SALT LAKE CITY — On the surface, there doesn't appear to be a whole lot of significance to Saturday's game between Utah and California at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
The Utes (2-5, 0-4) are on a four-game skid and the Bears (3-5, 2-3) have lost four of their last six outings. Pac-12 division championship hopes are all but officially gone for both teams. In addition, the loser of this meeting is assured a regular-season finish of .500 or worse.
To the winner, though, comes a little more optimism — a step in the right direction as the season heads into its final month.
Utah's bid for a 10th-consecutive winning season and 10th-straight bowl appearance is in dire need of a jumpstart. The quest has stalled. The Utes haven't won a game since edging BYU 24-21 on Sept. 15. Losses to Arizona State, USC, UCLA and Oregon State followed — putting the streaks in jeopardy.
"While our effort and determination continues to be strong, we haven't been able to put a complete game together to get the result we want," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said in the program's weekly press release.
The Utes, thus, are subscribing to the old adage of taking things one game at a time in the bid to reach their goals.
"The big picture can only even be a picture if we get one right now," said junior linebacker Trevor Reilly. "So that's our big focus this week."
Senior defensive tackle Dave Kruger also noted that the Utes can't afford to look too far down the road. The big picture, he explained, must take a backseat to the task at hand.
"You take it one game at a time," Kruger said. "We've just got to relax, play our game. Things will come along and we should be good."
The first hurdle, however, could be quite a challenge.
Cal defeated Utah 34-10 last year in San Francisco. The Bears held the Utes, who turned the ball over four times, to 13 rushing yards and just 11 first downs.
"They are a dangerous team that is very talented on both sides of the football," Whittingham said. "They haven't been able to put it together this season and have had some struggles, much like we have, but make no mistake they are one of the more talented teams in the conference."
As such, Whittingham added that it'll take Utah's "best effort to get the win."
Although Cal returned just six starters on both sides of the ball this year, the Bears do have quarterback Zach Maynard, top receiver Keenan Allen and tailback Isi Sofele back on the field.
The game will be a homecoming for Sofele. The Cottonwood High graduate has played well at Cal. The senior has ran for 2,172 yards and 13 touchdowns in his career with the Bears.
"I'm sure he'll be very emotional, being from there," Cal coach Jeff Tedford told the San Francisco Chronicle. "He appreciates his roots back home. I'm sure he'll have a lot of family there."
Another Cottonwood alum, junior defensive lineman Keni Kaufusi, also plays for the Bears.
Utes on the air
California (3-5, 2-3)
at Utah (2-5, 0-4)
Saturday, 7:45 p.m.
TV: Pac-12 Network Radio: 700 AM
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