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Three Takeaways From Utah's Victory Over California

Author:
Dominique Hatfield

Dominique Hatfield

Utah stands as the last remaining undefeated team in the Pac-12. Luck has nothing to do with the Utes reaching this point. Utah has been dominating opponents with one of its best defenses in a long history of strong defensive play.

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The Utes certainly made a huge statement in beating California 30-24 on Saturday. The Bears entered the game with one of the nation's most productive offenses. Still, California could not generate any sort of sustained rhythm against Utah and finished 22 points below its previous per game scoring average.

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Here are three things we learned about the Utes in their victory over California:

1. Utah's defense knows how to force turnovers

California came into the game leading the nation in turnovers gained with 18. In the end, it was Utah that dominated the turnover battle. The Utes finished plus-three in the turnover margin. Utah had five interceptions in a single game for the first time since a 48-24 victory over BYU in 2008. The Utes had takeaways to end three of California's first four drives and held a 5-2 turnover advantage by halftime.

Utah now has 17 takeaways this season (12 interceptions and five fumble recoveries). Sophomore safety Marcus Williams and junior cornerback Dominique Hatfield have been the catalyst for many of those takeaways. Williams leads the team with four interceptions and Hatfield is second with three picks. Hatfield had a pair of interceptions against the Bears, while Williams added a reception and recovered a fumble.

2. Devontae Booker is poised for another special season

Booker shifted into full beast mode against the California defense. The senior churned out a season-high 222 rushing yards and a pair of touchdown runs on a season-high 34 carries. It was just his second career 200-yard game. It also marked the ninth highest single-game total by a Utah running back. Booker now ranks eighth in school history with 2,177 career yards and is tied for 10th with 16 rushing touchdowns.

Utah's offense might need to rely on a heavy dose of Booker making plays on the ground once again this season. Senior quarterback Travis Wilson struggled to move the chains even when working with good field position created by turnovers. Wilson passed for just 170 yards while tossing one touchdown and two interceptions on 16-of-26 attempts. His inconsistency is one reason why the Utes scored just 17 points on six takeaways.

3. Utah has a strong Playoff resume

At 5-0, Utah is off to its best start since 2010 when the Utes won eight straight games to open the season. If Utah keeps winning, claiming a Pac-12 championship might not be the only thing in the picture. The Utes also could end up being one of four teams selected for the College Football Playoff in December and earn a shot to play for a national championship.

No other top-10 team has as strong of a Playoff resume at this point compared to the Utes. Utah already has victories over Top 25 teams Michigan and California and is the only team to defeat either school so far. Fresno State is the only team Utah has beaten that currently has a losing record.

— Written by John Coon,who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.