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Utah @ Cal 2016: Q & A with Block U

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Tomorrow, Utah visits Memorial Stadium as a member of the Pac-12 for the first time. The Bears are hoping to avenge a painful loss from last season—a ranked clash ultimately determined by Cal's untimely turnovers. Utah is coming off a comeback victory over USC, and has designs on the Pac-12 South crown. To learn more about this year's Utes, we talk to Alex Stark of Block U, SBNation's Utes community.

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1. Kyle Whittingham's teams have generally had strong defense as a calling card; yet, this past week, the Utes relied on their offense in a comeback victory over USC. Was that an aberration, or do Cal fans have to be worried about both failing to score, and being scored upon in bunches?

Well I think that is what many Utah fans are hoping for. The defense is certainly stingy again this year, but I will say that the Air Raid/Bear Raid offense is a matchup problem for the Utah defense because of all of the quick passes. I loved what I saw from the Utah offense against USC, but I want to see them move the ball offensively more consistently before I am convinced they have a potent offense. One thing about the defense that concerns me heading into this game against Cal is the pass coverage looked a bit soft against USC. I personally think this is going to be a high scoring game.

2. Who are some of the key players on offense for the Utes? What should we expect from them?

The Utah offense is led by new starting quarterback Troy Williams. He has had some great moments this season (basically the second half against USC), but he has also forced several throws in the red zone leading to interceptions. Tim Patrick is second in the Pac-12 in receiving yards behind Chad Hansen, and he was able to catch 6 passes for 100 yards with Adoreé Jackson covering him all game against USC. True freshman Zack Moss, JUCO transfer Armand Shyne, and Troy McCormick are the running backs. Moss and Shyne are both bigger, physical backs, while McCormick is a speedster. The offensive line played well against USC, and left tackle Garett Bolles was a big reason. He had a huge block on Cameron Smith against USC.

3. Who are some of the key players on defense for the Utes? What should we expect from them?

Defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei was first-team All-Pac-12 last season and could be a first round draft pick when he heads to the NFL. He suffered an injury against USC though, so his status against Cal is unknown. He would be a big loss (both literally and figuratively) for the Utah defense. Chase Hansen is a big hitter at safety and can line up in the box. Marcus Williams was first-team All-Pac-12 last season at safety and is a ball hawk. The linebackers are coming along, and the group is led by Sunia Tauteoli. Utah's defensive ends, Hunter Dimick and Pita Taumoepenu, make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks.

4. Are there any particular matchups or keys that you believe this game will turn on?

My biggest key is turnovers. Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham calls it the most important stat after the final score. Turnovers played a huge part in last year's game, and Utah has forced some big turnovers this year, but they have also had some costly turnovers as well. The biggest matchup I think is Utah's pass defense versus Webb and the Cal receivers. Utah looked stout against the pass in the first three weeks of the season but struggled against USC. With Cal's prolific Bear Raid offense, the Utah secondary will be tested repeatedly in this game, and how they do will likely play a big role in deciding this game.

5. The Pac-12 South appears wide open this year. Where do you see Utah placing? What would you consider a successful/disappointing season?

I honestly think any team practically could win the Pac-12 South. There does not appear to be any elite teams, at least right now, in the division, and there does not appear to be any teams that are clearly a lot worse than everyone else. We do Power Rankings every week at Block U, and I currently have Utah atop the Pac-12 South (and third overall in the conference) through the first four weeks of the season. Do I think Utah can win the South? of course! Do I think they will? I am not sure. I think they will be in contention until the very end, but I think the division is just too wild right now to say with any confidence who will win. Utah has come so close to winning the Pac-12 South in 2011, 2014, and 2015, and I think this year might be their best chance, so I would say a Pac-12 South championship would definitely be a successful season. Utah has finished ranked in back-to-back seasons and is the only Pac-12 team to be ranked in every College Football Playoff ranking since that started in 2014, so I personally would like to see that continue in 2016, and I think it can. If Utah finishes unranked and fails to win a bowl game, that would constitute a disappointing season for me.

6. Some completion questions:

  • (a) I would feel torn if BYU joined the Pac-12.
  • (b) It would make me happiest if Alabama went winless in a season.
  • (c) If Kyle Whittingham jumped ship for the NFL or retired, my top, realistic choices for his replacement would be Sonny Cumbie, Gary Adnerson, or Dan Mullen.

7. Who would you like to punch in the face?

Nick Saban, his teams just keep winning...