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Letdown or Showdown? Cal vs. Utah Roundtable

Zach Maynard completed 19 of 29 passes for 255 yards and 1 TD, and threw 0 INTs, in last year's 34-10 win over Utah.
Zach Maynard completed 19 of 29 passes for 255 yards and 1 TD, and threw 0 INTs, in last year's 34-10 win over Utah.

On October 27, our beloved California Golden Bears will be in the great city of Salt Lake City, Utah to take on the Utah Utes. Last season, the Bears throttled the Utes 34-10 in AT&T Park in a game that was not as close as the final score would indicate. Simply put, Cal dominated the shorthanded Utah squad last season.

Will the Utes get revenge this season? Utah is a talented team with a bevy of starters returning on both sides of the ball. Were it not for the juggernaut that is the USC Trojans, the Utes might be the odds-on favorite to win the Pac-12 South. And Utah will get Cal at the right time if you're a Utah fan and the wrong time if you're a Cal fan. For Cal, the Utah game falls in the week between two highly emotional games against Stanford (October 20) and Washington (November 2). The game seems tailor-made for a Cal letdown game. Will it be?

TwistNHook: Cal, surprisingly, blew these guys out last year. But that was at home. Will things be different on the road?

LeonPowe: Was it surprising? When we played them, weren't they down to their third string QB? If we can't beat a third string QB, then we shouldn't be playing Pac-12 football.

Ohio Bear: No, it was just their second string quarterback. But for that reason alone, we caught them at a good time. They were also winless in the conference at the time we played them last year. I don't think it was surprising that we won the game, but I was surprised we dominated it as much as we did.

(See what the rest of your CGB writers and mods have to say after the jump.)

Berkelium97: It seems like everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Utes last year in AT&T Park. As Leon Powe said, they were playing John Hays at QB and he had been thoroughly underwhelming at that point in the season. Utah's offense was abysmal that day, as they didn't score a touchdown until there was a minute left in the game. Something clicked for the Utes after that game, as they went on to win 5 of their next 6. Hays improved dramatically down the stretch and John White IV piled up over 800 yards on the ground in those final six games. With Wynn at the helm (assuming he stays healthy), this could be a solid Utah offense next year. Moral of the story: Utah's offense will look nothing like that mess we saw last year

However, what is most encouraging is that we absolutely torched the Utah defense--widely considered the best in the South. Maynard had 255 yards of passing and 2 TDs: one on the ground, one in the air. We had just enough yardage on the ground (129 yards, 2 TDs) to keep the defense honest. I am especially pleased that I did not recognize the name Star Lotuleilei when he received all the preseason hype this year (on his way to a first-round draft pick). Apparently we kept him in check pretty well. Overall, I am encouraged heading into Salt Lake this year.

HIghlights of last season's 34-10 Cal victory over Utah at AT&T Park

Kodiak: It was absolutely shocking to me how well we handled Utah last year. I was only mildly surprised that we shut-down their backup QB. It's a long, proud tradition for Cal to make backups look like world-beaters. I'm glad that someone forgot the memo.

Where I was surprised was how easily we shredded their defense. Whittingham's teams are typically defined by their toughness on that side of the ball.

This is one of the first games that I recall last year where we established a dominant run game that allowed Maynard to roll left with play-action. And shockingly, we kept doing it all game. Instead of getting too cute, we dared them to stop it, and they could not. Considering that the Utes finished last year leading the conference in scoring defense, I'd have to consider our game to be a bit of a blip on the radar.

They have a lot of upperclassmen and returning starters back on their defense. If they can keep Wynn healthy, they have a solid RB in White and a playmaking WR in Christopher.

On the road, that's a tough out. I think that we have the defense to hang with theirs, and an offense that has enough playmakers to eventually put up some points. We'll need to play some solid ball and at this stage of the year, injuries have to be a concern; particularly with no bye week.

