Cal, Utah looking for breakthrough win

October, 19, 2011
10/19/11
6:25
PM ET
There's a notable symmetry to Utah's visit to California -- at AT&T Park -- on Saturday.

Both teams are better on defense than offense. Both teams have 15 sacks. Both teams are struggling at quarterback.

Both teams are 3-3 overall. Both teams are 0-3 in conference play. Both teams aren't happy about that.

The notable thing about them playing is that symmetry will end. One team will walk away on the uptick. One team -- and its fans -- will be supremely disappointed.

[+] EnlargeZach Maynard
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireCal quarterback Zach Maynard has thrown 11 touchdowns, but has also been mistake-prone.
Utah ranks second and California third in the Pac-12 in total defense. The Bears have better numbers on offense, but that's skewed by a weaker schedule thus far. The Utes have scored 14 points in each of their three conference defeats; Cal has averaged 15.7 points in its.

As it often happens in the Pac-12, the quarterbacks figure to be crucial: Who makes plays and who avoids gaffes. But this isn't about a showdown of A-list passers. It's about a battle of game managers.

For Utah, Jon Hays, a transfer from Nebraska-Omaha who replaced injured starter Jordan Wynn, has been decent. He's completed 60 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and four interceptions. His efficiency rating thus far ranks 11th in the conference -- just ahead of Oregon State's Sean Mannion -- but he wasn't even around for spring practices.

Still, Hays needs to balance the Utes offense. Cal is surely going to load up against the run and see what Hays can do.

"He is progressing but we can't feed the ball to [running back] John White 36 times a game," Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said.

A couple of injury issues in this matchup of the Utah offense vs. the Cal defense: The Utes may be without top receiver DeVonte Christopher, who is questionable with an ankle sprain, while Cal might be missing a pair of linebackers: leading tackler Mychal Kendricks (shoulder) and Chris McCain (leg).

For Cal, Zach Maynard, a transfer from Buffalo, started fast but has struggled of late, particularly during a three-interception performance in the 30-9 loss to USC last Thursday. He's piled up some yards -- 265 per game -- and has 11 TD passes, but he's also only completing 52.7 percent of his throws and ranks 10th in the conference in passing efficiency.

"He's showed flashes of being really, really good and other times -- like last week -- made a couple of poor decisions," coach Jeff Tedford said. "It's his first year in our program. I don't know if you can say that about any other quarterback in our conference. At least they've been in the system."

Well, you can say that about Hays -- who's had less time in the Utes system -- and Mannion, a redshirt freshman, but that mostly supports Tedford's point, though Maynard did start for Buffalo in 2009.

Neither coach likely has any illusions that things will suddenly click into place and he'll have an offensive juggernaut on his hands. What both are looking for is fewer mistakes and more balance — and an offense that can take advantage of opportunities often provided by an A-list defense.

"Bottom line, that is our biggest issue offensively: Our red-zone production," Whittingham said. "We've done everything you can possibly do in the red zone to shoot ourselves in the foot."

The Utes rank last in the conference in red zone offense, while Cal is fifth. Yet Cal scored 12 touchdowns on its first 14 red zone trips during a 3-0 start. It's scored three TDs on its past 12 trips. Which is a horrible percentage.

So that's something else the Utes and Bears have in common.

There's a lot of symmetry between these teams. But one team will dictate terms of a new asymmetry on Saturday.

Ted Miller | email

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