SALT LAKE CITY — Although Utah’s 2-5 start isn’t sitting well with Star Lotulelei, the defensive tackle is glad he came back for his senior year.
"It's definitely frustrating, but I know everybody's feeling the exact same way,” Lotulelei said, while noting his aggravation isn’t about deciding to put the NFL on hold. “I don't regret coming back. I love being out here. I love playing with my teammates.”
Lotulelei, thus, is eager to put Utah’s four-game skid to rest and get things going in the right direction Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium against California.
"I think we have a good chance against Cal,” said Lotulelei, who added that it’s a great opportunity for the Utes to turn it around if they come out and execute.
It’s something that Lotulelei does every game according to Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.
"I think Star is having an exceptional senior year and I think our defensive coaches are doing a nice job utilizing what he brings to the table and building around that," he said.
Utah faces Cal, ranked second in the Pac-12 in total defense, allowing just 332.86 yards per game. Despite facing double and triple coverage, Lotulelei has made 27 tackles (18 solo) with seven stops behind the line of scrimmage. In addition, the All-America candidate has three pass breakups, two sacks, a pair of forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
GOING BOWLING: Utah’s seniors are determined not to end the program’s run of nine consecutive bowl appearances. The Utes need to win four of their final five games just to be eligible.
"We're very determined,” said defensive tackle Dave Kruger, a team captain. “As a senior you want to go to a bowl game, finish off a season as good as possible and you want to go out the right way.”
Just going bowling, however, isn’t enough. Kruger explained the bowl tradition at Utah includes winning as well. The Utes are 8-1 during their current run.
“It's a big deal,” Kruger said. “Not going to a bowl game would be a disappointment."
Wide receiver DeVonte Christopher agrees.
"We've still got five games,” he said. “We've got to make the best out of these five games."
VIEWING ASSISTANCE: With the Pac-12 Networks showing two games in the same broadcast window — California at Utah and Oregon State at Washington — out-of-state viewers may have a challenge getting to see the Utes. To assist in the effort, the Pac-12 has provided a link (http://blog.pac-12.com/showdown-saturday-viewer-guide/) with information on where to watch the game.
EXTRA POINTS: Cal leads the all-time series 5-3 . . . The Bears defeated the Utes 34-10 last season at AT&T Park in San Francisco . . . 49ers quarterback Alex Smith made his starting debut for Utah in a 31-24 victory over Cal in 2003 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.