Head to Head: The Daily Californian


NCAA Football game vs. Arizona State University at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, UT on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. (Photo by Tom Denton | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Sammy Mora, Sports Editor

As the No. 12 University of Utah football team sets their sights on Cal, I sat down with Josh Yuen, a senior staff football beat writer for the Daily Californian at Berkeley to talk some Utes and Bears ahead of Saturday’s meeting. Some of the statements have been condensed for clarity.


Josh Yuen: Utah was favored by a ton of analysis to win the Pac-12 South, then early in the season there was the loss down in L.A. to USC. What was the biggest difference between the team that played against USC and the team that has won the last few games since then? 

Sammy Mora: The biggest difference to me is how our secondary is playing. Our secondary play was not good at all against USC, and then they shut down Washington State in the next week and held them to the lowest offense of yardage is they’ve had all season. It’s night and day as to what has happened since that USC game. I think they’ve also learned that they can’t put the whole game on Tyler Huntley’s back. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it until the end of the season — he’s only one man and he can only do so much.

NCAA Football game vs. Arizona State University at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, UT on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. (Photo by Jermy Thomas | Daily Utah Chronicle)

JY: Obviously a lot of the hype is coming from that defense, and they are putting up numbers on the season that are very impressive. The hype is around Bradlee Anae and Devin Lloyd, but what is the biggest thing to you in terms of the defense putting up the numbers they have so far? 

SM:  I think it all comes back to our defensive line. Anae and Leki Fotu will probably be taken in the draft this year. They are insane — I cannot say enough good things about them. Utah has such a deep defensive line that they’re playing sophomores that are getting in there, having major reps and making big plays. I think that carries over into the rest of the defense. If the defensive line plays well, our linebackers play well. If that group struggles, most of the other aspects struggle as well to a certain extent. The outlier was the USC game — our defensive line held USC’s run game in the negatives until the fourth quarter, while the other groups seemed to struggle.

JY: The last time the Utes played Cal it was up in Berkley, and Zack Moss was stuffed at the 1 yard line. Obviously he has come a long way since then. How important is he to the Utah offense? 

SM: I’ve said that Utah’s offense is very three-headed monster at times. You have Moss on one head, who is now the all-time leading rusher in school history. He is a freight train, and it takes two or three people at any given time to bring him down. Then you have Tyler Huntley, not only for passing but also running. And then you also have the wide receiving core. You can’t just key in on one guy, every single week there’s been a different leading receiver for the team. Moss is a key part of the offense, but as we’ve seen when he has went down with injury this season, it doesn’t matter who is in at running back because Utah can still find a way to get the yardage they need. 

JY: Who is Huntley’s favorite target? Is it Bryan Thompson or is it Demari Simpkins? 

SM: You can make an argument for either one of them. Simpkins and Huntley, along with Moss, were high school teammates, so they’ve all had that fundamental plan together for such a long time, but Thompson is really broken out this year. He’s done a really good job at separating himself from the other receivers on Utah‘s team. It’s kind of a game-to-game situation, and it depends on whoever he hits first. They both are huge for the team. 

NCAA Football game vs. Arizona State University at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, UT on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. (Photo by Tom Denton | Daily Utah Chronicle)

JY: One of the biggest questions heading into Saturday is the status of Tyler Huntley. What can you say about some of the backups that Utah has?

SM: Jason Shelley carried the Utah team through the Pac-12 championship and even into the Holiday Bowl last year. In the last two games of the season, while the outcomes weren’t what we expected, he still showed a lot of potential. I like to bring it back to the last quarter of the BYU-Utah game, when it looked like BYU had it in the bag, and Shelley took that team and won the game in a matter of a quarter. He’s very similar to Huntley, in the sense that he knows when to run, and he can make downfield throws. The other quarterback is Drew Lisk. We haven’t seen a lot of Lisk, but he has been playing really well in practice according to the coaching staff. 

JY: What do you think will need to be Utah’s biggest key to success in taking Cal down this weekend?

SM: Keeping the ball safe. We had 4 turnovers on Saturday, but we still managed to win the game. It was very uncharacteristic to see Tyler and Zack both fumble the ball. Huntley also threw his first interception of the season. We’ve been so used to seeing him be so accurate and making smart reads, and you could put that interception on the fact that he was playing a little bit banged up. 


