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October 22, 2011

Game Day Central: Cal vs. Utah

Untitled Document




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Poinsettia Bowl Rematch

California vs. Utah


WHEN: Oct. 22, 4:00 p.m.
WHERE: AT&T Park, San Francisco, Calif.
TV: CSN Bay Area -- CSN Bay Area/KJZZ -- Roxy Bernstein (play-by-play), Mike Pawlawski (analyst), Chris Townsend (sideline reporter).
THE LINE: Cal -1
COACHES: California - Jeff Tedford (75-45 as a head coach); Utah - Kyle Whittingham (61-23).
BEAR REPUBLIC: Listen to BearTerritory's acclaimed podcast HERE.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Under Tedford, no Cal team has started a conference season 0-3, and no team has lost four straight games. Tedford is now winless since he became the Bears' all-time wins leader as head coach against FCS opponent Presbyterian. Utah isn't exactly a juggernaut, but their defensive line should be enough to give Zach Maynard fits, and, despite improving performances from Isi Sofele, the offensive line, the wide receivers and the defense, Tedford -- the erstwhile 'quarterback guru' -- has yet to see any kind of consistency from his signal-caller.
BERKELEY -- Utah defensive end Derrick Shelby came to Salt Lake City as a tall, skinny, lightly-regarded two-star nobody. He had offers from the Utes, UTEP, Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana Tech. On Saturday, he's going to be California's worst nightmare.

"He's a fifth-year senior and when we got him, he was about 198 pounds soaking wet coming out of the Houston area and he's done nothing but work his tail off ever since he got in the program," said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. "He's gotten up to 270 -- he's a little better than 270 -- and really, for whatever reason, over the last three ballgames, he's really come into his own."

Unlike the Bears (3-3, 0-3 in the Pac-12), Whittingham, Shelby and the Utes have not lost three in a row, and, last week, Shelby dominated Pittsburgh, tallying seven tackles, 2.5 TFL for 13 yards, one interception returned for 21 yards, two pass break-ups and 1.5 sacks as Utah held the Panthers to just 120 yards of total offense.

"He's always been a steady, solid, consistent player for us, but starting with the [Washington] game, that was the best game he played as a Ute, and he played even better the next week against Arizona State and he played better last week against Pitt," Whittingham said. "I can't tell you exactly why things have clicked all of the sudden for Derrick, but he was a Walter Kamp National Defensive Player of the Week, as well as the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week this past game, so he's been a big boost to our defense, and we hope it continues. We'd love to see him continue this high level of play throughout the rest of the season."

Shelby has 23 tackles on the season, 5.5 TFLs for 34 yards, 3.5 sacks for 28 yards, five pass break-ups, six passes defended, two quarterback hurries and one fumble recovery, and he'll be going up against Cal right tackle Matt Summers-Gavin.

"He'll be my main match-up. Looking at him on film, he looks like a great player. It'll be a great challenge. I've just got to keep studying him and be ready for a battle," said Summers-Gavin, who -- unlike last season -- has remained completely healthy, and admitted that Shelby and the rest of the line will be one of the strongest tests the Bears have faced.

[Read about how the Cal defense matches up with Utah's attack HERE]

"I would say so. They come off the ball real well. They're a tough team, and they play hard-nosed football, so it'll be a big challenge," Summers-Gavin said. "That's the kind of football you want to play. It'll be a nice, tough game, with them coming off the ball and really getting after it for four quarters."

The Cal offensive line -- one of the bigger question marks coming into the campaign -- has not only remained intact, but has seen the same five players -- Summers-Gavin, left tackle Mitchell Schwartz, center Dominic Galas, left guard Brian Schwenke and right guard Justin Cheadle -- start each game. All five were originally recruited by offensive line coach Jim Michalczik, before he left for the NFL after the 2008 season.

"I think it's been great," Michalczik said. "Those five, I'm happy with the way they work and how they've improved, and -- knock on wood -- we've been fortunate to keep those guys going."

That line has gotten better each and every game, though Michalczik -- ever the demanding technician -- still wants to see more.

"Yeah, yeah, I mean, we're not to where we want to be, and I don't know if I'm ever happy with where we want to be, but I see the progress, and I think the thing is, we've got to be more consistent," Michalczik said. "You see the flashes of what it should be, and then the next play, you're going, 'Oh, that can never happen,' so we have to keep getting better with our consistency."

Summers-Gavin and the line have improved enough that even Michalczik is not looking at the battle with Utah's talented defensive front with trepidation, but rather anticipation.

"Shelby's a heck of a player. I like the challenge, I really do. I think Matt's a guy who's been working," Michalczik said. "If you watch out here, just sat back, since fall started, I don't know - I'm biased - but I don't know if there's anyone who's worked harder on the team. He's running 40s, he's running full-speed, doing all that stuff. I like the challenge of Matt going against him."

