Three days after his record-breaking run, Utah's Zack Moss was equally eager to discuss what happened three years ago.
He’ll always remember breaking free for the clinching, 32-yard touchdown vs. Arizona State last Saturday, becoming the school’s career rushing leader. He’ll also never forget being stuffed at the goal line in October 2016 in Berkeley, Calif.
Moss laughed good-naturedly when the subject came up this week, but he's seriously anticipating another opportunity against California on Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium. “Followed the wrong hole,” Moss said of the game-ending play from the Cal 1-yard line in a 28-23 loss, as if watching a movie of his life.
“So coming all the way from that guy to this guy now,” he said, “[I'm] definitely looking forward to that one.”
The irony is that having gone against one of the Pac-12′s worst defenses then, Moss and the Utes will challenge one of the conference’s best defenses now. They hope to have quarterback Tyler Huntley, who injured his leg vs. ASU.
Utah has not updated Huntley’s status, but he expects to play. If he’s medically cleared, the coaching staff certainly would play him, rather than save him for next week’s game at Washington. Otherwise, junior Drew Lisk or sophomore Jason Shelley will start against a defense that features an outstanding secondary and linebacker Evan Weaver, the nation’s leading tackler with 105 stops in seven games.
Utah also may have to shuffle the offensive line, if left tackle Darrin Paulo remains sidelined. Bamidele Olaseni might be activated. Ute coach Kyle Whitingham said the junior college transfer is ready to play. The trick, with five games left in the regular season, is deciding how to use the four-game limit that would preserve his year of eligibility.
Amid those personnel questions, No. 12 Utah’s offense is unlikely to shred a defense that hasn’t allowed more than 24 points in the last 14 games, including a 17-7 loss at No. 11 Oregon. The consolation is Cal may have the country’s biggest gap between offensive and defensive ability — in the opposite way of its 2016 makeup. The Bears are No. 116 in total offense and haven’t topped 20 points in any of four conference games (three losses). Cal may be down to a No. 3 quarterback, freshman Spencer Brasch.
That’s hardly encouraging for a team that gave up nine sacks vs. Oregon State in a 21-17 defeat and now faces Utah’s relentless defense. The last time Cal visited Utah, quarterback Jared Goff was on his way to becoming the NFL’s No. 1 overall draft pick. He showed signs of that ability by passing for 340 yards. He also threw five interceptions in a 30-24 loss that October night in 2015.
Cal won't ask as much of its quarterback this time, whether that's Devon Modster or Brasch. Modster met Utah two years ago as a UCLA quarterback, replacing an injured Josh Rosen. He passed for 103 yards in a 48-17 defeat. Modster, who has filled in for starter Chase Garbers, was injured vs. Oregon State.
Brasch “gets rid of the ball really quick … he can see things and get it out really fast,” Cal offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin said.
That would be helpful, against a Utah defense that tormented quarterbacks from Oregon State and Arizona State. If Brasch plays, Baldwin would reduce the playbook and “run what you think they can handle at a high level,” he said. “The ability to beat a great team isn’t by having a zillion plays and doing them average.”
CALIFORNIA AT UTAH
Kickoff: Saturday, 8 p.m.
Radio: ESPN 700.
Records: Cal 4-3 (1-3 Pac-12); Utah 6-1 (3-1).
Series history: Cal leads, 6-5.
Last meeting: Cal 28, Utah 23 (2016).
About the Bears: Cal was ranked No. 15 in the AP Top 25 after a 4-0 start that included a 20-19 upset of Washington, but has lost three straight games while scoring a total of 41 points. … Coach Justin Wilcox, formerly a renowned defensive coordinator, is 16-16 in his third season. … Offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin was Eastern Washington’s head coach in 2016, when current Utah running backs coach Kiel McDonald and former OC Troy Taylor were on his staff.
About the Utes: Utah’s defense has allowed 23 points in three games, in the program’s best stretch since 2007, when three Mountain West opponents totaled 13 points. … Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig coached at Cal in 2009-10, after his first stint at Utah ... Kickoff for next Saturday’s game at Washington is 2 p.m. MDT on FOX. The Huskies are off this weekend, following a 35-31 loss to Oregon that dropped them to 5-3 (2-3 Pac-12).