California (3-5) at Utah (2-5)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 27, 9:45 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Rice-Eccles Stadium (45,017) -- Salt Lake City, Utah. Television: Pac-12 Network. Home Record: Cal 2-3, Utah 2-1. Away Record: Cal 1-2, Utah 0-4. Neutral Record: Cal 0-0, Utah 0-0. Conference Record: Cal 2-3, Utah 0-4. Series Record: California leads, 5-3.
GAME NOTES: Still in search of their first Pac-12 victory of the season, the Utah Utes welcome the California Golden Bears to Rice-Eccles Stadium for a Saturday night showdown.
The Utes are 0-4 in conference play for the second straight season and would love to pull off a similar feat as last year, when they rebounded to win five of their final six games, including a bowl victory. Utah, which is coming off a 21-7 setback at seventh-ranked Oregon State last week, must win four of its final five games to become bowl eligible for a 10th straight year.
Cal had a two-game win streak snapped in last week's 21-3 loss to No. 19 Stanford. The Golden Bears are also scrambling to become bowl eligible, needing to win three of their final four games. That certainly won't be an easy task with top-10 teams Oregon and Oregon State on the docket for the final two games.
Cal holds a 5-3 lead in the all-time series with Utah, although this is the Golden Bears' first trip to Salt Lake City since 2003.
The Bears' offense was completely shut down by Stanford last week, as they managed only 12 first downs and 217 yards of total offense for the game. The running game was nonexistent, managing a dismal three net yards on 28 team carries. Cal also put the ball on the ground three times, losing two fumbles. Zach Maynard completed 19-of-31 passes for 214 yards and was sacked four times, while top target Keenan Allen was held to 43 yards on four catches. As head coach Jeff Tedford pointed out after the game, Stanford won the line of scrimmage battle, and did so rather easily. It was the fewest points the Golden Bears scored against Stanford, their arch rival, since 1998. The optimistic view would chalk it up to simply having a poor performance against a better team, as Cal did manage 74 points over its previous two contests. Then again, the Bears rank 71st nationally in total offense (391.6 ypg) and 78th in scoring (25.6 ppg).
Defensively, Cal has been solid but unspectacular. The team has held its last five opponents to less than 28 points. Overall, the Golden Bears rank 61st nationally in scoring defense (25.8 ppg) and 82nd in total defense (425.8 ypg). Last week, Stanford jumped out to a 21-3 halftime lead, and the Cardinal switched to a more conservative, ball-control approach in the second half to keep Cal at bay. The defense held Stanford's Josh Nunes to 214 yards on 16- of-31 passing, as the Bears notched an interception and a fumble recovery late in the fourth quarter to prevent a blowout. However, Stanford's Stepfan Taylor ran for a career-high 189 yards and a touchdown.
Utah head coach Kyle Wittingham has done quite a bit of quarterback shuffling. Junior Jordan Wynn started the first two games, senior Jon Hays got the start in the next three, and true freshman Travis Wilson has started each of the last two contests. Wilson had his moments against a tough Oregon State defense, though in the end he finished with only 172 yards on 15-of-28 passing. Wilson did toss an 18-yard touchdown to Jake Murphy midway through the third quarter to make it a 14-7 game, but he was also intercepted twice and lost a fumble. John White was bottled up for just 68 rushing yards on 20 carries (3.4 ypc), while sophomore tight end Jake Murphy caught a team-high four passes for 42 yards and a TD. On the season, Murphy paces the Utes with 22 catches for 239 yards and figures to remain a security blanket for the freshman Wilson. The last time a tight end led Utah in receiving in a season was Dennis Smith back in 1989.
Utah's defense is a strength, as the team leads the nation with 13 forced fumbles and is tied for the lead in fumbles returned for touchdowns with three. In terms of total defense, the Utes rank second in the Pac-12 (332.9 ypg), while they rank fourth in the conference and 22nd nationally in run defense (113.9 ypg). Last week, Utah held Oregon State to 52 yards rushing, the second time this year that the Utes have held a team under 100 yards rushing. OSU's first two touchdowns came on drives that started inside the red zone following an interception and a touchdown. It's tough to point the finger at the defense for allowing those scores, especially considering the Utes held OSU to 15 first downs and only 226 yards of total offense for the game.
Both of these teams are fighting for their postseason lives, so despite their respective records, this should be a hotly contested battle. Points figure to be hard to come by, and Utah gets a slight edge playing at home with a fierce defense.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Utah 19, California 13
10/24 10:32:49 ET