California-Utah Preview Capsule
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) No. 23 California (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) at No. 5 Utah (4-0, 1-0), 10 p.m. EST (ESPN)
Line: Utah by 7.
Series Record: California leads 5-4.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
A possible Pac-12 championship game preview? Utah and California are the last two undefeated teams in the conference and both sit atop their respective divisions. The Utes have shot up the polls and are ranked No. 5 behind the No. 3 scoring defense in the conference. Utah is creeping into the College Football Playoff conversation, and will remain there if it wins the Pac-12. Cal is winning with offense and on the arm of quarterback Jared Goff. The Golden Bears aren’t ranked as high, but they control their own Pac-12 destiny and Utah is their biggest challenge to date.
The Utah secondary has the challenge of slowing down Goff, who ranks in the top 10 nationally in completion percentage, passing efficiency, passing touchdowns and passing yards. The Utes defense has given up yards in the air but has been adept at picking off passes. The seven team interceptions are just four fewer than Boise State’s nation-leading 11. Goff tends to get the ball out of his hands quickly and Utah defensive coordinator John Pease said they need to make him pull the ball down and go to his second read. Starting corners Cory Butler-Byrd and Dominique Hatfield will need to continue to excel.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
California: WR Kenny Lawler. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound junior has 27 catches, 399 yards and eight receiving touchdowns. The Golden Bears spread the ball around and have six receivers with double-digit receptions, but Lawler is the top target of, arguably, the top quarterback in college football.
Utah: WR Britain Covey. The freshman stands just 5-foot-8, 166 pounds, but leads the Utes with 17 receptions, 182 yards and two receiving touchdowns. He also has a punt return for a touchdown. Covey is not physically imposing, but the jitterbug is tough to get a hand on with the ball in his hands.
FACTS & FIGURES
Utah installed new field turf during the off-week that players said has more cushion and is supposed to stay cooler. … The Utes are ranked No. 5 for just the third time in school history. … Cal is known for its passing offense, but it has 197 rush and pass attempts. … The last time Cal started better than 5-0 was 1950.