As Cal moves forward to Saturday’s game against Utah, there is increasing talk about the challenge the Bears will have against the Utes stingy defense. Utah has a very strong front seven, and it shows in its run defense which is ranked 13th nationally (94.5 yards allowed per game). During last week’s 26-14 win at Pittsburgh, Utah held Ray Graham, then the nation’s second-leading rusher, to just 46 yards on the ground. that was 103 yards under his average.
Seeing as Cal is coming off its worst rushing performance of the season against USC, there is cause for concern Saturday.
“They have a great defense,” Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. “It’s going to be important that we’re able to mix it up. We can’t be one-dimensional. We need to be patient with the run because they do a good job.”
Cal tailback Isi Sofele, who has a little extra bounce in his step this week since he is from Salt Lake City, was held to just 44 yards rushing against the Trojans, who seemed to have the speed and scheme to swallow him up.
Utah’s defense is led by defensive end Derrick Shelby, who was the national defensive player of the week last week.
Of course, the Utes will have to contend with Cal’s receivers. Keenan Allen is now leading the country in receiving yards per game (138). He’s on pace for 104 catches for 1,656 yards, both of which would be school records.
“We all have seen his talent and he’s a strong competitor and has a lot of great skills to go with it,” Tedford said. “He has a great understanding of the game. It’s really no surprise when you watch Keenan practice every day and the skills that he brings.”
In light of quarterback Zach Maynard’s miserable three-interception performance against USC, Tedford pointed out that since Allen is racking up all those yards, somebody must be getting him the ball. Tedford dismissed Maynard’s performance as a quarterback having a bad day, one that was trying too hard. He said NFL quarterbacks have off-days all the time, pointing out Rex Grossman’s four-interception performance Sunday for the Redskins.
“You have a receiver that has those type of stats, somebody is getting him the football,” Tedford said.
Maynard is one of only three Pac-12 quarterbacks to throw for at least 200 yards in every game this season.
It remains to be seen when cornerback Marc Anthony returns — he still hasn’t returned to practice because of a shoulder injury — but even when he does it appears true freshman Stefan McClure will be a heavy part of the cornerback rotation, at the very least. McClure figures to get his second straight start Saturday after a strong performance against USC receiver Robert Woods.
“I think you’re going to see him turn into one of the special corners we’ve had here,” Tedford said.