Cal looks to limit Utah's Star power

Star Lotulelei (US Presswire)

After being manhandled by Stanford, the California offensive line vows not to do anything special to limit Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei.

SALT LAKE CITY – As California linebacker Nick Forbes said, the team's focus is squarely on what the Golden Bears can do this week.

"You're not going to beat Oregon State or Oregon this week. The only team you can beat this week is Utah," Forbes said.

At the same time, if Cal (3-5, 2-3 Pac-12) doesn't come away with the win at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday night, those games will effectively be rendered meaningless, outside of the opportunity to play spoiler for those with top-tier bowl aspirations.

Put it this way: if Jeff Tedford's team can't beat Utes, whose season is also on the brink at 2-5 and winless in four Pac-12 contests, what hope would you give them of teaming opponents ranked in the top 10 in the BCS?

But even against such dire possibilities, players and coaches continue to express optimism Cal can hit the six-win threshold.

"When we put ourselves through adversity, we fight to the top and become the Cal football team you saw a couple weeks ago," senior running back C.J. Anderson said.

That will mean rediscovering the ground game, which was swallowed up by Stanford last week and managed just three net yards rushing. Anderson, Isi Sofele, and Brendan Bigelow combined to carry the ball 19 times for a staggering 18 yards.

Tedford refused to address the disastrous Big Game performance in the trenches, perhaps with good reason as Utah is equally formidable in the defensive front seven, led by mammoth defensive tackle Star Lotulelei.

Listed at 6-foot-4 and 320 pounds, the senior is regarded as a certain first-round draft pick and could be the first defender off the board next April.

"Star is a hell of a player," Anderson said. "You watch him on film, he is very strong and fast. That's coming from NFL scouts talking about he could be a high draft pick."

Lotulelei has a team-high seven tackles for loss, including two sacks, but it was his first-quarter performance against USC that showed his true value.

The mere prospect of Lotulelei lining up opposite ailing USC center Khaled Holmes forced the veteran into two bad snaps in the Trojans' first five plays. Defensive end Nate Fakahafua stole one away from quarterback Matt Barkley and took it in for a touchdown, while Lotulelei recovered the second to set up a short scoring pass.

"Wherever the ball is, he is," Anderson said. "There's a couple plays on film he is pushing people down, jumping over and swatting the ball. It looked like he could have caught it if he was really focused and dialed in on catching the ball. There's not a lot of weaknesses to his game.

"He's everywhere, in space, penetrating, pass rush, run game. He makes it happen."

Cal has had its struggles against elite defensive linemen this season, allowing career days to Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton and USC defensive end Morgan Breslin, while Stanford outside linebacker Chase Thomas got into the act with three tackles for loss, one sacks, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery last week.

Yet, Cal says it will do nothing out of the ordinary to try and limit Lotulelei.

"We're just treating him as a normal guy. We've played a lot of good D-lines all year, and we're just treating him as another talented nose guard," left guard Jordan Rigsbee said.

"We're not having any extra double-teams just for him. In our regular offense, he will be double-teamed. We're not doing anything different just for him."

One change that Cal might make is at right guard, where Dominic Galas could enter the starting lineup. The redshirt senior played nearly two-thirds of snaps in the Big Game, his first action of the season after tearing his pectoral muscle before fall camp, while incumbent Chris Adcock is banged up.

There are also plenty of injuries on defense, especially at linebacker. Jalen Jefferson will miss his second consecutive game with a concussion, while Brennan Scarlett (broken hand) and Chris McCain (ankle) are game-time decisions.

Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.

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