Summers-Gavin and the rest of the line have progressed markedly through the season, to the point where going against Shelby and the rest of the Utes' defensive front is no longer a frightening prospect. One of Michalczik's primary tasks he set for himself upon returning to Berkeley was to work on execution and precision, and he's done just that.

"You see progression," Schwartz said. "Honestly, there are a few things here and there. It's the type of thing where you're never really satisfied. There's always stuff you can improve on, but, it is encouraging to see the little stuff get fixed every week, because the little stuff is going to pay huge dividends. With one guy, it'll be the hands. If you don't get the hand on the shoulder, instead of the hands inside the chest, then that's the whole game. It's all leverage. If you can fix that, that'll make a huge difference in the way you block a guy. Seeing that type of technique being fixed and done in the game is very encouraging."

Over the past three games, Cal has committed 21 penalties. Of those, just six came on the offensive line. In the Bears' first three games, Cal was flagged 26 times, with 14 of those coming against linemen.

"I think it's been a pretty steady progression, just focusing on coming out each day and getting better," Schwartz said. "We didn't really harp too much on the penalties. The holding stuff is just not using your hands, not using your feet very well. You should never have to hold a guy if you move your feet well, if your hands are inside. Sometimes the refs haven't played O-line before. That's the kind of thing that if you're doing it right, if you're moving your feet, you're not going to have a problem. It's when you get over-extended, you don't move, and the guy gets outside of your frame, is where they start calling it. It's one of those things where you see the progression of using your hands better, your feet better. Then, the false starts are all just mental things. That's just being in the game, being aware, focusing on the snap count."

Another metric of the line's improvement has come in the running game. For each of the first five games, tailback Isi Sofele saw his yards-per-carry increase, topping out at 9.9 against Oregon as he began to run through tackles and gain more yards after first contact.

"He has. I think he has. I think each week, he's gotten better, he's seeing the holes a little bit better, he's hitting the holes harder," said Bears head coach Jeff Tedford. "Sometimes with indecision on what you're doing, you're going through there and you're really not going full-speed. The more full-speed you can hit the holes with, the more power you're going to bring to it. So, I think his experience in seeing the holes and hitting it has provided him the ability to maybe be able to run through a few more things."

Sofele's upward trend stalled, however, against USC, when he rushed just 12 times for 44 yards, thanks to the Trojans stacking the box and forcing quarterback Zach Maynard to take to the air, something that the Utes are likely to emulate.

"We really don't know. We're just going off of what they played against other teams," Maynard said. "We don't know what they're going to give us yet. We haven't played them yet, so we're just going off of what they play against other teams and try to work off of that."

Sofele was held to 3.7 yards per carry last week as the Bears abandoned the run the further and further behind they fell.

"They had that flash," Michalczik said of the performance in Eugene, which saw Sofele set a career-high with 119 yards. "I wish we could have stuck with it a little bit more [against USC], but we got behind there a little bit."

Michalczik's crew will have plenty on their hands in Shelby and Utah's three other defensive linemen.

"They're good. They're a really good defense, and we saw that last week against Pittsburgh, when they allowed only 120 total yards," Schwartz said. "That's a very impressive defensive game. They're going to be a great challenge for us. They're very powerful. They like to knock you back. It's kind of similar to what our D-line does. They just like to get up field and cause havoc. You've got to be really great with your technique. It'll be a good challenge, and I'm looking forward to it. It'll be fun."

Along with Shelby, the Utes have brothers Joe Kruger and Dave Kruger at defensive end and defensive tackle, respectively. Schwartz in particular will have to deal with 6-foot-7, 270-pound Joe, who has 17 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, one sack and one forced fumble.

"It kind of depends on who's in there. One guy - No. 99 (Joe Kruger) -- is more of a power guy. He'll come at you, he'll strike you and he'll hit you and drive you back," Schwartz said. "[Shelby] is more over the right side, but they flip a little bit. 99 -- Kruger -- is a power guy. [Shelby] and Kruger come and hit you, and he's also got some good hand-rush moves. With [Kruger], you're thinking power first.

"They've got a couple guys. [Shelby] is very good on film. He'll come hit you, as well. Their whole defense likes to come and assert their dominance and try to get after you, so we've just got to be prepared for that, for a big, physical game."

Utah is one of the best teams in the nation against the run, ranking second in the Pac-12 and 13th nationally in rushing defense (94.5 yards per game), and has held four of its six opponents under 100 yards on the ground, holding BYU to 11, Pitt to 70 yards (120 total offensive yards), the Sun Devils to 74 and Montana State to 75. Last week, the Utes held Pitt's Ray Graham -- then the nation's second-leading rusher -- to 46 yards, a full 103 yards below his average coming into the game.

