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No. 16 Utah Football Tears Up Golden Bears to Remain Undefeated at Home

With Cal recording scores into the thirties all season, the Utah defensive line had their work cut out for them heading into the afternoon.
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Xiangyao Tang
Utah quarterback Bryson Barnes (16) and safety Sione Vaki (28) celebrate after a touchdown versus the California Golden Bears at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. (Photo by Xiangyao “Axe” Tang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

 

After a devastating road loss at Oregon State, the No. 16 University of Utah football team (5-1, 2-1 Pac-12) returned home to face the California Golden Bears. After a bye week, the Utes came back strong to continue Pac-12 play.

Recap

After the Utes kicked off, a short return and a holding penalty set the Golden Bears on their own seven-yard line. A false start would push them even further back, starting on the four-yard line. A delay of game call would give California their third penalty of the first drive.

California would be forced to punt, and quarterback Bryson Barnes would get the Utes started on offense. After marching to the 45-yard line, the Utes would be forced to punt as the offensive struggles continued.

A 48-yard touchdown pass for California would open the scoring, giving the Golden Bears a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.

Utah’s offense came back rejuvenated, with Sione Vaki getting a big 32-yard rush to get into California territory. But the Utes would be unable to find the endzone and missed a 34-yard field goal to remain scoreless through the first quarter.

Lander Barton would get an interception early in the second quarter to set Utah’s offense up in California territory. Utah’s offense would capitalize this time, with Ja’Quinden Jackson finding the endzone on a three-yard rush to tie the game 7-7.

Utah’s defense would find a stop, and the offense was left with just over six minutes until halftime. Vaki would convert a 4th and 2 to keep the drive alive. Utah worked their way to the 11-yard line, and a roughing the passer call would move the ball to the five with just under 40 seconds remaining in the half.

Vaki would take a direct snap and find the endzone on a one-yard rushing touchdown to give Utah a 14-7 lead with halftime nearing closer. The defense held the Golden Bears, and Utah would head into the locker room with a 14-7 lead.

Utah received the kick to start the second half, immediately getting started with a 17-yard reception from Devaughn Vele. The Utes would soon find another long pass, with Munir McClain grabbing a 41-yard pass. Utah would be unable to find the endzone and would settle for a 23-yard field goal, increasing the lead to 17-7.

On the first play of California’s drive, Jonah Elliss forced a fumble from the quarterback, and Cole Bishop recovered it to give Utah the ball on California’s 13-yard line. Barnes would find the endzone on a four-yard touchdown rush that would push the score to 24-7.

Utah would get the stop on defense but was unable to go anywhere on offense, giving the ball right back to the Golden Bears. They picked up the pace, keeping Utah’s defense on their toes, and quickly moved the ball downfield before scoring on a 24-yard touchdown pass to bring the score to 24-14.

Utah would get the ball back, moving it efficiently before the quarter came to a close. On 4th and 7, Utah would decide to go for it. Barnes couldn’t find any receivers, taking it with his legs for a three-yard gain ending in a turnover-on-downs.

Cal would work the ball down the field, helped by a holding penalty on Utah. A targeting call on Bishop removed him from the game — and from the first half of next week’s road game against No. 10 USC, opening a window for the Cal offense.

Luckily, Cal was unable to find the endzone and ended up missing a 30-yard field goal attempt. Utah’s offense was able to quickly find the endzone, with a 72-yard touchdown rush from Vaki for his second touchdown of the day. He showed his speed on the way to the endzone, pushing the score to 31-14.

Utah would stop California again before moving the ball down the field and taking a field goal to widen the lead to 34-14. The Golden Bears got the ball one more time, but strong defense led to a turnover-on-downs to seal the game.

Analysis

As expected, the Golden Bears put the Utah defense to the test. With Cal recording average scores into the thirties this season, the Utah defensive line had their work cut out for them heading into the afternoon.

Barnes almost single-handedly carried the Utes in terms of offense, recording all 128 of the team’s passing yards. Utah dwarfed the Golden Bears in total yards with 445 to Cal’s 254, and the run game shone with a whopping 317 rushing yards to Cal’s 66. The Utes excelled in third down conversions, achieving 10 of 17.

“Bryson Barnes was very efficient,” head coach Kyle Whittingham remarked. “He didn’t throw for a bunch of yards, but his completion percentage was very high and he took care of the football.”

Bishop and Karene Reid led the defense once again, each tallying six total tackles while Reid, Van Fillinger and Nate Ritchie led in solos with three. On the flip side, Cal’s defensive line had to work even harder to combat the Utes’ aggression. Matthew Littlejohn alone nearly doubled Utah in tackles, recording 10. 

In terms of versatility, Vaki was number one for the Utes. The safety’s touchdowns in the second and fourth quarters were the first rushing touchdowns recorded by a Utah defensive player since Eric Weddle in 2006. Vaki also recorded more rushing yards than any player on either team.

In a post-game press conference, Vaki reflected on today’s performance.

“Yeah, I’m humbled,” Vaki said. “I didn’t think I was that fast, but it feels good.”

The Utes are on the road next weekend, traveling to Los Angeles for a highly anticipated Pac-12 matchup against Southern California. The game will take place at 6:00 PM MDT on the 21st at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. 

 

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About the Contributors
Sean Overton, Sports Editor
Sean Overton is the Editor of the Sports Desk. He is currently a senior and is majoring in Business Administration with plans to attend law school.
Abbey Thomas, Assistant Sports Editor
Abbey Thomas started at the Daily Utah Chronicle in the fall of 2022 as a Sports Writer and is now Assistant Sports Editor for the desk. She is currently studying Cultural Anthropology with a minor in history and hopes to pursue medicine one day. Abbey is a die-hard fan of Real Salt Lake and Manchester City, and loves to travel and practice photography in her free time!
Madeline Van Wagenen, Opinion Editor
(she/her) Madeline Van Wagenen is an opinion writer and photographer at the Daily Utah Chronicle. She is a junior studying communications and Spanish. Madeline absolutely loves writing, photography and Billy Joel's entire discography. When she’s not working on projects for the Chrony, she can be found playing card games with friends or curating oddly specific Spotify playlists.
Xiangyao Tang, Photo Director
Axe is a photographer and the photo director of the Daily Utah Chronicle. He is from China and is a senior majoring in computer science and minoring in digital photography. Axe joined the Chronicle in August of 2021. In addition to his position at the Chrony, he is also a photo intern for University of Utah Athletics. When he's not writing code, you will find him rock climbing, camping, skiing or hiking with his camera.

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