Thursday, October 20, 2011
In Saturday's matchup between the Utah Utes (wtf is a Ute?) and the Cal Bears, both teams face a must win scenario. Both are 3-3 on the season, and both are looking for their first conference win.
The Utes have had a tougher non-conference slate, though the Bears have faced off against three of the top conference teams, with two games having been on the road.
The Bears look to get back to their winning ways to cut down on their mistakes that sunk them in their last loss to USC, and they hope to look for more efficiency out of their quarterback Zach Maynard, who threw for a season-high three interceptions in last week's mistake-filled contest.
Utah brings a very tough defense, and QB issues of their own, and the season might change drastically for the victor in Saturday's game. Let's get to the specifics.
Get Back to Basics on Offense
Utah's defense has quietly been very solid this season.
They're second in the conference in total and scoring defense, giving up on average, 326.3 yards and 20.5 points per game.
The Utes are very stout in the trenches, and their rush defense is also second in the conference, giving up 94.5 yards per game. They held the nation's leading rusher, Pittsburgh's Ray Graham to just 46 total rushing yards, though Pittsburgh's usually terrible offense became even more one dimensional last Saturday at Heinz Field.
The Utes are very disciplined in all that they do, and are particularly adept in forcing turnovers as evidenced by the 16 they've forced this year.
Cal's toughest test will be to find consistency on offense against Utah's defense.
I do think the Bears have the weapons to take down the Utes. It will boil down to whether they have the consistency to do it however. The Bears need to find some type of identity on offense. If they choose to spread out Utah's defense, they need to get Maynard out of the pocket and find ways to get their receivers into space. If they want to go the ground and pound route, it's fine as long as they commit to it.
The Bears are very multiple in what they do, but they've had inconsistent results in nearly every offensive set. I'm not opposed to the Bears testing the waters early on with multiple looks, but they need to use the first quarter to find out what's working and ditch what isn't.
Personally I think the spread look might look better against the Utes, but if the Bears go this route, just remember to move the pocket for Maynard. He doesn't always have to roll out, but he's not at a point where he can just sit back and pick defenses apart just yet. He's going to get his hand stuck in the cookie jar, so just allow him to buy time in a moving pocket.
Make Hayes Beat You
Since Utah QB Jordan Wynn has gone down, Utah has had to rely on Jon Hayes (from Nebraska Omaha) to lead the offense. However, the real driving force behind this offense is Jon White IV who is currently third in the conference in rushing yards with 671.
However, I will say that in the short action I've seen Jon Hayes play in, he hasn't looked completely wide-eyed and has done a decent job managing the game.
In short, expect the Utes to try and wear down the Cal defense with long drives consisting of a consistent ground game and high completion throws to their wideouts and tight ends.
The Utes know they can't rely on White to run 40 times a game, and are going to have to get something going through the air. I expect the defense to turn it up a notch and dial in the pressure in attempts to stack the box and rattle Hayes. Give Hayes multiple looks to force some indecision in the passer. Utah's leading receiver Devonte Christopher might be out for the game, and the Utes have no other proven playmakers at the wideout position, so the Bears can afford to leave some of their defenders on an island in order to stop the run. If the Bears can turn the Utah offense into being one dimensional by stuffing the rushing attack and making Hayes try and beat the Bears through the air, I like our chances.
However, please, please be wary of the screen. Please?
Solid Special Teams
In a game that's likely to be a defensive slugfest, special teams and field position are going to be absolutely critical. What's been for the Utes is their kicker/punter Jordan Peterson, who pretty much does it all, handling both punting and kicking duties. He's done a fair job on both, and nailed 4 field goals in last week's win over Pittsburgh.
Unfortunately for the Utes, Utah has also given up five touchdowns on special teams, with Pittsburgh scoring their only two touchdowns on a kickoff return, and a block punt returned for a score.
The Bears have had their own problems on special teams, and although they've yet to give up any scores on the unit, have seen inconsistency on their rugby style punts, and have had a ridiculous 5 kicks (4 PATs and 1 FG) blocked on the season.
Overall however, Utah has typically had strong special teams, and is a well-coached unit. The Bears are going to have to be incredibly cautious in all phases, especially on kickoffs, with Utah's Reggie Dunn averaging about 25 yards per kickoff return.
The Bears can't afford to make too many chances on special teams, and just need to execute on basic assignments. If Cal's offense struggles, solid special teams might be the difference between decent field position, and terrible field position.
Early on in the season, I pegged this game as a loss. I thought Utah was coached too well and their knack for taking down AQ foes (including the Bears) led me to believe that the game was going to be a loss.
However, the Utes have shown a propensity to beat themselves, and their offense has become far more one-dimensional without QB Jordan Wynn, who wasn't exactly lighting it up when he was healthy either. I then began to believe. Beat a floundering Utes team at home? Hells yes.
With that said, Utah is still well coached (probably better than ours), and their stout defense has me scared.
It'll depend on which Cal team shows up. If the 5 turnover mess of a team shows up, I still maintain that that squad doesn't beat a single conference team all season. But if Cal can cut down their mistakes, I still think we have one of the more dangerous teams out there.
I think the Bears rebound and play a hard fought game.
Cal 23 Utah 17
Posted by Bear with Fangs at 7:50 AM