When shoulder surgery sidelined quarterback Jordan Wynn for the season, the Utah football team was forced to turn to Jon Hays, a junior transfer out of Butte College.
That school’s most famous alum? Former Cal signal-caller Aaron Rodgers.
Unfortunately for the Utes (3-3, 0-3 in the Pac-12), who head to San Francisco’s AT&T Park to take on Rodgers’ old team at 4 p.m. Saturday, Hays does not appear to be the second coming of the reigning Super Bowl MVP.
In his two starts this season, the junior transfer from Paradise, Calif., has not conjured up a line befitting his hometown: His three touchdown passes are matched with three interceptions, and his 326 yards have come on 32-of-53 passing.
Prior to his injury, Wynn was dead last in the Pac-12 with only 6.3 yards per attempt. Oregon State’s Sean Mannion is the only other quarterback who had posted sub-seven numbers. Hays’ is only slightly behind as a starter, averaging 6.2.
He is not helped by his lack of targets. Starting tight end Dallin Rogers is out for the season with a knee injury. Top wideout DeVonte Christopher’s bum ankle saw him shelved in last week’s win at Pittsburgh; his 70.2 yards-per-game average — 10th-best in the Pac-12 — is again questionable for Saturday.
That leaves Utah’s one-dimensional attack with star tailback John White IV, fresh off a 171-yard performance. This dearth of talent has in part led to a conference-worst red zone performance for the unit, which is the only Pac-12 offense that has scored on fewer than 70 percent of its trips inside the the opposing 20-yard line.
Whether or not the Cal (3-3, 0-3) defense can take advantage for its first conference victory is another question. The Bears were stout against the Trojans a week ago, giving up 30 points that were more the fault of special teams and offensive turnovers. However, they may have to host the Utes without inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks — who is in a three-way tie as the conference’s leading tackler — and starting cornerback Marc Anthony. Neither participated in a full week of practice, although both have shed the slings they wore early in the week with apparent shoulder injuries. The team did not reveal their statuses for the game.
“I’m not going to talk about injuries, who’s practicing and who’s not. I don’t want that stuff public,” head coach Jeff Tedford said. “It’s always important, for that. No doubt about it. I feel like everybody will be ready to play, but they’re a very formidable opponent, as far as running the football, we have to have all our guys ready to play.”
The Utes’ defense, though, is solid, and could present problems for a bumbling Cal offense that not only squandered key opportunities against USC last Thursday, but also handed the Trojans ample field position. Particularly worrisome for the Bears is the fact that the Utes have picked off opponents seven times this fall, more than any defense in the conference except No. 24 Arizona State.
After turning the ball over only four times through its first five games, Cal coughed up the ball five times in its homecoming game. Quarterback Zach Maynard was responsible for four of them, being blindsided for a fumble — the lone miscue he can be absolved of — and throwing three ugly interceptions.
Maynard has often looked more comfortable making plays on the run than staying in the pocket and has continued trying to improve his accuracy. His 52.7 percent completion rate is the worst in the Pac-12.
“Try not to over-stride as much. Throws the angle off,” he said. “Throwing’s all about angling. Worrying about the touch you put on the ball, how hard you throw the ball, where your feet are at … As long as I set my feet, most of my passes are pretty accurate.”