Game Preview: Utah vs Cal

The Utes look to pick up their first conference win of the season when the Bears come to town

Facts and Factors

After a two-week road stretch, Utah (2-5, 0-4 Pac-12) returns to Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 27 to host California (3-5, 2-3 Pac-12) starting at 7:45 p.m. MDT. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks and will be aired regionally on Pac-12 Mountain (Comcast channel 37/757 and Dish channel 413) and Pac-12 Bay Area. Radio is ESPN700 AM (espn700sports.com) and SIRIUS/XM (92/192).

The last time Cal played in Salt Lake City was in 2003, when the biggest crowd in Rice-Eccles Stadium history (46,768) saw quarterback Alex Smith beat the Bears in his starting debut. Smith is now the starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers and was the first player selected in the 2005 NFL draft.

Saturday's game is the fifth-annual blackout game. The Utes will wear black uniforms and fans are encouraged to wear black attire.

Utah is 3-1 in blackout games, with wins over TCU in 2008, Wyoming in 2009 and Oregon State in 2011, and a loss to TCU in 2010.

Kyle Whittingham is 1-1 against Cal, with a win in the 2009 Poinsettia Bowl and a loss last season in their first contest as Pac-12 opponents.

For the second-straight season, Utah is off to an 0-4 start in Pac-12 play. Last year, the Utes bounced back to win four straight games and five of their last six (including a Sun Bowl victory over Georgia Tech).

Utah must win four of its final five games to become bowl eligible for a 10th-straight year. The Utes are 8-1 in bowl games since 2003 and seven of those wins came with Whittingham as the head coach (including a 2005 Fiesta Bowl win as the co-head coach with Urban Meyer).

In celebration of David W. Pershing's appointment as the 15th President of the University of Utah, Director of Athletics Dr. Chris Hill will present him with a red jersey at halftime.

Utah leads the nation with 13 forced fumbles and is tied for the lead in fumbles returned for touchdowns with three. The Utes have forced 21 fumbles total … Utah's best conference ranking is in total defense (332.86), where the Utes are second in the Pac-12 (29th in the country) … Utah's best national ranking is in rushing defense (113.86), where the Utes are 22nd nationally (fourth in the Pac-12) … Utah is third in the conference in pass defense (219.0).

Sophomore tight end Jake Murphy is Utah's leading receiver with 22 catches for 239 yards. The last time a tight end led Utah in receiving in a season was Dennis Smith back in 1989 … Junior safety Quade Chappuis, who played in five games—starting the first four—is out for the season with a shoulder injury … Charles Henderson has switched from receiver to safety and now wears jersey No. 3 … Utah has started three different quarterbacks this season: junior Jordan Wynn in the first two games, senior Jon Hays in the next three games and true freshman Travis Wilson in the last two … Four true freshmen have played in and started at least one game for Utah this season: Wilson, linebacker Reshawn Hooker, offensive lineman Jeremiah Poutasi and punter Tom Hackett … 17 players have caught passes for Utah this season, including QB Wilson, and four players have completed passes (Wilson, Wynn, Jon Hays and Devonte Christopher).

Utah held Oregon State to 52 yards rushing, the second time this year that the Utes have held a team under 100 yards rushing … Utah's most productive scoring quarter is the second (45 points), its biggest point advantage has come in the third (34-10) and its worst quarter is the first, when the Utes have been outscored 62-28 … Utah has attempted just two field goals in the last four games and has not made a field goal since the third game of the season against BYU … Dating back to last season, Utah is 9-0 when John White rushes for 100 yards, something he has done just once this season (vs. Northern Colorado).

Participants for a halftime Halloween costume contest for children age 12 and under will be selected at the Ute Walk, which starts at 5:45 p.m. on the corner of Guardsman Way and 500 South … The Varsity Club will hold its eighth-annual reunion this Saturday. Around 400 former student-athletes are expected to attend the event, which will also feature a tailgate party and pre-game introductions … 2011-12 senior softball player Generra Nielson will be honored as the Occie Evans Award winner during a break. The award has been presented annually since 1978 to the outstanding senior Utah woman athlete from a team sport … It is Parent and Family weekend on campus.

Visiting teams have returned several hundred tickets for Utah's last 3 home games, including 100 for the Cal game. Prices start at $50 #utes … The Utes have sold out 15-straight games in Rice-Eccles Stadium, including every game since 2010.

When Utah Has The Ball

Look for the Utes to establist the running game from the get-go. Coach Whittingham and Brian Johnson know that the Utes need to control the ball and prevent Cal's offense from controlling the clock/tempo of the game. John White IV and Kelvin York should each receive their fair share of carries Saturday night. There is an offensive line shake-up due to JT's injury, so it will be interesting to see how effective the running game can be. I expect to see some power running from the Utes that will be similar to 2011. If it is effective I think the Utes build from there, and if it is ineffective, I think you will see a game-plan similar to OSU and UCLA.