SM: Utah fans might know the name Evan Weaver, but who else does fans need to keep an eye on Saturday?

JY: Weaver encompasses everything this Cal team is about, which is really about defensive identity. He’s just gritty as a whole. But the defense isn’t just Weaver. Kuony Deng is Weaver’s partner at the inside linebacker position. He’s a junior college transfer a former four-star recruit and he’s been fantastic all year. The secondary as a whole is known as the “takers,” a group that has more than 20 interceptions last year. Their numbers are a little bit down this year, because teams have really been staying away from them as much as possible after their numbers last season. That starting secondary group of Camryn Bynum, Elijah Hicks, Ashtyn Davis, and Jaylinn Hawkins are ballhawks. They play in aggressive style and have been such an asset for Justin Wilcox over the last few years. Luc Bequette on the defense of line has been spearheading the charge, playing a little bit of nose guard and defensive end as well.

NCAA Football game vs. Arizona State University at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, UT on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. (Photo by Tom Denton | Daily Utah Chronicle)

SM: Cal’s offense is a little beat up after the last three games. What are you hoping to see from that them?

JY: Whether it’s finding a balance between running and passing or generating a few explosive plays, Cal has got a find something to get it self going. It’s been a struggle to say the least ever since Chase Garbers injured himself in the Arizona State game. I think my key to success would be finding a balance between running and passing, to a point where the defense has to spend more time on one, giving Cal the opportunity to find explosive plays in the other. Oregon State did a really good job at stopping the run on first and second down, forcing Cal into those dire situations at the end. 

SM: Who on Cal’s offense should Utah fans keep an eye on? 

JY: You could go every which way. I’m gonna go to Christopher Brown Jr., the running back. Cal’s receiving core came into the season unproven, but they have shown up in a couple of places, Jordan Duncan is a senior receiver, and Trevon Clark is another junior college transfer who has also been a great addition. Part of the reason Brown’s numbers are down is because the Cal offensive line has been banged up and missing three starters for the past few weeks. Brown runs very similar to Moss I’d say. Cal needs to run the ball to at least establish something initially, because if they’re consistently taking 2-yard losses on the first and second downs, it’s going to be another long night for the offense.

SM: The Bears suffered a rough loss at Oregon State last week. Do you think the team will come out with something to prove this week? 

JY: It starts with putting yourself in positions to succeed. It’s hard enough to execute when you have your backup quarterback in and you’re down to three freshmen on the offensive line, but it only gets harder when you’re in third and long, or you’re backed up on your own 10 yard line and trying to put your defense into a good position. We have to find a way to make explosive plays. We need to find a way to be in second and short or third and short, rather than third and eight or third and 10. Cal has done a pretty good job with penalties this year, but as a whole the execution needs to be better. And part of what helps with execution is being able to put yourself in good situations.

NCAA Football game vs. Arizona State University at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, UT on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. (Photo by Jermy Thomas | Daily Utah Chronicle)

SM: What does Cal need to do to stop the explosive Utah offense?

JY: Keep them off the field. Forcing turnovers or forcing three and outs. Keeping Utah’s offense off the field and giving Cal’s offense some sort of opportunity to make something happen. The defense has done a phenomenal job even when the offense has it been pulling its weight this season. The defense has been keeping Cal in the game long enough for the offense to at least have a shot at the end zone. Ultimately, can the offense generate something to keep them in the game?

SM: How do you think the Cal offensive line will fare against the Utah defensive line? 

JY: That position battle is going to be huge in terms of favoring Utah heading into the weekend. Matthew Cindric has moved over from the guard position to the center. But as a whole, Jake Curhan and Cindrich are the only players on either offense or defense who have played every snap of the season, and they are going to be leading a very maligned group to go up against a very tall task in the Utah front seven.

SM: If Cal is going to start a true freshman, how do you think he will fare in a loud and rowdy environment like Rice-Eccles? 

JY: Much like Tyler Huntley, we don’t know how Devon Modster is holding up. Spencer Brasch is a three star quarterback out of Arizona. He’s a very good athlete, but it’s going to be a huge challenge, especially on the road against Utah‘s defense. I don’t expect a ton of deep shots. Of the limited action we saw of Brasch against Oregon State, he wasn’t at the comfort level he needs to be, which is understandable as a true freshman, but given the circumstances he’s going to have to make some plays against a really tough Utah defense.


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