2009 Poinsettia Bowl - Cal vs. Utah
Cal DE Tyson Alualu & Utah WR David Reed
Cal DE Tyson Alualu & Utah WR David Reed
Posted Dec 17, 2009

The CFN 2009 San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl Preview - Cal vs. Utah

2009 S.D.C.C. Poinsettia Bowl

Utah (9-3) vs. California (8-4)

San Diego, CA, Dec. 23, 8 pm, ESPN

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- 2008 CFN Poinsettia Bowl Preview
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National Rankings
Utah   Cal
54th Total Offense 46th
20th Total Defense 70th
47th Scoring Offense 47th
19th Scoring Defense 54th
45th Rushing Offense 37th
57th Run Defense 27th
55th Passing Offense 50th
14th Passing Defense 108th
46th Turnover Margin 27th
Position Ratings
relative to each other
U 5 highest
1 lowest
3 Quarterbacks 3
3.5 RBs 4
3.5 Receivers 4
3 O Line 4
3 D Line 3.5
3 Linebackers 3
4 Secondary 2
4 Spec Teams 3
4 Coaching 4
Poinsettia Bowl History
2008 TCU 17, Boise St 16
2007 Utah 35, Navy 32
2006 TCU 37, Northern Illinois 7
2005 Navy 51, olorado State 30  
Team Pages and 2009 Season

For the last few seasons there's this theory floating around that the Mountain West has narrowed the divide on the Pac-10 in the conference pecking order. It has two chances to drive home that point this postseason, and this is one of them.

Even if it isn't against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, Utah will proudly carry the Mountain West flag on Wednesday night in San Diego. Considering how much the Utes lost through graduation and injuries from last year's 13-0 squad, head coach Kyle Whittingham has done well just to get them to nine wins and a bowl game. Plus, they played the final month of the year with a true freshman behind center, and their only losses came to ranked teams, Oregon, TCU, and BYU. If this is the equivalent of a rebuilding year in Salt Lake City, Whittingham clearly has the program operating at a high level. The last time Utah played in a BCS bowl game in 2004, it had to rally late just to become bowl-eligible in the following season.

Although the Utes were a full rung below the conference heavyweights this fall, there's certainly no shame in finishing behind the Horned Frogs or the Cougars. Not only was the program faced with major changes on both sides of the ball, but the expected star of the offense, RB Matt Asiata, went down with a season-ending knee injury in September. Utah could have folded at that point, but instead regrouped around junior RB Eddie Wide, one of the league's toughest offensive lines, and a defense that could count its lapses on one hand. It won all of the games it was supposed to, taking six straight during the middle of the year before running into a purple buzzsaw in Fort Worth on Nov. 14.

After more than just bragging rights and a bump into 2010, Utah will be looking to protect an eight-game postseason winning streak that dates back to 1996, the longest current string in the country.

It was a different year, but the same old Cal in 2009, routinely vexing anyone trying to size it up. The ultimate tease out of the Pac-10, the Bears once again raised expectations, only to wilt in the face of stiffer competition. After starting 3-0 and cranking out the points, they got exposed as Rose Bowl frauds, getting waxed in consecutive weeks by Oregon and USC. And just when the program started to spruce up its image with a three-game winning streak, it failed to deliver at home in a 31-14 loss to Oregon State. The ultimate head-scratcher came in the regular season finale at Washington. With a more lucrative Sun Bowl berth hanging on the outcome and fresh off wins over Arizona and Stanford, Cal got ambushed by the Huskies, 42-10. Will it be motivated to play in a lesser bowl game and against a lower-profile opponent?

Although Jeff Tedford has been a miracle worker since arriving in Strawberry Canyon at the beginning of the decade, at what point will he be demanded to get over the hump? No one forgets where the program was when Tom Holmoe was on the sidelines, but the Bears have reached a plateau, while getting passed by the likes of Oregon and Oregon State. Oh, and despite winning this year's Big Game, Cal has been bumped to the national back page by Jim Harbaugh and surging Stanford. With no other game on the schedule to deflect attention on this night, Tedford and the Bears need a good showing in San Diego simply to stabilize their sagging reputations and avoid taking a two-game losing streak into the offseason.

Players to Watch: Although they won't face each other, the battle of the former backup running backs will dictate the outcome of this game. Neither Utah's Wide nor Cal's Shane Vereen began the season as starters, yet both finished it with all-star credentials.

Wide has been nothing short of a savior for the Ute attack, especially since rookie QB Jordan Wynn has been calling signals for over a month. A shifty, cutback runner, with good vision, he's made the most of an expanded role, running for 1,032 yards and 12 touchdowns on only 182 carries. He'll face a challenge against a Cal defense that ranks 27th nationally versus the run and has the linebackers to string him out from sideline to sideline. Mike Mohamed, a first team All-Pac-10 selection, is the leader of the group, racking up a league-best 105 tackles.

Vereen has played about as well as expected, considering he had to fill in for Jahvid Best, a one-time Heisman contender. A tough inside runner, with the acceleration to burst through the secondary, he's gone for 830 yards and 10 touchdowns, including 444 yards since Best suffered a severe concussion a month ago. Like Wide, Vereen won't be facing any pushover on defense. The Utes are also stout in the front seven, with LB Stevenson Sylvester and DE Koa Misi, and veteran NT Kenape Eliapo is expected back after missing the last three games with an eye injury.

