By Jason Hall
After the final horn sounded on the dismantling of Oregon, the country lay in a state of shock at what had just happened. The pundits couldn’t believe Utah had just trounced the defending national runner ups 62-20 and it wasn’t even that close. It was the most points scored by a visitor at Autzen and the worst beating Oregon has taken in decades.
The numbers were staggering, but even more so, the way the Utes did it was incredible. From a fake punt on their own 25 to a half back pass, Aaron Roderick dug deep into his bag of tricks to call a masterful game, the likes of which haven’t been seen by Utah for . . . well . . . ever. The defense was stout, causing turnovers and holding the potent Duck offense in check for most of the night. It looked like a complete role reversal with Utah running all over Oregon the way they had done to so many opponents over the last few years.
Now that victory and everything that came with it is in the rear view mirror. Utah has risen to fifth in the AP poll this week. The only two remaining undefeated teams in the PAC 12, Utah and Cal, are set to meet in Rice Eccles Stadium this Saturday night in the marquee matchup of the conference. College Game Day is en route and preparing to set up shop in President’s Circle for all the country to see. Most fans want to forget what happened the last time those guys rolled into town. The dreaded TCU debacle is a game most Ute fans don’t ever want to revisit. Coach Whittingham remembers the game and it’s safe to say he will do everything in his power to ensure the outcome on Saturday is the complete opposite. In 2014, Utah inexplicably lost to a bad Washington State team after jumping out to a 21-0 lead. The possibility of a letdown is real and with all eyes on the Utes, it would be devastating to the program after it’s worked so hard to garner national attention and respect. Coach Whitt will not allow that to happen.
To avoid a letdown, the Utes need to keep Cal’s primary weapon in check – Jared Goff. He can make plays as well or better than any quarterback in the nation. He might be most similar to Sean Manning of Oregon State, who had his way with Utah last year until Devontae Booker single-handedly took the game over. The Utes were content to sit back and drop into coverage, daring Manning to beat them with 7-8 in the secondary. Unfortunately, he was able to do that for most of the night and this cannot be the game plan on Saturday if Utah wants to win. The way to keep Goff from destroying you starts at the line of scrimmage. He has 16 TDs and 0 interceptions this year versus the blitz. The front four must provide the pressure. The Utes have to keep him unsettled and keep the pressure on. Guys like Pita T will be key to flushing him out where Fanaika/Dimick and Paul/Norris will be waiting to take him down. Utah must keep the pressure on him to have any hope of containing him.
The Utah defensive line has the advantage over the Cal offensive line and they will need to exploit that going four on five or six most of the night. The Utah secondary is skilled, but Goff can find little openings and deliver the ball with precision. Press man coverage will be key to not allow the receivers to get off the ball and find those openings. The linebackers will need to provide pressure, but also stay at home and keep the running backs out of the backfield covered. Utah’s defense is allowing 18.8 points per game and is +7 in turnover margin. Cal has caused 18 turnovers, but 9 of them came in the Grambling and WSU games alone. Utah has been causing turnovers this year and will be looking for more as Cal has turned the ball over 10 times this year so far.
Cal has the seventh rated offense and averages 12+ offensive drives per game while Utah is seventh in the country in time of possession at thirty-five minutes per game. Utah will try to dominate the time of possession again because if the Cal offense doesn’t have the ball, they can’t score. We should expect to see a lot of Booker and probably Williams. The run game should open up as Cal has given up 11 rushing TDs and an average of 137.2 yards to game. In comparison, Utah has only surrendered 1 rushing TD so far this season. The competition level hasn’t been great for Cal either as they have played Grambling, SDSU, TX, WA and WSU. That number is skewed considering they played Washington State last week who rushed for a total of 14 yards. If you take that game out, Cal is giving up about 170 yards per game on the ground without having faced a legitimate running back yet.
The Utah offense was clearly opened up against Oregon and Coach Roderick should continue that trend this week. The coaches have had a lot of time to prepare and they will find the weaknesses in the Cal defense and exploit them. While the offense was the focal point against Oregon, the defense will be the key to Utah winning this game. They will cause 3 turnovers, the special teams will again play a key role and the offense will control the ball. Utah wins this game 42-24 and will be in control from the onset.