SALT LAKE CITY -- The crowd at Rice Eccles Stadium was clad in black. The snow-capped mountain backdrop to the east was enveloped by the starless night. It was a perfect metaphor for the California Golden Bears' football season: Someone has turned out the lights.
Behind two 100-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns from Reggie Dunn, Utah trampled the hapless Bears, 49-27, despite Cal wide receiver Keenan Allen becoming the program's all-time receptions leader with 12:43 left in the game.
"Turnovers. I mean, you have a fumble recovery for a touchdown, two kickoff returns, a tipped ball for an interception -- turnovers will kill you every time," said Bears head coach Jeff Tedford. "We just gave them opportunities. Give them credit, they knocked the ball loose and scooped it and scored. We moved the ball well at times, but it was too little, too late."
Tedford chaffed after he was asked whether or not he had lost this team, which has now lost two in a row by wide margins.
"Not at all. No way. No way. Not at all," Tedford said. "Emphatically: No way. We have not lost this team. This team has competed hard and played hard and there is absolutely no way."
The Bears (3-6, 2-4 in the Pac-12) fell for the second straight game, giving Utah its first conference win this season and its fourth win in five "blackout" games, as the Utes dealt the Bears easily their worst loss of the season, considering the fact that Utah was 2-5 overall and 1-4 in conference coming in.
Tedford said after the game that it was one of the worst losses he's experienced in 10-plus seasons in Berkeley.
"This doesn't happen to us very often, so I don't remember something like this," Tedford said. "But, again, that's what can happen if there's 14 points on kickoff returns and a scooped fumble for a touchdown. It can get away. I thought they executed well on offense. They held the ball for a long time. They made key third downs and we couldn't get off the field. You have to give them credit, as well."
After a first half in which the Bears out-gained Utah 115-27 and yet still trailed 14-3, the Utes turned the tide in the second stanza, posting 115 yards of their own to the Bears' four (on six plays), pulling out to a 28-6 lead.
Cal's first drive ended with a 49-yard field goal from Vince D'Amato, and the Bears were able to effectively run the ball against the stout Utah front seven, with 19 rushing yards on three attempts by Isi Sofele and a zone-read run by quarterback Zach Maynard for 16 yards.
But, it took just 16 seconds for hope to turn to despair, as Dunn took the ensuing kickoff following D'Amato's field goal three yards deep in the end zone, juked Lucas King and Dan Camporeale and was off to the races for his second career 100-yard-plus kickoff return for a touchdown.
Freshman Utah quarterback Travis Wilson went 9-for-14 for 57 yards in the first half, while rushing four times for 22 yards as the Utes piled up 95 rushing yards in the first half alone. Wilson finished the game
The Cal defense stayed strong early, not allowing a single offensive score until 6:41 left in the first half, but as anemic as the Utes attack was, Cal's was even weaker.
Maynard was sacked three times in the first quarter alone, and an ill-advised throw to freshman wide receiver Chris Harper at the Cal 17 on second-and-14 was stripped by Jason Whittingham -- nephew of head coach Kyle Whittingham -- and returned 17 yards for a touchdown by Reggie Topps.
Maynard went 4-for-10 with one pick in the first half for a total of 69 yards, targeting his brother Allen just once, while getting most of his passing yards courtesy of a 51-yard catch-and-run by tight end Richard Rodgers. Rodgers would later score the Bears' final touchdown of the game on a seven-yard strike from Maynard in the waning moments of the game -- his first career touchdown catch.
The first offensive touchdown -- and the first touchdown scored by either offense in the game -- was not only allowed by the Cal defense; it was practically gift-wrapped.
After freshman punter Cole Leininger quick-kicked the ball out of his own end zone and out to midfield, the Utes got a gift from the Bears in an offsides by contact penalty on veteran defensive lineman Aaron Tipoti. After holding Utah to third-and-eight at the Cal 47, Camporeale whiffed on a sack, Wilson stepped up and rushed up the middle for a 13-yard gain and a first down. Wilson then caught the Bears napping on a play-action, and tucked the ball once again over the middle for a five-yard gain, and as he went down, defensive lineman Keni Kaufusi was flagged for unnecessary roughness, giving the Utes an extra 15 yards. On the evening, the Bears committed six penalties for 52 yards.
