Utah Quarterback and Receivers vs Cal Defensive Backs
Travis Wilson has now been Utah's starter for two straight games and has already made visible strides in development over the past couple of weeks. He's definitely still a true-freshman quarterback, but he's shown signs during each of the past two games that is a talented player fully capable of making plays needed to win football games. Not unexpectedly, however, he's also made some "freshman mistakes" that you expect to see from a player as young and inexperienced as he. Utah fans should take comfort in knowing that in just two short weeks Wilson has already progressed and that the next five games on the schedule are all games he should be able to win. At wideout, Devonte Christopher appears to be in a bit of a funk lately. His dropped passes and fumble inside the 10 yard line at Oregon State have Ute fans wondering what is going on inside his head right now. While he's been quiet for much of this season, other younger players like Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott have had to step up and pick up the slack. Anthony Denham had a good game last week and looks to be getting more and more opportunities as the season progresses.
The Cal secondary – and the Cal defense as a whole – is athletic and very opportunistic. They're great at creating turnover opportunities and even better at capitalizing on them. Cal's corners Marc Anthony and Steve Williams have combined to make 5 interceptions and 1 forced fumble in 2012 while the safeties Josh Hill and Michael Lowe have added 2 more interceptions and a forced fumble as well. These guys are experienced and talented and will play Utah's wideouts physically. They'll take advantage of every mistake Travis Wilson makes. Josh Hill leads the team in tackles with 57 and is second in pass breakups with 5 and he'll most certainly have his sights set on Wilson. He had a great game against Jon Hays last year in San Francisco intercepting a Hays throw and returning it 32 yards for a touchdown essentially ending that game.
Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends vs Cal Linebackers
Kelvin York has "closed the gap" on John White as last year's record-setter has been held in check for the better part of this season and the two running backs are now 1A and 1B. York started the season slow but has come on strong the past few weeks and has proven to the coaches that he deserves more time on the field. White on the other hand has not been the same runner Ute fans and coaches saw in 2011 and has only reached the 100-yard mark once this season. Utah's running game has been good over the past few weeks but the backs haven't received the amount of carries that they probably deserve based on their production. Tight ends Jake Murphy made a nice impact in last week's game catching 4 passes for 42 yards and a touchdown, but it was his touchdown drop that most fans will remember most. Murphy leads the team in receptions with 22, receiving yards with 239, and is tied for the lead in touchdowns with 3.
Cal's linebackers are young, all of the starters are underclassmen, but that doesn't mean they aren't capable of quality play. Inside linebacker Nick Forbes, a sophomore, is second on the team in tackles with 56. He's got a nose for the football and will likely see a lot of John White and Kelvin York on Saturday. Cal's 3-4 defense puts a lot of pressure on their linebackers forcing them to come up and meet runners early. This group will get a good test against two quality Utah backs. This unit also loves to blitz and create havoc in the opposing backfield so Utah needs to be prepared. Together this group has forced 3 fumbles, they've recovered 3 fumbles, and they've sacked opposing QB's 11 times. Their pass coverage is a little suspect so Jake Murphy and Co. may have themselves a nice night, but Wilson has to have time to get them the ball first.
Utah Offensive Line vs Cal Defensive Line
Just when things were starting to look up for Utah's offensive line, the injury bug returned. This week the Utes will be forced to replace Jeremiah Tofaeono after three straight weeks of the same starting five. The line was starting to come together, producing bigger run plays and giving QB Travis Wilson plenty of time to throw the ball in the pocket. It will be interesting to see how the injury affects the cohesion of the group. Vyncent Jones will get the start in place of JT. His starting experience should allow him to come in and give the Utes quality play at left guard. This unit faces a defense this week that allows over 160 yards per game on the ground.
Cal runs a 3-4 base defense so Utah will face just 3 down linemen and will get a lot of pressure from blitzing linebackers. The Bears often line up one or two of their linebackers on the line to mix things up so Utah will at times see up to five players on the defensive front. Cal's D-line is a senior-laden group including playmakers Aaron Tipoti and Deandre Coleman. Coleman has been better this season statistically but Tipoti is a dangerous player in his own right. These players will make plays sporadically throughout the game, but this unit, along with the linebackers, has been gashed up the middle this season and I don't anticipate they'll put up a game-changing fight even against Utah's inexperienced starters.
