Instant analysis/reaction: Cal football reaches new rock-bottom in 35-0 loss to No. 12 Utah

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Key takeaway

On Utah’s first offensive drive of the game, Cal’s defense forced a three-and-out.

On Cal’s first offensive drive, the Bears picked up a pair of first downs and gave true freshman Spencer Brasch some positive plays to build off of. 

The fun stopped there for the blue and gold.

For the first time since Oct. 13, 2018, Tim DeRuyter’s defense surrendered more than 24 points in a game. The No. 12 Utes only needed one half of play to best that mark, putting an exclamation point on a 21-point second quarter with a 76-yard touchdown drive to take a 28-0 lead heading into halftime.

When the Bears lost 37-7 to a previously winless UCLA program last October, head coach Justin Wilcox immediately detailed the defeat as a “total team loss.” But while that contest was a one-score game at one point during the second half, this one was virtually over the moment Utah found the end zone on its second drive. 

From fans waving “Cal Sucks” signs in the crowd to the Utes’ kickoff team bouncing up and down to Pitbull and Kesha’s “Timber,” it’s safe to say it was a night to forget for the Bears. On the opposite sideline, it was all smiles as everyone from Tyler Huntley (11 of 17, 214 passing yards, 1 touchdown) to backup quarterback Jason Shelley (1 rushing touchdown, 1 passing touchdown) as the Utes showed out in dominating fashion, improving to 7-1 on the season. 

 

Eye-opening stat

It’s difficult to find just one specific stat to fully capture how overpowering the Utes were on both sides of the ball. Pick almost any and you’ll probably find that it favors the home team.

Utah’s defense came into Saturday night having given up just 23 combined points in its previous three gamesall wins over Pac-12 opponents. With the inexperienced Brasch making his first collegiate start in the eye of a red-and-black hurricane, the ingredients for disaster were present seemingly right from the get-go. 

Still, not many could have anticipated the disparity in production that unfolded Saturday evening: Utah finished the night with 473 yards. Cal finished with 83. 

Prior to Saturday’s onslaught, the Bears had not been shutout on the road against a conference opponent since Oct. 22, 1994, a span of 25 seasons.

With receivers Kekoa Crawford, Jeremiah Hawkins and Ricky Walker III not making the trip to Salt Lake City, the Bears relied heavily on the services of lesser-utilized names, including but not limited to receiver Ben Skinner and tight end Collin Moore. While Skinner and Moore will remember Saturday night for their first career catches, they’ll equally remember it for the unfavorable circumstances facing a sinking Cal program. 

Sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you. In Cal’s case, Utah’s veteran core got the best of the Bears’ shorthanded units on both sides of the ball. 

 

Cal’s game MVP 

In the midst of an outright brutal second quarter, Evan Weaver made his move up Cal’s program leaderboard. With some early stuffs against Utah’s running attack, Weaver leapfrogged both Ron Rivera (336) and Mike Mohamed for fifth and then fourth on the career tackles list. He finished the night with 20 tackles, another impressive performance amid Cal’s holistic struggles against Huntley and tailback Zack Moss.

While the Bears’ secondary has not generated the turnovers it did in 2018, one of its defensive backs joined Weaver with an impressive all-around effort Saturday. That standout was redshirt junior Elijah Hicks, who picked up five tackles from his cornerback spot, broke up a pass and also notched the second sack of his career — Cal’s only on the evening.

 

Looking ahead 

On blackout night at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Cal football took the field seeking newfound life on the heels of a three-game losing skid. Instead, the Utes nipped any spark the Bears were able to generate instantaneously.

Now 4-4 and simply trying to avoid a last-place finish in the Pac-12 North, Cal’s second bye week arrives with little to celebrate. The path to a potential bowl game runs through Washington State and USC, who will both visit Berkeley, followed by potentially high stakes road contests against archrival Stanford and UCLA.

As the health of Cal’s quarterbacks and receivers has remained in flux, it’s evident that a defense that was borderline unbendable in 2018 is beginning to lose its edge. The result? The most lopsided defeat in recent memory, aka rock-bottom for the Bears.

Josh Yuen covers football. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @joshcal2020.