Last week proved to be a challenge and came down to a final nail-biting drive by Utah to get the job done. This week Utah faces the California Bears at California Memorial Stadium and per Vegas are pretty evenly matched with the Bears as a one-point favorite at home. Here are three keys to send the Utes to 5-0:
1. The nation’s leader in passing
If last week Utah had to focus on the first time starting quarterback, Sam Darnold that doesn’t hold a candle to how zoned in they will have to be on Cal’s new quarterback, Davis Webb. Webb currently leads the nation in passing yards with 1,837 total yards accounting for 18 touchdowns. In addition to Webb, Cal has received accolades for both total offense and their wide receiver, Chad Hansen, both of which are ranked number two in the nation in their respective categories. Though Cal hasn’t faced a defense quite like Utah’s before the Utes will need to handle this dangerous offense in the secondary to ensure a victory.
2. Continued confidence in offense
After the victory over USC, Utah Head Coach, Kyle Whittingham tweeted, “Couldn’t be prouder. #4thandshort.” Utah went for it on fourth and short four times last week and converted all four times, two of those coming within the last drive. While extremely risky, more so than anything, this showed the confidence the Utes now have in their offense to win out at the line of scrimmage and pave the way for their ball handlers. Going for it on fourth and short 100% of the time is highly unlikely, as Coach Whittingham has said, “It’s more a gut feeling than anything else.” As long as the coaches continue to exhibit trust and confidence with the offense, they will continue to come up huge for the team. This confidence must be carried through to this week versus Cal if the Utes want a win.
3. Greater defensive impact
With the loss of Lowell Lotulelei on defense against USC the Utes defense felt immediate impact. Coach Whittingham’s rule with refusal of non-season ending injury speak has left us unclear about whether or not the defensive tackle will play against Cal but with or without him the Utes have to be able to step up on this side of the ball this week and figure out away to absorb the multiple players Lotulelei takes care of on each down. Expect to see the corners putting in overtime because with an offense like Cal the greatest concern isn’t the ability to contain the run but to cover the backfield against the throw game. Something that was missing against the Trojans was an explosive “Sack Lake City” but this will be where Utah can force Webb to commit costly mistakes.
Can the Utes stop the highly touted Cal offense? Will defense be able to move on after a lackluster performance versus USC? I think the Utes can come out with a W on this one with another close matchup against the Bears.