Travis Wilson has proven that he can make good throws, but against Cal he needs to prove he can limit mistakes and limit turnovers. Wilson made a few too many mistakes against Oregon State and the Utes were only able to come up with one touchdown in the game. Travis Wilson will need his receivers and tight ends to step up, Wilson should have an additional 10 completions this year, but dropped passes have crippled the Utes offense. Jake Murphy, Kenneth Scott, and Anthony Denham are all large targets that should be used throughout the game against Cal. Murphy is a tough player to match-up against and has made some spectacular plays for the Utes. He has also dropped a few balls, including a critical drop that would have kept the Utes in the Oregon State game last week. Kenneth Scott has the ability to beat anyone on Cal's D 1 on 1 and if the offensive line provides enough time look for K Scott to catch a few balls down field this week. I also expect more Denham than the Utes have used in the first 7 games. Anthony is just simply too big for any cornerback to stop. Wilson needs to look to AD early and often.

The Utes will also continue to look for creative ways to involve speedsters, Reggie Dunn and Dres Anderson, whether it is on sweep plays, screen passes, or short routes, these two have talent to turn 5 yards into 25 yards in a flash. Cal's injuries at LB may open up the middle of the field for Travis Wilson, allowing the Utes and Wilson to dink and dunk down the field.

At the end of the day, Saturday's game against Cal, will be won or lost in the trenches. If the O Line can provide holes for John White IV and Kelvin York, then the Utes win, but if Cal can stop the run, I think Cal wins. Tevita Stevens, Vyncent Jones, Miles Mason, Sam Brenner, and CJ Poutasi need to play a strong game from start to finish for the Utes to earn their first Pac-12 victory of 2012. Advantage: Cal

When Cal Has The Ball

Utah going to do everything they can to get pressure on Cal quarterback Zach Maynard. Maynard is as bi-polar a player as there is in the conference, with great performances one week, followed by an absolute stinker the next week. If the Maynard that lit up UCLA is there, Cal will win. If it's pretty much any other Maynard, Utah's chances will increase significantly. With 10 touchdowns and 8 interceptions on the year, Maynard is susceptible to getting picked, and Utah needs to take advantage. The senior QB is also a running threat, although his numbers don't show it due to the number of sacks he's taken, but the last time Utah took on a QB that could run, UCLA's Brett Hundley lit them up with third down conversions with his legs time and time again.

The Golden Bears feature a three headed rushing attack led by Salt Lake City native Iso Sofele who has 53.8 yards per game on the year and 4.4 yards per carry. He's not a big back, but has decent speed and finds the holes well. Cal's leading rusher is actually backup C.J. Anderson who is averaging 62.9 yards per game with 4 touchdowns and an average of 6.4 yards per carry. Throw in speedster Brandon Bigelow who has 277 yards on the year and is breaking off runs at a clip of 11.1 yards per attempt, and the Bears have a nice homerun threat.

The receivers are good...very good. Keenan Allen could be the first pass catcher taken in the April NFL draft and has been putting up big numbers for years. At 6-3, 210 pounds, Allen is a man amongst boys and has parlayed that into 56 catches and 5 touchdowns on the year. Add in the fact that Zach Maynard is Allen's brother, and he ends up being targeted over and over again, even when he's not open.

After Allen, Cal has two freshmen receivers in Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper. Both have reeled in 20+ catches on the year, Treggs came into the year as arguably the most college ready freshman wide receiver in the country. He's a speedster, who's pretty shifty. The corners will have their hands full this week trying to slow down the talented receivers, but with an inconsistent QB in Maynard, they'll have their chances to make big plays and force turnovers.

Cal's offensive line has performed as poorly as any in the conference in the passing game. Maynard has been sacked 33 times already, a number that could be even higher if Maynard didn't have above average legs and the ability to escape. He's under pressure on almost every single play. The run blocking is significantly better as they pave their way for the backs to go for an average of 170 yards per game. With senior tackles and a senior center, this group should be better, but we've seen experience seniors have issues at Utah this year as well.

Advantage: Utah

Prediction

For maybe the first time all year, we're going to see the Utah team we thought we'd see when the season started. With cold temperatures expected, the Utes will be in their element while Cal will be out of theirs. The Golden Bears have had issues slowing down opposing pass rushes which will allow the Utah defensive line to picks up multiple sacks and put constant pressure on Maynard. That pressure will also result in a few wayward throws, two of which will be picked off. The short fields will help Travis Wilson from having to go 75-80 yards consistently, while Kelvin York and John White will combine for over 150 yards as the Utes pull out of comfortable victory.

Utah 24 Cal 13

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