Hey, if you haven’t heard yet, Utah is good. Playoff good, in fact.
The latest example of such worthiness came at the expense of Cal, which entered Saturday night’s game unbeaten and ranked 23rd in the country. The Bears subsequently exited Salt Lake City with their first loss of the season, a 30-24 setback at the hands of the No. 5 team in the country.
The first half was a comedy of errors, with the two teams combining for seven turnovers — five for Cal (four Jared Goff picks), two for Utah as the Utes led 24-17. The second half was a testament to what Utah will bring to the playoff discussion moving forward as the Utes simply imposed their will thanks to the one-two combination of a physical defense and punishing running game.
First as to the latter, Devontae Booker ran for a season-high 222 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries. As to the former, the Utes held a Bears team that came into the game averaging 43.4 points per game, seventh nationally, to their lowest point total of the season. Included in that were just seven points for Cal in the second half when its defense managed to hold Utah to a mere six points on two field goals in giving its offense one more chance to win the game at the very end; said offense couldn’t take advantage as a drive that began at their own five-yard line with just under five minutes remaining ended on a Goff incompletion on fourth and five from the Utes 21-yard line.
That last incompletion triggered a nationwide discussion as to the Utes’ positioning in the playoff pecking order. The résumé?
Utah had won its last three games by 10 or more points, beginning with a 10-point win over 3-2 Utah State in Week 2 to a 21-point win over 1-5 Fresno State to a 42-point obliteration of freefalling Oregon to the Week 6 close call coming off a bye. Prior to this, their closest game, a 24-17 win, came in the opener at home against a Michigan team that has ripped off five straight wins since and is viewed in some corners as the best the Big Ten has to offer.
I had Utah No. 2 in my personal Top Five exiting Week 5 (sorry, no Fifth Quarter this weekend). Exiting Week 6, and given how AP top-ranked Ohio State’s That School Up North is playing, I wouldn’t have a problem with anyone who voted the U of U No. 1.