It feels strange to say Utah will face their most talented offensive opponent this week, after having played Oregon, but so is the case this Saturday when the 5-0 Cal Bears come to town. Called the "Bear Raid" offense, Cal's offensive philosophy is an up tempo, quick strike offense. It is modeled after Mike Leach's Air Raid offense that had so much success at Texas Tech, where Cal head coach Sonny Dykes served as offensive coordinator. Since branching out on his own, Dykes has made some changes to the offense, notably incorporating much more of a run game than is utilized by Leach.
The Cal offense currently ranks 8th in scoring offense averaging 43.4 points per game. Despite Dykes installation of a more balanced approach, Cal still does most of it's damage through the air. Led by a future first round pick at quarterback and multiple NFL caliber receivers, the Bears are ninth in the nation in passing offense, averaging 358.4 yards per game. On the ground Cal is still capable, though less potent, ranking 68th in the nation with 169.4 rush yards per game. Going up against a talented Utah front who has been stout against the run, but a Utah secondary that ranks 85th in pass yards allowed, it appears sticking to the pass would be in Cal's best interest on Saturday.
If there is a weakness for this Cal offense, it has to be the offensive line. The line has given up 12 sacks so far this year, eight in the last two games. The total number of sacks allowed by the offensive line could be more, if it wasn't for the quick release and decision making of quarterback Jared Goff. A lesser quarterback would not have been able to avoid some of the pressure Goff has faced. This isn't to say the Bears offensive line is terrible, they still provide enough protection to have a top ranked passing offense. However if Utah can get a pass rush against Cal's offensive line, Utah has the players to make it a long day for Goff in the pocket.
Junior Jared Goff is Cal's starting quarterback and best player. The 6-4 215 lb. gunslinger is the best quarterback Utah will have seen up to this point, and could very well be the best quarterback the Utes see all season. Goff is on fire this year, and is a lock to be an early selection in next year's NFL draft. In five games, Goff has passed for 1,630 yards, 15 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. His completion percentage is up from 62.1% last season to 70.2% this season. His yards per attempt have also increased to 9.2 this season. He has not thrown for fewer than 268 yards this season and has not had lower than a 143.32 quarterback rating in any game. Goff enters Saturday's game fresh off throwing four touchdowns enroute to leading Cal back from a 21-7 deficit to a 34-28 victory against Washington State.
Goff has pinpoint accuracy and a quick release that is sure to frustrate some Utah fans on Saturday. Cal faced a tough defense a couple weeks ago in Washington, and Goff was still able to put up 342 yards passing. The Utah defense will need to key in on not giving up yards after the catch and limiting the big play. Goff has thrown an interception in four of five games Cal has played this season, so the opportunity for turnovers will be there.
The running back position is often overlooked when thinking about Cal's offense. The Bears have talent in the backfield however, and run the ball more than you think. 6-1 205 lb. senior Daniel Lasco was the lead man at the running back position for the Bears a season ago, racking up 1115 yards and 12 touchdowns. However due to a hip injury suffered earlier this season against San Diego State, Lasco has not been at full speed, missing games against Texas and Washington. Against Washington State last weekend he had only 22 yards on 10 carries and a reception for 11 yards.
The good news for Call has been the emergence of 6-1 230 lb. sophomore Vic Enwere and 5-9 170 lb. junior Khalfani Muhammed. Enwere has provided steady yards averaging 4.76 yards per carry and running for five touchdowns after receiving the bulk of carries against Texas and Washington. Muhammed is averaging 8.97 yards per carry after exploding for 164 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown against Texas. Cal will likely go with a run by committee approach on Saturday, and attack the defensive front with different running styles. However with the way Utah has defended against the run this season, I expect Cal's running game to mostly be complimentary to the aerial attack and not the other way around.
Cal has a stable of talented, big bodied, veteran receivers for Goff to throw to. The Bears have six different receivers with double digit receptions this season, all of them seniors except, star junior receiver Kenny Lawler. All six stand over 6-0 and four of them over 6-3. Goff likes to spread the wealth among his group of receivers, but Kenny Lawler is without a doubt the number one target.
Lawyer leads the Cal receiving corps with 27 receptions, 399 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns this year. He averages 14.78 yards per catch 79.8 receiving yards per game and scores a touchdown approximately every 3.3 receptions. Standing 6-3 and weighing 195 lbs., Lawler is a big redone target for Goff and will present a challenge for the Utah secondary.
Behind Lawler, Bryce Treggs, Trevor Davis, Darius Powe and tight end Stephen Anderson make up the other most commonly targeted receivers. All but Treggs are rangy guys with the ability to make acrobatic catches. Treggs is smaller at 6-0 and brings the skill set of a typical slot receiver to the table.
This game poses a definite threat to the Utes and their new top ten ranking. While the Utah defense has been good this season, they have not been tested through the air like they will be on Saturday night. If Goff is given time, he will be able to find ways to get his big receivers the ball and the Utes could have a hard time stopping the pass. The Utah front seven will need to play particularity well not only in stopping the run to make Cal one dimensional, but also in applying pressure on Goff. The accuracy of Goff can be affected by pressure, and will allow the Utah defense to get off the field on third down and create turnovers. If the game comes down to a shootout, Goff gives Cal a distinct advantage to pull out the win. However if Utah can avoid an Oregon hangover, the Utes have the coaches and players to stop the Cal offense just enough to get the win.