Last week was...disappointing. That is an understatement. Cal's 21-3 loss to Stanford in the Big Game left the Bears and their fans with a bitter taste and rekindled the talk that this will Jeff Tedford's final season as Cal's head coach. But unlike most years where the Big Game is the last or second-to-last game of the season, in which case last Saturday's performance probably would have sounded definitively the death knell for Coach Tedford's tenure, the Bears still have four games remaining on their schedule. And all of them are Pac-12 games, meaning that Cal (3-5 overall, 2-3 Pac-12) still has a chance --- mathematically, anyway --- to finish the season strongly and reach a bowl game.
But "mathematically" is not the same thing as "realistically." With Washington (which has given Cal fits the last three years), Oregon (scary), and Oregon State (magical season) being the Bears' final three opponents of the regular season, a strong finish is a tall task. Which makes today's game against the Utah Utes (2-5 overall, 0-4 Pac-12) an important one, as it marks Cal's best chance at a win in the last four games of the season.
This is your pregame thread. Warm up for the game here. Look for a link to the first quarter thread as kickoff draws near. More game information below.
Saturday, Oct. 27, 6:45 p.m. (PT)
Cal (3-5, 2-3) at Utah (2-5, 0-4)
Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, UT
TV: Pac-12 Networks - Ron Pitts (Play-by-Play), Kelly Stouffer (Analyst)
Cal Commercial Radio: KGO 810 AM (San Francisco) - Joe Starkey (Play-by-Play), Mike Pawlawski (Analyst, *Pregame Show), Todd McKim (Sideline, *Pregame Show), Lee Grosscup (^Postgame Show), Matt Foley (^Postgame Show) Postgame Show: Claremont Hotel Club & Spa, 41 Tunnel Road, Berkeley, CA
IMG College/Cal Radio Network Affiliates: *KFPT 790 AM (Fresno), KGO 810 AM (San Francisco), +KLAA 830 AM (Los Angeles), KRAK 910 AM (Los Angeles), KAHI 950 AM (Sacramento), KESP 970 AM (Modesto), KFIG 1430 AM (Fresno), XEPE 1700 AM (San Diego) ^Primary, *Secondary; +game will be preempted on KLAA 830 AM Saturday, Oct. 27
All-Access Radio: The Cal commercial radio broadcast of the Golden Bears' game vs. Stanford can be heard on the Internet through the All-Access channel on CalBears.com. All-Access can be found under the Multimedia tab at the top of the page at CalBears.com.
Cal Student Radio: KALX 90.7 FM, kalx.com (Berkeley) - Isaac Wolf (Play-by-Play), Jamie Silva (Analyst)
Sirius XM Satellite Radio:Utah's commercial radio broadcast feed of the Cal-Utah game can be heard on Sirius XM satellite radio on channel 92 on Sirius and channel 192 on XM.
CalBears.com: Visit CalBears.com for complete coverage of Cal football, including a live play-by-play update via Gametracker.
As usual, ManBearCal previewed the Utah offense. Utah has had its problems on offense, due in no small part to losing starting quarterback Jordan Wynn for the season due to injury. Wynn's backup, Jon Hayes (who threw four interceptions against the Bears last season) took over, but has since been replaced by true freshman Travis Wilson. ManBearCal had this assessment of Utah's starting quarterback:
STARTER: Travis Wilson, Freshman - 6'6, 220 lbs
Utah has done some unplanned shuffling at the QB position in the 2012 season. Incumbent starter Jordan Wynn suffered a career-ending shoulder injury in week 2, which then led to senior Jon Hays starting 3 games. True frosh Travis Wilson stepped in as the starter on the road against UCLA, and will be making his third start this weekend against us. On the season, Wilson is completing almost 65% of his passes for 490 yards, with 2 touchdown passes and 3 interceptions. While he did play in some spot duty prior to being tabbed as the starter, it's probably more useful to just look at his numbers in the games he's started (on the road against UCLA and Oregon State). In those two games, Wilson has completed 62% of his passes and thrown one touchdown to 3 interceptions, while being sacked 4 times. Wilson is a big guy at 6'6 and is pretty mobile, and Utah will often call designed QB runs for him to try and use that length...with limited success honestly. He's got a pretty strong arm, but his throwing motion is reminiscent of Phillip Rivers in that he seems to push the ball a bit. He displays the kind of inexperience you'd expect from a true frosh, but maybe some of that should be attributed to a run-game that has been mediocre thus far, an inconsistent offensive line, and an underperforming wide receiver corps. Wilson, with a little help, will be fine.
Upside: Size, arm, mobility, looks kinda scary in that pic?
Downside: Depth, experience, supporting cast
What to Expect:
This really depends on a couple things. Brian Johnson, Utah's young offensive coordinator, has been pretty stubborn about using the run to set up the pass. That's a dandy strategy if you have an effective running game. For the most part, Utah has not. As a result, Wilson has been put in some tough positions where he's throwing on 3rd and long and there's at least 7 defenders dropped back into coverage. A more ambitious playcalling scheme would help Wilson a lot. He's good enough, but he's received minimal support from his OC and the playmakers around him. If this is the game where the lightbulb goes off, he could move the ball a bit. He's got the arm to do it. I do feel that if we're doing a good job defending the run, it will be the key to stopping the Utes though. That should put more pressure on Wilson and I like our chances of forcing some turnovers if he's asked to do too much. Any of this sound a little familiar?
Yeah, that sounds kinda familiar. Gives us a sort of kinship with the Utes, does it not?
On the other side of the ball, the Cal offense will have to deal with one of the big stars of the Pac-12. Literally. Utah defensive tackle Star Lotuleilei is a surefire top-10 overall pick in the NFL draft and clogs the middle of the Utes' D-line. He is a big reason why the Utah defense ranks 17th in the nation in yards-per-carry rushing defense (3.18 ypc). norcalnick previewed the Utah defense earlier this week and drew these conclusions:
If this game goes the way we all hope, anything I have to say about the Utah defense might be almost irrelevant. In two straight games teams have gotten out to early leads and basically shut it down in terms of offensive creativity. For all of Cal's struggles, there's no reason to think that the Bears can't hypothetically do the same thing.
While Utah is definitely better against the run than the pass, there's a definite risk/reward imbalance in the choice. Utah absolutely depends on other teams making mistakes to win games. USC handed Utah 14 free points and still won with relative ease. It took two huge turnovers for Utah to notch their only FBS win of the season.
In that regard, they sound like Cal, who needed UCLA to self-immolate to win. But Cal can play mistake free football and ride their defense to the win. Expect a conservative gameplan, and embrace it.
So...you're saying there's a chance?
Of course there's a chance. As helter skelter as this season has been for Golden Bears, they at least have something that Utah does not: victories in Pac-12 play. And Utah's problems on offense this season should mean that Cal will stay in the game tonight and have a fighting chance to win. In fact, but for the variable of this game being on the road, you would be inclined to think that the Bears should win this game without a problem, much in the same way that Cal won easily against the Utes last season.
A win today will not remove the bitter taste of last week's Big Game loss, that's for sure. But it will certainly make the last quarter of the season more palatable and give the Bears a shot of confidence heading into next week's ESPN nationally televised Friday night tilt against Washington.