Utah has serious issues on the offensive line and a freshman quarterback. How will Cal try to exploit these weaknesses for Utah?
California is really banged up along the defensive line and at outside linebacker, so it might limit the options for defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast in attacking Utah freshman quarterback Travis Wilson. Containment of mobile passers is always an issue, but with the availability of Brennan Scarlett (broken hand) and Chris McCain (ankle) uncertain, it might force Cal to be far more conservative than they might.
Still, Cal will use plenty of run blitzes and bring the pressure on obvious passing downs.
The best approach for Cal might be continuing Utah's first-quarter struggles and establishing an early lead to take away running back John White IV and put the onus on Wilson to make the right reads as a passer.
Cal is traditionally a good home team and a bad road team. Why is that? Does Tedford generally have mentally weak teams that crumble under the road pressure?
The glaring discrepancy between Cal's performance whether at home or on the road can be linked to the inability to develop a true successor to Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. Without that consistency at the position, the team is prone to reflecting the level of play.
When Zach Maynard played well at Ohio State, Cal was able to hang with the class of the Big Ten. When Maynard self-destructed at USC, a solid performance from the defense was wasted.
Add in an inexperienced offensive line, and this is an offense that hasn't responded well under pressure.
The question of mental toughness will be answered this week, with the season and perhaps Tedford's future in the balance. If Utah takes an early lead, will Cal throw in the towel or fight back?
What game this season most resembles this team as a whole?
The 35-28 loss at Ohio State would be the perfect representation of how Cal has played in 2012. The Bears dug themselves an early hole (falling behind 20-7/falling to 1-4 in the month of September), fought back (tied the Buckeyes at 28-28/winning two straight against UCLA and at Washington State), then failed to land the decisive blow (electing to try a 42-yard field goal facing fourth-and-one from the Ohio State 25, seeing the kick go wide left for the third time/the offense being man-handled by rival Stanford with a chance to regain the Axe and give themselves a legitimate chance at the postseason).
Of course, Ohio State won the game as busted coverage in the Cal secondary resulted in a 72-yard game-winning touchdown, and Maynard was intercepted in a last-gasp effort to even the score.
Utah, Washington, Oregon, and Oregon State could provide the knockout blow, which could end Tedford's decade-plus tenure.
How will Cal try to stop Star Lotulelei?
Despite multiple proclamations from players and coaches that they will do nothing out of the ordinary against the mammoth defensive tackle, Cal must ensure it has a double-team ready for Lotulelei on almost every play.
They have certainly struggled with pressure up the middle. Will Sutton of Arizona State abused the interior of the offensive line for a career day in Berkeley, accounting for eight tackles, four tackles for loss, three sacks, and one forced fumble. Stanford stuffed everything Cal tried to establish in the Big Game, finishing with 18 yards on 19 carries from its three lead running backs.
As he demonstrated against USC, Lotulelei is more than capable of taking over a game. Expect Cal to try and run away from the All-American, work the edge more in the ground game, and employ quick passes to keep him from being a factor.
After Cal whooped Utah last season, are fans fairly confident of another victory?
Cal isn't in a position to be confident of anything right now. They need to come out with their best effort, play disciplined football that minimizes mistakes, and hope to make a break or two that allows them to come away with a win to keep those slim bowl hopes alive.
If they do, Cal stays alive, and sets up a huge showdown next Friday against Washington.
If they do, it might be time to start looking at resumes for Cal's next head coach.
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