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Cal Football

Utah Preview: The Defense Never Rests

October 24, 2019

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Running back Zach Moss leads the league

Utah is an opponent Cal doesn’t need right now. The 12th-ranked Utes (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12), who host the Bears (4-3. 1-3) Saturday night, have the best defense in the conference if not the country. The Bears have quarterback issues that have led to a near-collapse of the offense. 

Now it seems as if a freshman QB, who has all of two series of game experience, will try to operate a Cal offense that allowed nine sacks to Oregon State last week. Led by Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week Bradlee Anae (making a tackle above), a senior defensive end, the Utes limited the potent Arizona State offense to three points and 136 yards of total offense (25 passing on just four completions, 111 rushing). That is the same Sun Devil offense that piled up 365 yards against Cal Sept. 27.

Freshman Spencer Brasch, who by all indications will be the Bears quarterback Saturday in place of injured Devon Modster, has a tough assignment.

 “They are just a relentless defense,” ASU quarterback Jayden Daniels said after the game. “They are going to get after the quarterback. It’s just a stout defense that we played today.”

And if that weren’t bad enough news for the Bears, the Utes have the leading rusher in the conference and possibly the country’s most efficient quarterback. The latter. Tyler Huntley, was injured during the game last week but is expected to play against the Bears..

No matter, the strength of the Utes is their defense, which is second in the country against the run, allowing 61.1 yards per game, fourth in total defense, 252.1 ypg and sixth in scoring, giving up 11.7 points per game. 

On one end of the Utes’ four-man front, Anae has been able to make a bee-line to opposing quarterbacks. The Laie, Hawaii, native has 24 career sacks, ranking third among active players in the country and seventh all-time at Utah.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Tyler Huntley

 “He is, in my estimation, the best edge pass-rusher in the Pac-12,” head coach Kyle Whittingham said. 

All-Pac-12 defensive tackle Leki Fotu gets to see Anae up close on a daily basis. “Playing beside him is pretty exciting, just to see what he does,” Fotu told the Deseret News. “It’s just super fun playing next to him. It seems like he doesn’t run out of breath.”

Anae, Fotu, John Penisini and either Maxs Tupai or Mika Tafua make up as formidable a frontline as there is in the country. 

Linebackers Devin Lloyd and Francis Bernard are talented and roam the field when they are not coming after the quarterback, They are the Utes’ two leading tacklers with 50 and 48 respectively. 

The senior-laden secondary is solid, led by cornerback  Jaylin Johnson, who might be the best shutdown corner in the Pac-12. 

Huntley is the offense’s triggerman. He twice left the ASU game with an injury. Whittingham has offered no update on his condition, but Huntley assured the Utah writers early in the week he would play.

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Kyle Whittingham and Huntley 

Cal defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter is preparing his team for Huntley. “He’s very athletic, making good decisions,” DeRuyter said. “He is a dual-threat, which really concerns you, the quarterback run game as well as converting on third down.”

The backups are junior Drew Lisk and sophomore Jason Shelley. Lisk replaced Huntley the first time he came out of the ASU game. Shelley, the better runner who started the last five games a year ago when Huntley was hurt, was used late in the ASU game as the Utes were running out the clock.

No matter who the QB is, he will have running back Zack Moss. who is first in the Pac-12 and 20th in the country at 102.2 rushing yards per game. Against ASU he became Utah’s career leader; he has 3,264 total yards on 570 carries. At 5-10, 215 he is a load.

“He runs angry,” is how cal head coach Justin Wilcox described his rough and tumble style.
DeRuyter said, ”He runs through tackles, you can see him go the distance, open it up and run away from people. He can make you miss in the hole with shake, he can make you miss just because he’s so powerful and built low to the ground. He’s an excellent back and I’m sure he’s going to be a pro back.”

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Jaylen Dixon scores against ASU

The Utes have a boatload of talented receivers and spread the ball around. The top three are DeMari Simpkins, Jaylen Dixon, and Bryan Thompson.

Cole Fotheringham has started all seven games at tight end and is a fine blocker, But backup Brant Kuithe has 13 receptions (tied for second on the team) for 236 yards and two touchdowns.

The offensive line is young, but have adapted well to offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig’s blocking schemes.


  • Cal leads the all-time series, 6-5, and won the last meeting in 2016.
  • Utah’s only loss this year was to USC on Sept. 20. Since that game, the Utes have won three straight outscoring opponents 111-23.
  • Ludwig was Cal’s offensive coordinator in 2009-2010. 
  • The Utes have nine interceptions (11th most in the country) and have returned them for 226 yards and three touchdowns.
  • They have at least one takeaway in 15 straight games. 
  • Through seven games the Utes have allowed just 32 second-half points. 
  • Utah leads the league in time of possession, 34:56.
  • Although Rice-Eccoies stadium holds just 45,807 spectators, the second smallest venue in the league, it might be the loudest. 

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