Utah Defensive Backs vs Cal Quarterback and Wide Receivers
Utah's secondary had a rough couple of weeks when they faced Arizona State and USC in back-to-back games. Since the USC game they seem to have regained their form and have done a much better job of controlling the opponents' passing game. Ryan Lacy is getting better and better each week and has become Utah's corner most able to defend the opponent's top receiver. Eric Rowe is slowly returning to form after his hamstring injury sidelined him for a couple of games. It seems like his recovery has taken out of his game a bit but he is getting better and better each week. Brian Blechen, on the other hand, seems a bit lost out on the field and has really lost the edge he used to have as a big-play safety. This entire unit needs to do a better job of capitalizing on errant throws and securing some interceptions as the Utes have just two INT's on the season.
Cal has some very talented wide receivers who struggle to make plays because of one player: Zach Maynard. The Cal quarterback has been extremely inconsistent both this season and last and as a result his teammates at wideout have been the victims. When Maynard is good he can be very good, and when he's bad he is very bad. Maynard has thrown for 1751 yards on 62% passing and 10 touchdowns on the year but he has also thrown 8 interceptions which have often put his team in bad positions to give up easy scores. He's a mobile quarterback, and Utah is no stranger to mobile QBs, but he can be another Brett Hundley if Utah isn't careful. Wide receiver Keenan Allen is one of the best receivers in the Pac-12 and a deadly playmaker when his QB is playing well. At 6'3" 210 pounds he'll be a tough matchup for Ryan Lacy but again much of his production depends on how Maynard is playing. Allen is joined by some talented freshmen Darius Powe and Bryce Treggs, two of last year's top recruits at the position who are getting an early chance to show what they can do. Moe Lee and Reggie Topps will have fun chasing these young speedsters around the field.
Utah Linebackers vs Cal Running Backs and Tight Ends
Consistency may be the biggest issue plaguing Utah's linebacker unit. They can play great for a series, but over the course of a game the group is going to give up a big play or two (or more). The injury to Jacoby Hale won't help matters either. Utah has played just about every linebacker available on their roster and hasn't found consistent starters but lately they seemed to be getting good production out of Hale. In his absence Boo Anderson will step in to the starting role once again and will try and keep the level of play up where it's been these past couple of weeks. Reshawn Hooker has looked alright so far and has earned himself the starting outside linebacker position again for the 3rd time in 4 weeks. His speed has been a big help but his run support could still use a little work.
Cal's offensive backfield has been running back by committee all season long and it's paying dividends. The Bears currently have two players with over 400 rush yards and a third with over 275. C.J. Anderson will be the starter for the Bears; he has picked up 503 yards and has scored 4 times on the ground. Cottonwood High alum Isi Sofele is second on the team in rushing with 430 rush yards and 2 touchdowns. And freshman Brendan Bigelow is a home-run player; he has run for 277 yards and 2 TD's on a whopping 11.1 yards per carry, impressive for a true freshman behind two senior backs. Tight end Richard Rodgers had a breakout game 3 weeks ago against UCLA when he had a career-high 7 receptions for 129 yards. Rodgers only has 12 receptions and 168 yards on the year, so outside of the UCLA game he's averaging less than one catch and just over 5 yards per game.
Utah Defensive Line vs Cal Offensive Line
Joe Kruger returned to action last week after missing some time due to injury. He played nearly the entire game and finished with 4 tackles. His pass rushing skills were useful; he was able to put pressure on Cody Vaz multiple times even though the added pressure didn't result in a sack all night. The addition of Kruger back into the lineup should help the team in both the run and pass games going forward and should allow the team to return to their traditional base 4-3 defense. The bottom line with this unit is they need to get more production statistically. QB hurries are one thing, sacks are another. This unit is good, especially with Joe Kruger playing, but they need to turn their good play into more positive results such as tackles for loss and sacks, it's just that simple.
An up and down offensive line, this unit features three seniors and two underclassmen. Center Brian Schwenke and right tackle Matt Summers-Gavin are solid players, both on pre-season award watch-lists, but neither seem to have played up to their potential this year. As a unit the Cal offensive line has allowed an absurd amount of sacks (33) this season which is one reason why their offense has struggled to sustain any kind of consistency. Utah should be able to find success over the left side of the Cal line. Star will likely eat up both Schwenke at center and left guard Jordan Rigsbee which should allow Joe Kruger one-on-one matchups throughout the game around the end. Dave Kruger may have the most favorable matchup as he'll likely face sophomore right guard Chris Adcock one-on-one throughout the night.
Unit Matchups - Cal at Utah
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