After the gift-wrapped big play, second-string tailback Kelvin York pounded out an eight-yard gain over left guard, wide receiver Dres Anderson took an end-around for five yards and then the Utes went back to York for the one-yard TD rumble, putting them up for good. Cal would never get closer than that again for the rest of the night.
On the next series, Maynard's first pass to Allen -- underneath on a drag route -- hit the junior receiver in the fingers and fell into the waiting hands of senior corner Ryan Lacy. While the Utah defense incurred 30 yards worth of penalties after the play, they still drove 47 yards for a score, culminating in a five-yard touchdown run by Wilson to put the Utes up, 28-6 to put an end to the first half.
Utah -- who won the coin toss and deferred to the second half -- started with the ball and promptly drove 88 yards down the field for yet another scoring drive, capped by a 10-yard run from veteran tailback John White, who finished the night with a game-high 105 rushing yards -- the second time this season he's broken the century mark, both in Utes wins.
After a Michael Lowe pick in the end zone with 5:50 left in the third quarter -- his third career interception -- the Bears started to roll with a play-action pass complete to fullback Eric Stevens for 19 yards, a six-yard run by Sofele and a 15-yard dart to Allen for his 202nd career catch, tying Geoff McArthur for the program's all-time career receptions record. But, on the very next play, Star Lotulelei blasted through the line, making room for edge defender Trevor Reilly to penetrate and strip the ball from Maynard, forcing a fumble and giving the Utes the ball at the Bears' 32.
Six plays later, Utah was once again in the end zone, courtesy of White, who had arguably his best game this season, scoring two touchdowns on the ground. Saturday was White's 10th career 100-yard game, and he moved into 10th place on the Utes' all-time rushing list with his 2,037 yards.
With the Bears down 42-6, dynamic and speedy sophomore Brendan Bigelow saw his first offensive snap of the game and made it count, breaking four tackles and staying upright through traffic to cut back inside on the right side and run for a 57-yard touchdown -- the first offensive touchdown of the game for Cal -- as the third quarter expired.
On the ensuing kickoff, Dunn took the spotlight right back, taking the ball five yards deep in the end zone, cutting outside of Jackson Bouza and banking middle-in to the heart of the field, before pulling away and then, at the Cal 12-yard line, shaking cornerback Steve Williams to gain a clear path to the end zone.
Allen caught his record-breaking catch with 12:43 left in the game to give the Bears a first down at the Utes 23, and on the very next play, his older brother Maynard rolled left and completed an 80-yard scoring drive with a side-arm bullet to Allen, who was wide open in the left-front corner of the end zone.
-- Senior offensive lineman Dominic Galas -- who played more than 40 snaps last week against Stanford -- suffered a bout of appendicitis and did not play against the Utes. Galas felt abdominal pain late Friday night, finally getting to bed around midnight, before waking up with a fever and in severe pain. Galas underwent emergency surgery to remove his appendix, and will remain in Salt Lake City overnight, accompanied by family.
-- Sophomore outside linebacker Chris McCain, sophomore defensive end Mustafa Jalil and redshirt freshman inside linebacker Jalen Jefferson did not make the trip. McCain is still suffering from a sprained ankle, Jalil has been dealing with a knee ailment all season and Jefferson is still suffering lingering effects from a concussion suffered against Washington State.
-- Reggie Dunn tallied his second 100-yard-plus kickoff return for a touchdown in his career -- the eighth in school history -- 2:11 into the first quarter. Dunn's two returns gave him three 100-yarders for his career. He is the 16th player in NCAA history to record two touchdowns on kick returns in a game. The two returns for 100 yards set a school record, as did the two kicks returned for touchdowns. His three career kickoff returns for touchdowns are also a school record. Dunn had a total of 222 kickoff return yards on three returns, setting both an NCAA record and a school record for kickoff return average in a game (74.0).
-- D'Amato's first-quarter field goal -- from 49 yards - was his eighth straight make, and he started off the second quarter with his ninth-straight between the pipes, from 38 yards.
-- Freshman wide receiver Bryce Treggs went down with an ankle injury in the third quarter. The X-rays were negative, though there was a lot of swelling.