"The Utah defense as a whole is one of the best we've seen," Tedford said. "They're very, very physical up front. [Shelby], 92 [nose tackle Star Lotulelei], very physical guys. Shelby's fast off the edge. [Dave Kruger] is a big, tall guy inside. It's really physical, and the backers play real hard. Brian Blechen, their outside backer is very aggressive. They're a really, really good defense.

"They're very physical up front. [Joe Kruger] is a big defensive end, but Shelby is good. They have as physical a defensive front as we're going to see. Shelby's the real deal. Lotulelei is big and physical. I think he weighs like 325 and they play really, really hard. They're a really physical team."

[Read about the special teams battle HERE]

The Utes rank second in the conference in scoring defense (20.5 points per game) and second in total defense (326.3 yards per game), while the Bears rank sixth in scoring offense (30.3) and fifth in total offense (436.5).

As well as the line performs, and as much time as they can give Maynard, they can't throw the ball for him. Over the first three games of the season, Maynard's passer efficiency ratings were 122.7 (Fresno State) and 141.8 (Colorado), 163.8 (Presbyterian). Over the past three games, Maynard has had PERs of 129.3 (Washington), 101.5 (Oregon) and 101.6 (USC).

After throwing eight touchdowns in his first three games to just three picks, Maynard has thrown only two TDs to three picks in his last three games. After seeing his completion percentage go from 45.7 against the Bulldogs to 51.4 against the Buffaloes to 60.0 against the Bluehose for an aggregate completion percentage of 51.6, Maynard has completed 53.5 percent of his passes during Cal's three-game slide, and yet, his PER has plummeted.

While the Bears are fourth in the conference in passing offense (299.3 yards per game), Cal is 11th in passing efficiency (120.5). It no doubt helps that Maynard's little brother -- sophomore wide receiver Keenan Allen -- leads the nation in receiving yards per game (138.0), but, the question on many fans' minds has been: Why has Maynard struggled?

Some of it may very well be due to the complexity of Tedford's offense, complicated even further by the over-the-years addition of elements of the spread, and now, shotgun and pistol formations to take advantage of Maynard's mobility.

"Well, it's a pro-style attack with a lot of West Coast flavor to what they do," Whittingham said. "He's just had a great track record as an offensive-minded head coach and an offensive coordinator prior to that. I don't know if there's anything really unique. They do a great job recruiting skill players, and his system is very sound and he's been doing the same things philosophically for a lot of years, so he knows exactly what he's doing and what he wants to get accomplished. Now, they have tweaked things and changed things as the seasons have gone one, but the basic premise of what they like to do has remained intact, so I would say it's just a very fundamentally-sound pro-style attack that has worked for a lot of years."

While Utah has struggled in the transition to the Pac-12 week-to-week grind, so, apparently, has Maynard, despite having Allen and senior Marvin Jones on the outside.

"It's a lot harder than the usual offense, a lot more plays," Maynard said. "You have to be a lot more dialed-in to what's going on. You've got three or five checks on one play, so you have to be focused all the time."

At times, Maynard has seemingly locked on to Allen even before the snap. Following the 30-9 blowout against the Trojans, USC linebacker Dion Bailey -- who had two picks -- said that he was "just reading the quarterback's eyes the whole time."

"I'm still learning the system," Maynard said. "It's up and down, really. I'm just trying to force the ball to the receivers that we have, because I know that after the catch, they're pretty great. It's just having too much faith in guys, instead of knowing that if the check down is there for you.

"I'm a lot more comfortable. I'm a lot more comfortable since I've been here. I get more comfortable every game, learning different things from the mistakes I've made so far. Me and coach Tedford, we talk a lot, me and coach Arroyo, we talk a lot, too, and they help me understand that I've got to be much stronger with what I need to do so I can be more responsible on the field."

Cal wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau, when asked if Maynard's reliance on Allen was a concern, answered in the negative.

"No. I think we could have other guys open as well, but the chemistry that they have is very dynamic, and a lot of the times, it's really the correct read on where the ball's supposed to go, so it's really not necessarily him dropping back and trying to find Keenan," Kiesau said this week. "That's where the defense is taking him. But then you also have Marv with a bunch of catches and we've got to get a third guy to kind of emerge and get a few more catches to kind of balance the field out a little bit. I think this last game, the reason why Keenan had so many receptions was because of the way the defense was playing it; not necessarily Zach finding Keenan."

If the Utah defensive front is able to halt Sofele and defeat the line, forcing Maynard into passing the ball, Cal's prospects are a bit dim. USC in particular stacked the box to stop the run, and if the Utes do the same, Maynard may revert to bad habits.

When the pressure is on, the Bears offense has tended to wilt in the first half of the season, ranking sixth in the conference in sacks allowed (11 for 100 yards), seventh in first downs (22.3 per game), eighth on third-down conversion (40.7 percent), seventh in turnover margin, and fifth in red zone offense (84.6 percent), with seven of their 22 scores being field goals.