One of the better games-within-the-game will occur whenever Cal DE Tyson Alualu lines up on the same side as Utah LT Zane Beadles. Alualu has 7.5 sacks and is easily the best pass rusher on a defense that'll be looking to rattle Wynn into mistakes in his first postseason game. Beadles, on the other hand, is an All-American and one of the premiers pass blockers in the country. This will be an audition for both players, who will see each other again next season on Sundays.

Utah will win if ... : Wynn can take advantage of an overrated Cal defensive backfield. Although the Bears harbor a lot of familiar names in the secondary, like CB Syd'Quan Thompson, and returning starters, they haven't had the results to match them. Cal has the nation's 108th-ranked pass defense, allowing 17 touchdown passes and a high percentage of completions in soft coverage. It'll be up to Wynn to begin playing like a sophomore and take advantage of the opportunity in front of him. More specifically, he needs to spread the field with talented receivers David Reed and Jereme Brooks, opening things up for Wide and the Utah ground game. After showing progress throughout November, Wynn needs to step up his development and flatten the learning curve. He has the potential to be the type of multi-dimensional, Alex Smith-esque quarterback, who has given Cal fits all season. Now he has to go out and reach it.

Cal will win if ... : if the good Kevin Riley shows up on Wednesday night. The junior quarterback has been inconsistent throughout his career in Berkeley. When he's good, he makes everyone around him better, but when he's bad, the Bears almost always lose. He has to find a way to work the middle of the field with TE Anthony Miller and occasionally get the ball downfield to speedy WR Marvin Jones. It won't be easy. Utah ranks No. 9 nationally in pass efficiency defense, allowing just 11 touchdown passes and a meager 50% completion percentage. In Robert Johnson and Joe Dale, the Utes have an outstanding safety tandem that can cover like corners. In Cal's four losses, Riley threw just two touchdown passes and completed less than half of his throws. Similar results against this Utah secondary have to be avoided at all costs by the Bear passing game.

What will happen: Cal probably has more talent up and down the roster, but Utah will enjoy the edge in motivation, a huge factor this time of year. The Bears expected much more than the Poinsettia Bowl as a capper to the season, and it could show in their intensity and execution. The Utes, on the other hand, are thrilled to still be playing and will take great delight in plucking off a Pac-10 team and winning a ninth bowl game in-a-row. Win No. 10 in a so-called rebuilding year is no small prize either. Utah will get a decent game out of Wynn, but the difference will be the running of Wide, who'll rush for 100 yards and a couple of scores, and the defense. The Utes will frustrate Riley into mistakes and hurried throws, pressuring him with a combination of Misi, DE Christian Cox, and those athletic linebackers. Plus, the middling Cal receivers don't match up well with the Utah secondary. Vereen will get his yards, but not enough to overcome an opponent that perennially prepares as well as anyone for December and January.

CFN Prediction: Utah 28 … Cal 23 ... Line: Cal -3

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Best Ute Bowl Moment: Four years ago, the Utes set the bowl bar pretty doggone high for future teams to reach, beating Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl and becoming the first non-automatic qualifier to ever get invited to a BCS bowl game. Last January, Utah raised the bar a notch higher, shocking Alabama, 31-17, to finish unbeaten and No. 2 in the country behind Florida.

Best Golden Bear Bowl Moment: You've got to venture all the way back to 1938 and the days of Vic Bottari to find a truly meaningful Cal bowl victory. The "Thunder Team", as it was dubbed, shut out Alabama 13-0 in the Rose Bowl, en route to the Bears' second and last national championship. Cal finished its season in Pasadena eight times from 1921-1959, but hasn't been back since.

Utah Bowl History (11-4)
2008 Sugar Utah 31, Cal 17
2007 Poinsettia Utah 35, Navy 32
2006 Armed Forces Utah 25, Tulsa 13
2005 Emerald Utah 38, Georgia Tech 10
2004 Fiesta Utah 35, Pitt 7
2003 Liberty Utah 17, Southern Miss 0
2001 Las Vegas Utah 10, USC 6
1999 Las Vegas Utah 17, Fresno State 16
1996 Copper Wisconsin 38, Utah 10
1994 Freedom Utah 16, Arizona 13
1993 Freedom USC 28, Utah 21
1992 Copper Washington St 31, Utah 28
1964 Liberty Utah 32, West Virginia 6
1946 Pineapple Hawaii 19, Utah 16
1938 Sun Utah 26, New Mexico 0
Cal Bowl History (11-8)
2008 Emerald California 24, Miami 17
2007 Armed Forces California 42, Air Force 36
2006 Holiday California 45, Texas A&M 10
2005 Las Vegas California 35, BYU 28
2004 Holiday Texas Tech 45, California 31
2003 Insight Cal, 52, Virginia Tech 49
1996 Aloha Navy 42, California 38
1993 Alamo California 37, Iowa 3
1992 Citrus California 37, Clemson 13
1990 Copper California 17, Wyoming 15
1979 Garden St Temple 28, California 17
1959 Rose Iowa 38, California 12
1951 Rose Michigan 14, California 6
1950 Rose Ohio State 17, California 14
1949 Rose Northwestern 20, California 14
1938 Rose California 13, Alabama 0
1929 Rose Georgia Tech 8, California 7
1922 Rose California 0,
Wash & Jeff 0 (tie)
1921 Rose California 28, Ohio St 0