Well, then. It's been a rough couple of weeks. Can't deny that. But Cal takes on a weakened Utah team on Saturday. And we have to make hay with this particular one. Cal still has the possibility for a successful season ahead. Successful in the sense of meeting expectations for what is an odd and transient year. However, to do so, we pretty much have to win, at least, three of the next 4 games.
And this is a key game to win. Utah comes in with a key injury at quarterback. They haven't even had a victory in the Pac-12 yet, a pain we know all too well. To find out more about this must-win game, we talked with JazzyUte over at BlockU, SBNation's Utah site. Obviously, we haven't had a lot of interactions with our new found friends. However, so far, they seem pretty cool. Hopefully, that continues! So, join me after the jump to learn more about all things Ute. GO BEARS!
1. So is it safe to say to pac12 is tougher than y'all initially thought?
I wouldn't say that. We knew heading in this would be a tough season. In fact, you could even say Utah is right where fans' expected them to be at the start of the season. I know there were some pie in the sky fans who thought this team could push ten or eleven wins, but in reality, most had the Utes pegged anywhere from six to nine regular season victories - all a distinct possibility halfway through the season.
That's not to say we underestimated some teams. I'm not sure anyone expected Washington to be as good as they were and I doubt any Ute fan thought the program would start 0-3 in conference play (potentially 0-4 after Saturday). However, they probably didn't expect to lose Jordan Wynn (though I guess we all had our fears with how fragile he's been recently) and that more than anything has handicapped this team. I don't know if Utah would've won their last three games with Wynn, but I think they would have had a far better chance and played a bit more respectable in conference play than what we've seen.
So it's hard for me to say it's been quite a bit harder. We knew it was going to be hard. We just anticipated getting through this with our starting quarterback. We're not.
2. Please tell us that you guys suck and we can get our first conference win against you guys.
I was going to ask you the same question...
But really, Utah does have a very questionable offense (and by questionable, I mean awful) that has wet the bed in two of their last three games. Who knows if they righted the ship against Pittsburgh last Saturday, but you've got to at least like your chances knowing you're going up against a unit that ranks either dead last, or second to last, in the conference in points per game and total yards per game.
3. Since Wynn is out, tell us about your starting QB. Is he just as good? Please say no.
You got your wish - no, Jon Hays is not as good as Jordan Wynn.
Jon Hays is a different type of quarterback than Wynn, though. Whereas Wynn fit Norm Chow's offense perfectly, you know, lining up under center, standing back in the pocket and making passes, Hays is a bit more mobile and tailored more toward the spread offense. His mobility is an obvious strength, but he's proven not to be a very accurate passer at times and, in his first two games (one he came in at the half and the other he started), he threw four interceptions. Ouch, right? Fortunately, he didn't throw any against Pitt, but he was still very average, completing 14 of 23 passes for only 127 yards, or, for only 5.5 yards a pass. Yikes.
Because of his relative light resume, it's hard to really get a feel for how good of a quarterback he can be. He definitely played better, or at least more cautious, against the Panthers than he did a week prior against the Sun Devils. We're hopeful that means he'll improve this week. But with only really two games to go by, it's hard to get on his bandwagon just yet.
4. So far Utah's defense has completely shut down teams like Pittsburgh and BYU, but didn't see as much success against Arizona St. and Washington. What did those teams do to move the ball and score points that other teams didn't?
Those teams forced turnovers on the other side of the ball. Utah turned it over 10 times in their losses to Washington and Arizona State and those turnovers turned what were very competitive games into blowouts. It's hard for the defense to shutdown a team when their offense turns around and gives the ball to the opposing team on every drive. That is what literally happened in a few minute stretch against the Sun Devils. Utah actually led that game midway through the third quarter, by four and than one, before two turnovers in a row gave ASU a lead that the Utes just couldn't overcome.
I don't want to act like I'm underselling what the Huskies and Sun Devils did, but they were certainly aided by turnovers and that's why they controlled much of the second half of each game.
That's not to say there aren't some concerns on the defensive end. Utah's passing defense is still suspect, even though they do rank third in the conference. Zach Maynard could exploit that similarly to how Keith Price and Brock Osweiler did in their victories. Of course, if the Utes secure the ball, I doubt he'll do as much damage because the defense, you know, will actually get to defend.
5. Tell us about your best player on offense and defense. What can Cal fans expect to see from those two players?
On offense, right now, I'd have to say it's John White, who's in his first season at running back with the Utes. He was really the leading force in Utah's win Saturday and I think the offense is going to sink or swim with his ability to get down field on the ground, especially if Hays continues to struggle with the learning curve. On the defensive end, I'll go with two guys. The first is Derrick Shelby, who was named the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week recently for his performance against Pitt and then Trevor Reilly, both very fierce, aggressive and scary as all hell players. Reilly was named to Phil Steele's midseason all-Pac-12 defensive team. I'm hopeful you'll find out why Saturday.
6. Red zone efficiency has not been Utah's strength this season. Is there any explanation for why Utah has been so bad inside the 20? How is your field goal kicker?
I don't know if I have an explanation for it. I'm guessing turnovers and a lack of a real power back hurts when the Utes get down that far. As for our field goal kicker, well he was named Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week for a reason and that's shocking considering this was one of the weakest positions heading into the season. But I feel very good about Coleman Petersen right now.
7. What happened on special teams last week? Was it an aberration or are the coverage units exploitable?
I'd like to think it's an aberration. Certainly we haven't seen anything that disastrous this season, at least in sequence. But special teams have been a problem for Utah since, well, Urban Meyer left for Gainesville. It's probably the most consistent weakness this team has had under the current coaching staff and you just pray it doesn't cost you a game. But the two plays we saw Saturday were definitely a first this season, so I'm not too worried they'll show up again this week. The biggest concern is holding on to the damn ball on kickoff and punt returns - something that did not happen against Washington and allowed the Huskies to score the first touchdown of the game.
8. Who do you want to punch in the face?
I'd say someone political, but I think that would alienate my readers, so I'll go with Chuck Lorre. Why? Well have you seen the crap he's put on television recently? His credits read like a how to guide to terrorist torture interrogation.