Were you watching last Saturday night, tuned into the matchup of Pac-12 powers UCLA and Stanford? Were you prepared to see two of the most combustible players on the West Coast in Josh Rosen and Christian McCaffrey?
If so, maybe you were one of legions around the country that, while thoroughly entertained by a 22-13 Cardinal win that was even closer than that final score suggests, were left a bit confused: What was up with all that defense?
That matchup was a clash of similar styles, two teams that have gotten defensive.
This Saturday’s matinee between California and Utah will present no such similarities. It will be offense versus defense; explosive plays versus grinding drives; airing it out versus protecting the ball.
California, despite its 2-2 record, might be one of the most exciting teams to watch, though if you’re a Bears fan, it may also be one of the more difficult things to do on a Saturday. The Bears have scored at least 40 points in every game and twice have eclipsed 50, including a 50-43 upset win over then-No. 11 Texas two weeks ago.
Utah, meanwhile, has yet to play in a game in which either side scores 40 points. Its high came against San Jose State, in a 34-17 win, and the Utes have escaped with victories in a pair of games in which they have scored just 24 and 20, respectively. Cal would currently be 0-4 if it ever scored less than 31 points.
That’s why the Bears might just be able to pull off one of the stealthiest upsets in an otherwise loaded week five slate.
Utah hasn’t played a team with as sophisticated and explosive an offense as Cal. Sure, it stifled USC, but that seems to be the norm this year. The Trojans have been held to 6, 10 and 27 points in three losses. Otherwise, Utah has enjoyed one of the softest schedules in the conference.
Now the Utes will have to devise a strategy to contain Cal’s prolific combo of Davis Webb and Chad Hansen, something no team has managed to do just yet. In just four games, Hansen has already piled up 50 receptions, 656 yards and six touchdowns, which is as many passing scores as Utah has all year. Say Utah does bottle up Hansen. It still won’t be much of an issue for Webb, the California quarterback who has thrown for nearly 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns to just five interceptions.
For the first time all season, it would be a legitimate surprise if a game involving the Utah Utes is not high scoring.
Cal’s kryptonite has been well-documented all year: It cannot stop the run. The Bears seem OK with that – you score on the ground; we’ll score through the air.
Here’s the thing: Utah doesn’t run very well. The Utes do not feature a running back with more than 300 yards on the year. It’s quite possible that they will discover their ground game against California, which has arguably the most porous rushing defense in the country, but it’s far from a guarantee. If California forces Utah to take to the air, the Bears could pull off their second top-20 upset in three weeks.
Pac-12 After Dark? More like Pac-12 just before dark, given the 3 p.m. local time start in Berkeley… but expect fireworks just the same in Strawberry Canyon.