It's a tough, but winnable game. Hopefully we'll be motivated by some enticing bowl implications.

atomsareenough: I wasn't quite as shocked as everyone else seems to be. Utah has been a solid team for a long time, but moving up from the Mountain West to the Pac-12 is a major adjustment, and it wasn't that surprising to me to see them struggle a bit in their first year. Aside from the bye week (if you even have one, grumble grumble), there are no weeks off in the Pac-12. You don't get to hit cruise control and notch easy wins against teams like New Mexico or UNLV (or Wyoming a couple years ago) every few weeks or so.

However, Wittingham is an excellent coach and Utah is a good team. We were lucky enough to catch them breaking in a new QB starting just the 3rd game of his career in the middle of a tough stretch of games for them last season. The fact that they turned it around and won the next 4 after that makes me think they'll probably be a lot tougher this season. On the other hand, they were playing Oregon State, Arizona, UCLA, and Wazzu. And then they lost to Colorado at home.

Anyway, as Kodiak notes, they've got a very tight, consistent defense. They most points they allowed was 35. They held USC to just 23. This year they have Jordan Wynn and John White IV coming back. Still, I feel like we have more talent on both sides of the ball overall, so we should be able to win, but we'll have to bring our A-game with us on the road. I've heard that Rice-Eccles Stadium is a pretty tough place to play, and I'm curious to see what it's like. But on balance, "tough, but winnable game" sounds about right to me.

unclesam22: Tough but winnable definitely seems right. As a Cal fan all games make me nervous, but this one has me a little worried for all the reasons outlined above. But I still think we have the better overall team and should prevail in this game.

Vincent S: Utah is an enigma. There are so many dependent variables that have yet to be resolved. For example: Utah with Jordan Wynn seems to be a lot better than Utah without Jordan Wynn. I don't think we'll have a good idea of where they stand until several games into the season, and even then, they're a freak injury away from emulating our 2010 team.

Ohio Bear: I don't know what to expect out of Utah. But I suppose the conventional wisdom is to think that opponents will get a steady dose of John White (1,500+ yard rusher last year) and that the Ute offense will be better with a healthy Jordan Wynn. I would also expect Utah to be good on defense again with stud defensive tackle Star Lotulelei returning. They have some talent.

We also play them at a time on our schedule that has "letdown" written all over it. We travel to SLC in the week between the Big Game and the Washington game, two games that we have circled and starred on our schedule. Can Cal keep its edge after the Big Game and not look ahead to the Tosh Bowl? I hope I'm wrong, but I see the team maintaining focus being an issue for this one.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham destroys stuff as the Utes recently began building their new football facility.

TwistNHook: Score predictions?

Ohio Bear: Letdown game, sandwiched between a Big Game win and the Washington game.

Utah 27, Cal 19

Kodiak: Damn you, Ohio Bear.

Damn you to Ohio.

Cal 24, Utah 21. D'Amato with the walk-off at the buzzer.

Berkelium97: I like what we did against their offense last year. Let's try to replicate that performance.

Cal 21, Utah 17

unclesam22: I'll go with two since I think we should win but I can't shake Ohio Bear's idea of a letdown either:

Win: Cal 28-24

Letdown : Utah 27-10.

I'm 50/50 on which one it will be.

norcalnick: I'm thinking 24-17, Utah. I have a feeling that Cal will start a series with Utah that will be very similar to their play against UCLA - win at home, lose on the road. I'm really worried about how Cal's beat up offensive line deals with Star Lotulelei and an excellent Utah defensive line, and I'd be shocked if Utah's offense is anywhere near as ineffective as it was in San Francisco last year.

atomsareenough: Cal 23, Utah 21

LeonPowe: Cal 28 Utah 14

(So, CGB readers, how do you think this one shakes out? Does Cal get it done in Salt Lake City? Or is the combination of a possible letdown and a good Utah team too much to overcome? Share your thoughts in the comments.)