Maynard felt that he rushed himself against USC, and for that reason, turned to Allen more often than not and threw into coverages he should not have.

"Staying calm and knowing your reads, going through it -- one, two, three, one, two, three -- and sometimes you need to rush it because you feel guys in your face," Maynard said. "It's just staying in the pocket and getting the balls to the receivers."

Senior Utes linebacker Chaz Walker ranks second in the Pac-12 in tackles (50 total, behind Mychal Kendricks' 51) with 8.3 per game. Sophomore linebacker Trevor Reilly is tied for second in the conference with four sacks, is first in the league with 8.0 tackles for loss and is first in fumbles forced with four.

Shelby is tied for sixth in passes defended, and is ninth with 5.5 TFLs. Blechen is tied for fourth in picks with two for 60 return yards. Utah as a team is third in passing defense (231.8 yards per game), second in passing efficiency defense (116.8), second in picks (seven), third in yards per interception return (19.3), fourth in sacks with 15, fourth in fewest opponent first downs (18.5 per game, 32 rushing, 67 passing), fifth in opponent's third-down conversion (37.2 percent), tied for third with Stanford in turnover margin (+3) and second in red zone defense (73.3 percent).

"They're very good. I've watched a ton of tape on these guys, and they're a very, very good football team," Kiesau said. "Their 3-3 record does not dictate what type of football team they are. They're very well-coached on defense and they play very, very hard. They're very blue-collar, roll-up-your-sleeves. They're going to punch you in the mouth, they're going to challenge us outside, pressing us. They're going to challenge our O-line. They've got a very, very good D-line. It'll be a challenge for us, no question. They're a good football team."

There may however be some soft spots in that defense, as starting free safety Keith McGill has an injured a shoulder, and is out for the season.

Linebacker Jacoby Hale is questionable with a concussion. True freshman Eric Rowe will take over for McGill, and Blechen -- who was moved to linebacker in the fall -- has reclaimed his starting strong safety spot, where he was a Freshman All-American last season.

"You always try to look for match-ups, but you don't know where they are. They're so multiple that you really have no idea where the guys are," Tedford said. "When you ask questions like that, you would assume or presume that they're in the same coverage every time and you know where they're at, and they're playing man coverage every time and you can attack that guy. It's so much different than that. You have no idea where people are. They're all over the place. You can't lock in on attacking one guy. There's many variations of clouds and cloud coverages and three-deep coverages and cover-four and man and zone blitzes, and people are just all over the place, so you really can't go in and say, 'I'm going to attack this because they're just very multiple."

A large part of that flexibility on defense has been the performance of the defensive backs that are still healthy. Junior corner Ryan Lacy has 29 tackles, one tackle for loss (6 yards), a sack, a pick, four break-ups, five passes defended and one quarterback hurry. Senior cornerback Conroy Black has 15 stops, one pick for 34 yards, three break-ups, four passes defended and one QB hurry. Junior back-up corner Mo Lee has 10 tackles, two break-ups, two passes defended and one fumble recovery.

"They've got some really good guys with some great speed," Maynard said. "They like to get physical, so we have to get off the ball. We have some great receivers out there, and I know they're going to do a great job in the game."

Tedford also said that safety Michael Walker stood out on tape, with his nine tackles, one TFL and one fumble recovery.

"I hate to sound vague, but they're all pretty good. They really are," said Kiesau. "[The corners] are both extremely fast. They can really run. I think that's why they press every team so much, is because they can run, and they're very physical. I do think, I heard that they're shifting some guys around, so we'll have to see who they actually come out with, but we'll be ready for them."

The receivers have seen their workload increase over the past three games, as the tight ends have seen fewer and fewer passes thrown their way. Over the first three games, Cal tight ends caught 6 passes for 84 yards and three touchdowns, seeing 18 passes thrown to them. Over the last three games, 12 passes have been thrown to the tight ends, with nine catches for 56 yards.

"It's just where the reads take you," Tedford said. "It depends from down to down what happens. Sometimes they're in protection, sometimes they're out. It just depends on where the reads take them."

Though Allen and Jones have been very productive -- ranking second and sixth in the conference, respectively, in catches per game and first and fifth, respectively, in receiving yards per game -- adding offense through the tight end spot could provide a change of pace that the Utes are not expecting, particularly with Allen's dynamism demanding the bulk of defensive attention.

"Well, it's hard with us, because, if you do that, then you've got Marvin on the other side," Kiesau said. "Teams that have one good receiver, they can do that. When you can balance the field evenly -- one on each side -- then they've got to balance up, so it helps us offensively.

"When Keenan gets every ball, it kind of looks like everything's going to him, and it's really not the case, I promise you. It's just that Keenan was getting open and making plays and that's where the defense was telling us to throw the ball."



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