SAN FRANCISCO — In sizing up Cal, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham noted that the Bears have put a lot of players in the NFL and there are more additions on the way.
"They're a very talented football team and have got a lot of skill, like they always do," Whittingham said. "We'll have our hands full."
Among the challenges Utah will face in Saturday's game at AT&T Park is Keenan Allen, the nation's top receiver. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound sophomore leads the country with 138 receiving yards per game. Allen also ranks among the leaders in receptions (8.67) and all-purpose yards (143.5).
"He does amazing stuff on the field," Cal quarterback Zach Maynard told the San Francisco Chronicle. "He knows how to get past guys. He's super-smooth."
Allen and teammate Marvin Jones are Maynard's prime targets in a Cal passing attack that averages almost 300 yards per game. Maynard, a transfer from Buffalo, is a dual-threat signal caller who is fifth in the Pac-12 in total offense (269 ypg).
Whittingham said Maynard has a strong arm, is very mobile and is tough to sack because of his quickness.
Cal's talent at the skill positions also extends into the backfield, where former Cottonwood High star Isi Sofele is averaging a team-high 90.5 yards rushing. The junior tailback was offered a scholarship by Utah early in the recruiting process, but wasn't ready to make a decision at that time. Things eventually filled up and Sofele wound up at Cal.
"We liked him," Whittingham said. "There's nothing we didn't like about Isi."
Sofele is very versatile, he added, and could have been an effective college defensive back as well.
Cal's current depth and skill extends into the secondary and throughout the defense.
Senior safety Sean Cattouse is the interceptions leader on a passing defense that currently leads the Pac-12, allowing 222.8 yards per game. The Bears are third in the conference in total defense (355.5 ypg). Senior linebackers Mychal Kendricks and D.J. Holt lead the way with a combined 95 tackles.
"We expect the game against the Golden Bears to be another tough, physical challenge for us," Whittingham said.
Cal coach Jeff Tedford is also expecting a battle by the bay.
"The Utah defense, as a whole, is one of the best I've seen," he said. "They're very physical up front."
And that's an obvious concern for the Bears, especially on the ground. Sofele was held to a season-low 44 yards rushing in last week's loss to USC. Utah, meanwhile, limited highly touted Pitt running back Ray Graham to 46 yards.
Earlier this week, Tedford said they'll have to be patient with the run and not become one-dimensional.
Cal is at a bit of a crossroads. After opening the season with wins over Fresno State (36-21), Colorado (36-33 in a non-conference overtime thriller) and Presbyterian (63-12), the Bears have dropped decisions to Washington (31-23), Oregon (43-15) and USC (30-9). They have never lost four straight games in Tedford's 10 years at the helm.
Utes on the air
Utah (3-3, 0-3 Pac-12)
at California (3-3, 0-3)
Saturday, 5 p.m. MT
TV: KJZZ Radio: 700 AM
Email: email@example.com Twitter: @DirkFacer
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company