Cal will be in desperation mode again when it plays at Utah on Saturday, and the Bears performed well with that mindset before.
Cal was sliding into oblivion with a 1-4 record when it produced its best game of the season in a 43-17 victory over UCLA on Oct. 6. That seemed to lift the Bears out of the doldrums and led to a two-game winning streak.
The 21-3 loss Stanford on Saturday was not altogether surprising, but it sent the Bears back to the brink. They are 3-5 overall and 2-3 in the conference and must beat the Utes to have any reasonable shot at a bowl berth.
Utah is a team Cal can beat, even on the road. The Utes have lost four in a row, and they have quarterback issues.
Freshman Travis Wilson is the third starting quarterback Utah has used this season.
If the Bears have the same sense of desperation they showed against UCLA, they can win.
However, there are a few differences between this desperation game and the one against the Bruins in Berkeley.
For one thing, this game is on the road. Cal has played fairly well away from home this season, but it’s always easier to turn things around at home.
Also, Cal has personnel concerns at linebacker. Jalen Jefferson (concussion), Brennan Scarlett (hand) and Chris McCain (ankle) are all starters and are all questionable for the game against Utah.
Finally, Utah’s defense is better than the one Cal faced against UCLA, and after the way Stanford completely shut down Cal’s running game, it may be difficult to resurrect the ground game against a Utah defense that is good against the run. Cal had just three yards rushing against Stanford, and anything remotely close to that against the Utes will result in a Cal loss.
Utah is strong on the defensive line, while Cal’s offensive line has been inconsistent. That is not a favorable combination for Cal, which desperately needs to regain the success on the ground it had in the two games prior to Stanford.