Instant Analysis: Utah bolsters case for No. 1 with win over Jared Goff, Cal
Oh Pac-12 After Dark, you seldom disappoint. Saturday was no exception. With less than 40 seconds to play and No. 5 Utah leading 30–24 over No. 23 Cal in Salt Lake City, there were the Bears, on the Utah 21, trying to make up for six turnovers. But ’twas not to be, and the Utes are now sitting pretty at 5–0.
Three quick thoughts on the matchup of unbeatens:
1. It’s time to start talking about Utah as the best team in the country
To review: It sure as heck is not Ohio State. Baylor still hasn’t played anyone of substance. Michigan State, don’t even get me started. TCU has found a way to win close games, but typically needs a flurry of late points to do so. Meanwhile, does anyone have more impressive wins than 5–0 Utah? Answer: no. The Utes have a better resume than any other Power Five team.
That season-opening 24–17 victory over Michigan looks better and better—especially after UM humiliated Northwestern 38–0 on Saturday—and they just forced six turnovers against an upstart Cal team that has one of the best passers in the country in Jared Goff. That 62–20 win over Oregon (which is now limping through conference play and has an overall record of 3–3) is now an afterthought. What’s even more astounding is that Utah is doing this with a revamped coaching staff, and only months after internal turmoil that made headlines everywhere. And we wonder why the media picked the Utes fifth in the preseason Pac-12 poll. There are no weeks off in the Pac-12 South (seriously, it’s like Game of Thrones: anyone can be annihilated at any time) but the Utes’ confidence keeps building. Which leads us to …
2. Utah can still get so much better
That pass rush is a thing of beauty, and Goff (25 of 47, 340 yards, two touchdowns, five interceptions) will likely have nightmares about guys in red for weeks. The Utes recorded only three sacks, which seems low for them, but Goff had no room to breathe all night. Still, the Utah offense isn’t consistent, which means there’s lots of room for growth. Remember that after the defense forced six turnovers, the Utes turned that into … a whopping 17 points. They gave the ball away three times themselves, which did not help matters. They were just 4 of 17 on third down. On Saturday Utah quarterback Travis Wilson was 16 of 26 for 170 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He tacked on 49 rushing yards. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham praised him afterward for taking what the defense gave him; in truth, Wilson is capable of much more. Wilson’s play gets lost too often in the conversation about Utah’s rise this year. He’s as important a piece as anyone, and the fact that he’s staying healthy is huge.
3. Devontae Booker is a Heisman candidate
Yes, LSU’s Leonard Fournette is leading this race right now, and rightfully so, considering he’s run for 1,022 yards and 12 touchdowns. But have you watched Booker play? Have you tried to tackle him? For some reason, the 5'11", 212-pounder continues to fly under the radar, despite tremendous work on the ground. On Saturday against Cal he rushed 34 times for 222 yards and two touchdowns, a 6.5 yards-per-carry clip. And the Cal defense played reasonably well.
On the season, he’s got 140 carries, 665 yards—that’s 4.8 yards per carry—and six touchdowns. Last year he averaged 133.3 yards per game in the final 10 games of the season. This year he’s averaging … also 133 yards per game. We need to talk about this guy more. He’s Utah’s most dependable offensive player, and as the Utes make their push for the Pac-12 championship, they’ll do it on the back of Booker. He’ll likely drag some tacklers with him along the way.
While we’re on the Heisman topic, another note: It’s important to remember there’s a big difference between a great college player and a great pro prospect. Both labels do not always apply to the same player. And while NFL scouts understandably drool over Goff, especially his deft touch on deep balls and his accuracy on midrange routes, let’s be clear that the best quarterback in college football right now is TCU’s Trevone Boykin.