A test for both teams

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It’s been a good start for No. 23 Cal football. Some games may have been a little closer than the Bears would have liked, but entering week six against No. 5 Utah on Saturday night, they’re undefeated at 5-0.

But Utah’s not going to be like the other teams Cal has faced this year. In the past five games, the Bears have shown moments of vulnerability. The game against Texas during which Jerrod Heard rushed for 163 yards and three touchdowns showed that Cal could work on containing mobile quarterbacks. Against Washington, running back Dwayne Washington ran for 109 yards on just 10 carries. And against Washington State last week, Cal had a hard time running the ball against the Cougars’ defensive line, averaging just 2.6 yards a carry. If you take out Cal quarterback Jared Goff’s negative 32 yards, that will be 111 yards on 25 carries which is 4.4 YAC. But the average also goes way up because of a 42-yard Vic Enwere run. When taking out Goff’s five attempts and Enwere’s big run, an average of 2.9 YAC, which isn’t exactly the best, results.

Mobile quarterbacks, premier running backs and strong run-stuffing defensive linemen are all things that have at least once put Cal in danger. And Utah has all of them.

Most spreads have the Utes as the favorites by about a touchdown, marking the first time this season the Bears aren’t the favorites. Because of big wins against No. 18 Michigan and then-No. 13 Oregon, and because of teams that were in the top-10 losing in the past two weeks, Utah is now a top-five team. On the other hand, Cal’s schedule in the first half hasn’t featured the high-profile teams that Utah has played.

But the Utes aren’t unbeatable.They feature lots of things that can make life hard for the Bears, but Cal also has weapons that can make life hard for Utah’s defense.

The most points the Utes have allowed this season is 24, in a blowout win against Fresno State. Michigan scored just 17 and Oregon only had 20 points. Saturday’s going to be the first time Utah sees an offense like Cal’s.

Utah has limited its opponents to just 246.6 passing yards a game with 12 total interceptions while the Bears will be coming in averaging 358.4 and 16 total touchdowns. Both Utah’s defense and Cal’s offense will be presented with a challenge they haven’t seen so far this season.

Utah’s quarterback Travis Wilson already has 200 yards on 23 carries for three scores, and running back Devontae Booker has 443 on 106 carries for four touchdowns. The Bears have drastically improved on defense, but they’re probably going to have a hard time stopping a Utah team with multiple running threats.

The trend for Cal this season has been taking over in third quarters. With the exception of losing 7-14 in the third against Washington, the Bears have dominated third quarters, beating their opponents 77-21. Like the Golden State Warriors, everything seems to click after halftime. The defense starts forcing turnovers and three and outs. On offense, Goff is finding receivers open and the Bears are scoring quickly.

Cal hasn’t really played a perfect game so far this year. But close to perfect third quarters have been enough to edge its opponents. There’s a lot of advantages Utah will have on Cal. But the same can be argued the other way as well. If their defense can come up with timely plays and the offense can consistently pass, there’s no reason the Bears can’t come up with a scoring run that puts them over the top.

Ritchie Lee covers football. Contact him at [email protected]