By Cody Harris
Go back to last March and the beginning of spring practice; If I had told you that 6 weeks into the upcoming season the Utes would be the number 5 team in the country and that College Gameday was going to be in Salt Lake City, you would’ve laughed and said I was crazy. Let me add just a bit more to that lunacy and say that Travis Wilson would have the highest TQBR rating in the country… but here we are and that is exactly what is happening!
Ute fans be excited, be very excited as your program will be the main event in college football this weekend when the #23 Cal Bears roll into Rice Eccles stadium this Saturday Night. With it Cal will be bringing Jared Goff and the 7th best offensive attack in the country.
Much like the last opponent the Utes faced, Cal is an offensive Juggernaut this year averaging 527.8 yards per game, while scoring 43.4 ppg, this team is highly dangerous, putting up points nearly at will. While Oregon’s strength comes on the ground (very favorable for the Utes), the Cal Bears attack through the air averaging 358 yards per game, Jared Goff is arguably the best pocket passing Qb in the country. A solid offensive line protecting the future first round pick, allows him to distribute the ball to a number of great WR’s, most notably Kenny Lawler; who already has 400 yards and 8 touchdowns on the year in just 5 games. From a pure production standpoint it is likely the Utes will not see a better QB/WR combo than Goff and Lawler. The offense is more than just a passing game as they can run the ball effectively between two good backs in Khalfani Muhmmad and Vic Enwere, who combined have provided 642 yards on 93 carries (6.9 ypc) for 6 touchdowns.
Unlike the Ducks, this Cal team is much more than just a talented offense, their defense is a turnover creating machine, currently with a +8 turnover margin. They like to force opposing Qb’s to throw under heavy pressure from their defensive line, having picked off 10 passes thus far in the season. If the Qb does decide to hold onto the ball too long, the bears have proven they will bring the QB down; already accumulating 18 sacks on the year. Led by #13 senior Defensive End Kyle Kragen and #7 senior LB Jalen Jefferson, this defense is both strong and athletic and will make indecisive quarterbacks pay.
Don’t expect the Utes to be too intimidated by Coach Sonny Dykes and the Bears, however as they are coming off one of the biggest wins in program history. Look for coach Pease to blitz and blitz often against Jared Goff in hopes of collapsing the pocket and hitting the future NFL QB as often as possible. The defensive group that will be feeling the most pressure though, would be the Ute’s DB’s, as the Bears WR core is tall, fast, deep, and athletic. On the offensive side of the ball, the Utes and Kyle Whittingham should be looking to make a national statement, that the beat down in Eugene was not a fluke, but a statement. In today’s era of College Football Playoffs, its not just winning, but how you win that counts. When it comes to the playoffs, the nation now knows the Utes name, they know that defense and special teams are the strength of this team, so it’ll be up to Wilson and Booker to show the country that this is a complete team, capable of putting up big points and thrashing anyone in their path.
Ute Fans, this is as big as it gets for the Utes right now, with all eyes focused on Salt Lake City, Kyle Whittingham and the boys need to be prepared, not just to win but to put on a show. Cal just has to show up; leaving all the pressure on the Utes. The Bears matchup very well in this game as their strength as a premier passing attack lines up against the Utes sometime suspect DB’s. With a great defensive unit and turnover-producing machine for Cal, the Utes need to toe the line between conservative ball security and a flashy big point total. Look for this game to come down to the wire, so bring the popcorn because it will be nothing short of entertaining.