be a long night for the Utah secondary.
Unit Matchups - Utah at Cal
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