Tale of the Tape: Utah’s broken play turns into Cal’s broken dreams

Jazmine Solorzano/Staff

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You know those movies and sitcoms that open with the main character in what appears to be quite a jam, then the insertion of a record scratch, freeze frame and the voice-over of a “Yep, that’s me — you’re probably wondering how I got into this mess”?

Such a scene seems fitting for the Bears during the entirety of their 35-0 routing at the hands of Utah, but the Utes’ first touchdown drive of the night, as illustrated above, perfectly encapsulates the classic movie trope.

Utah started the drives at its own 1-yard line after Bears’ Branden Smith downed a boot from punter Steven Coutts right outside the end zone. Things were initially looking up for Cal — the Utes went nowhere on their first down attempt thanks to defensive tackle Brett Johnson. Bears’ linebacker Evan Weaver had a short stuff on second down and it seemed as if Cal was going to keep the Utes from passing their own 5-yard line.

Mere moments later, though, Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley connected with receiver Brant Kuithe on a deep lob to jump the Utes all the way to the 25-yard line. It didn’t look like the proverbial end of the world for the Bears, but it ended up marking the end of Cal’s chances at stopping Utah’s all but NFL-tier offense. The Utes would score four more touchdowns that night.

As players stacked up on the line of scrimmage, however, no one could have predicted what was to come. The ball was snapped and hit Huntley, who had momentarily glanced to the side, square in the chest before dropping to the ground. Huntley was quick to scoop it back up, attempting to improvise and salvage the already broken play.

Cal’s defense was playing man coverage, but Luc Bequette, the Bears’ defensive lineman closest to Huntley, was blocked by Utah’s right tackle Simi Moala to give the Utes’ quarterback just enough time to get out of the pocket. Huntley peeled off to the right with the ball and all of Cal’s defense shifted with him.

All except for Weaver, that is, who was waiting patiently at the line of scrimmage as the broken play unfolded. Weaver was locked in on Huntley and made a break for him as soon as he was well out of the pocket and the range of any defensive lineman.

Meanwhile, Utah running back Zack Moss slipped upfield, behind Bequette and Moala, and into open space just as Weaver was running by to knuckle down on Huntley. Moss remained unseen and completely unguarded right at the 25-yard line.

Mostly unseen, that is — Huntley dumped the rock to Moss right over Weaver’s head, allowing the running back to take off in a slant toward the end zone. Since every defender had shifted so far over to the right sideline covering their man, Moss was virtually untouchable as he sprinted a total of 69 yards downfield.

Only safeties Ashtyn Davis and Jaylinn Hawkins were close enough to stay in hot pursuit, but Hawkins was unable to make the tackle until Cal’s own 5-yard line. Two downs later, Moss was able to finish what he had started and ran the ball into the end zone for a school-record breaking 32nd career touchdown.

Dual-threat quarterbacks have consistently burdened Cal’s defense this season and going helmet-to-helmet with the likes of Huntley, who might be considered a triple-threat given his talent for thinking on his feet in moments like these, allowed the Utes to take a mile (or 99 yards) when they had been allowed just an inch.

A drive that started on the 1-yard line and ended quite literally with the opposite illustrated how, even though the Bears’ defense is their greatest strength, just one talented playmaker on the opposing team has the ability to put Cal in very sticky situations.

Emily Ohman covers football. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @emilyohman34.