SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — For just the second time this season, the Cal football team scored first. That 3-0 lead lasted 16 seconds.
Utah’s Reggie Dunn returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, the initial bullet in what is likely the death blow to the Bears’ 2012 season. The Utes entered Saturday night’s game winless in Pac-12 play, but at Rice-Eccles Stadium, the Bears looked like the team that did not belong in the league, losing 49-27 in brutal fashion.
Cal must now win its remaining three games to qualify for the postseason.
“It’s gonna take leadership from everyone,” said Cal head coach Jeff Tedford. “We have not lost this team … They were very passionate about going back to work next week and getting healthy and remembering this feeling and using it as motivation.”
Little went right for Cal (3-6, 2-4 in the Pac-12), especially in the first half. The Utes (3-4, 1-4) scored their second touchdown off a fumble recovery as cornerback Reggie Topps scooped up Chris Harper’s drop and ran 17 yards unscathed into the end zone.
On the next possession, quarterback Zach Maynard and the Cal offense charged downfield, all the way inside Utah’s 20-yard line. But, as with the entire season, the Bears’ offense stalled in the red zone, and kicker Vincenzo D’Amato was forced to kick a field goal, his second of the game.
Still, Cal was only down eight points, and going into the second quarter, all of Utah’s points had come from the defense and special teams. That’s when Utah’s offense woke up, and the Bears’ defense fell apart. Cal gained just four yards to the Utes’ 125 in the quarter, as running backs John White and Kelvin York slipped past defenders inside and out, and quarterback Travis Wilson ran straight up the middle for first downs.
At halftime, Utah led, 28-6. By the end of third quarter, the Utes had a blowout 42-13 advantage.
“Utah was scoring a lot of points,” Maynard said. “Every time they got the ball, they scored. It’s hard to come back from that.”
Cal’s standout wide receiver Keenan Allen did not log a single catch in the first half. The closest he came to a reception was a pass behind him that bounced off his hands into Utah cornerback Ryan Lacy’s.
In the fourth quarter, Allen caught his third pass of the night — No. 203 in his career — to break Cal’s all-time receptions record. The junior’s next reception was a 23-yard touchdown, which brought the scoreboard to 49-20.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” Allen said. “But I’d rather have the win. It’s disappointing.”
The squad’s three second-half touchdowns were also garbage points, giving the Bears respectable offensive numbers in an otherwise dominating Utah win.
With touchdowns mostly on untouched runs, the Utes did not have spectacular offensive plays. They only had to be competent against a defense that wasn’t for most of the game.
“I think the main thing is just consistency, lack of attention to detail,” said senior safety Josh Hill. “Defensively, I think, sometimes there’s a lack of focus.”
Missing key injured players, like linebacker Chris McCain, was no excuse for the missed tackles that enabled Dunn to return another kick return for a touchdown to open the fourth quarter.
Utah controlled time of possession, holding the ball 15 minutes longer than Cal over the course of the game. Still, neither squad has time on its side, both needing a few more wins and a little bit of luck to make a bowl. What the Utes do have is momentum, something the Bears had before their second lopsided loss in as many weeks.
“I don’t think too much has changed as far as our willingness to win,” Hill said. “We just have to stay positive … We just have to find a way to win.”
Jonathan Kuperberg covers football. Contact him at [email protected]