Not many would argue it's been a difficult season for Utah. So far, it's been the toughest of Kyle Whittingham's coaching career.
But no one remembered to tell the Utes — or Reggie Dunn in particular — Saturday night.
In a contest everyone thought would be close, most everything went right for the eight-year head coach's group at Rice Eccles Stadium. John White IV (kind of) regained his swagger — with some help, too — and the Ute defense was mighty when it needed to be. And Dunn — my oh my. His two kick returns for touchdowns mark the first such achievement in Utah history.
Offense: The 345 total yards weren't superb, but the Utes gotta love the 8-of-13 third-down conversion rate. It's difficult to say Travis Wilson (16-of-24, 156 yards, one interception) was much better Saturday than he was against UCLA or Oregon State. But in coming just shy of the UCLA game for the highest completion rate of the three games he's started, he was efficient through the air against Cal.
The offensive show was really solid on the ground, as White IV (22 carries, 105 yards, two touchdowns) got his while leading an attack that accumulated 188 total yards. Fullerton College transfer Kelvin York (11 carries, 51 yards, one score) showed why he was was recruited by the likes of Ole Miss and Oregon last season. Saturday night marked the second-straight contest — and third in five games — that he received double-digit carries and 4.7 yards per carry or better. Losses to Arizona State and Oregon State may have overshadowed the production, however. (Compare that with White, who averaged 4.8 ypc Saturday but entered the game averaging 1 yard less.)
Sophomore Kenneth Scott (five receptions, 59 yards) registered two receptions or more for the fifth straight contest. But where is DeVonte Christopher? The senior didn't log a reception? for the second straight game after getting nine in the previous two. GRADE: B+
Defense: The Utes were facing just the 81st-best offense in the Football Bowl Subdivision. But with three turnovers, the Cal attack has seen better this season. The overall numbers (particularly, 441 total yards) weren't bad, but the third-down conversion number (4-of-10) wasn't flashy and the time of possession (22:22) awful. Defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake was surely pleased with his opportunistic group, especially in the first quarter with Utah's Reggie Topps' 17-yard touchdown on a fumble recovery. It swung momentum, forcing the Bears into a two-possession deficit early from which they could never recover. GRADE: B+
Special Teams: The night overall belongs to Dunn for his tremendous returns in the first and fourth quarters. Those highlights of the night provided the greatest momentum to a crowd eager to cheer a struggling team. Plus, it made for the finest special teams evening of the season. Fans on Twitter were asking if Dunn would be the Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week. Is that in question? Luckily, Coleman Petersen (3-of-8 this season) didn't have to attempt a field goal. GRADE: A
Overall: With the blowout, the team and its supporters couldn't have asked for a better way to aim to get back on track entering the season's home stretch. The convincing win assured folks that a postseason may still be in this group's future. However, an impressive defense and spectacular Dunn still covered a bit for the young Wilson. With White offering arguably the best performance of the season — complemented by York — the freshman might be compensated enough for the Utes to create a successful November. GRADE: B+
Rhett Wilkinson studies interesting stuff at Utah State University and is the co-founder of Aggie BluePrint, USU's first student magazine. Previously an intern for the Deseret News, he can be reached at email@example.com or tweet him @wilklogan