The quarterback carousel continued on Saturday afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

With Cam Rising in street clothes for the sixth consecutive game, it was Bryson Barnes who got the start for the 16th-ranked Utah Utes against Cal, not Nate Johnson.

Barnes, who started the season against Florida, was benched after a poor performance in Utah’s next game against Baylor, and Johnson led the Utes to a comeback victory in Waco, Texas, clearing the way for him to get the start in Utah’s next three games.

Utah’s offense struggled in the next three contests, though, especially against UCLA and Oregon State, where the Utes scored 14 combined offensive points.

It wasn’t the fault of any one position, as everyone — from the quarterback to receivers to the offensive line to the running backs — had a part in the offensive woes.

Needing something to spark an anemic offense, the Utes yet again made a change at quarterback.

They once again turned to Barnes.

“Just thought he gave us the best chance to win this week and that’s really what it always boils down to is which guy ... gives you the best chance to win the game,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.

After Johnson was benched mid-game in Corvallis, Barnes took over and led the most promising drive of that game to that point, but ended it by throwing an interception in the red zone.

Barnes got knocked out of the Oregon State game after taking a shot to the stomach, later going to the hospital to get checked out for precautionary reasons, with the diagnosis being bruised ribs.

Whittingham said that Barnes would not have been able to play if Saturday’s game was last week, so the bye week came at the perfect time for Barnes and the Utes.

“He’s a tough guy. Bryson Barnes is a throwback and the guy that if he’s able to play at all, he’s going to be out there and they cleared him and he had the nod and we got the win this afternoon,” Whittingham said.

Barnes didn’t practice during the bye week, but when he did come back this week, there was no splitting the reps 50-50 in practice, like Johnson did with Rising. Barnes took the first-team reps in practice.

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All week long, Whittingham stressed that the passing game had to improve so opponents couldn’t just stack the box and shut down the run game.

Though there were a few questionable passes that could have been picked off Saturday, the junior quarterback provided the spark Utah was looking for.

While he didn’t have a monster passing day on the stat sheet (15 for 21 for 128 yards), Barnes at least prevented Cal from completely keying on the run with a few deep shots, including a beautiful ball on a 41-yard pass to Munir McClain (who returned from injury to play in his first game since Weber State).

“It’s absolutely great to be out there. I wasn’t expecting to be back as soon as I was, but you got to stay in that training room, make sure you’re getting right with your trainers. I was able to get back within a week, so I’m happy to be back,” Barnes said.

Barnes was efficient, didn’t turn the ball over and utilized his legs, rushing eight times for 50 yards and a score, including four third-down conversions (one of which was a 4-yard touchdown) on the ground.

“Thought Bryson Barnes was very efficient. Didn’t throw for a bunch of yards, but his completion percentage was very high. He took care of the football, dodged a bullet a time or two, balls that may have been able to be picked off, but he was very positive,” Whittingham said.

Everything else on offense clicked, as the offensive line had its best performance of the year, giving Barnes plenty of time to throw and keeping him clean, allowing zero sacks and paving the way for Ja’Quinden Jackson and Sione Vaki runs.

Kolinu’u Faaiu started at center, replacing Jaren Kump, and performed well.

“O-block, I mean I’m pretty sure we put up almost 300 rushing yards. I mean that’s just a statement in and of itself,” Barnes said.

Three hundred seventeen of Utah’s season-high 445 yards of offense came on the ground as Utah inserted safety Vaki in at running back, and it paid off — he had 158 yards on 15 carries.

The sophomore excelled both from the wildcat formation on direct snaps and when taking handoffs from Barnes.

Vaki’s 72-yard touchdown run with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter put Utah up 31-14 and essentially clinched the win for the Utes.

He also finished with four tackles in his usual position.

“It was fun. I was just glad that the coaches placed enough trust in me to go both ways,” Vaki said.

Jackson also had a good day, rushing for 94 yards and a score. The bye week seemed to help Jackson’s nagging ankle injury, and he let all of his frustration from the injury that has been hampering him out in his running style on Saturday, lowering his shoulder and flattening a Cal defender on one run.

“I was pissed. Yeah, that’s basically what it was. I was just pissed off,” Jackson said.

It was also another excellent defensive performance — five sacks, 254 yards of offense allowed and two turnovers — something that’s become routine at Utah.

Lander Barton read Cal freshman quarterback Fernando Mendoza the whole way on an interception in the second quarter that set Utah’s offense up for its first touchdown of the game, and Jonah Elliss had another monster game — four tackles and 2.5 sacks, including a forced fumble caused by a big hit on Mendoza that was recovered by Cole Bishop.

That turnover set Utah up at the Cal 13-yard line, where the Utes would score another touchdown.

Whittingham challenged Utah’s defense to generate turnovers on Saturday, and they delivered.

“It’s awesome, man, especially when the head man’s asking for it,” Elliss said.

Defensive end Connor O’Toole made his season debut, sacking Mendoza, but didn’t finish the game.

“Connor is a tremendous pass rusher. You know how good Jonah Elliss is, and Connor is right there with him. We had to shut him down later in the game. Wasn’t able to finish the game, so we’re hoping that we can get that soreness out and have him for the next game,” Whittingham said.

Utah wasn’t perfect defensively, with a couple coverage breakdowns, but was largely great. The Utes held Cal’s vaunted run game, which ranked No. 11 in the nation in rushing offense with 217.3 yards per game, to just 66 total yards.

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“That was really what the difference in the game was today, is our ability to run the football and their inability to run the football. That was the most important factor,” Whittingham said.

Bishop was ejected in the fourth quarter after a targeting call, which was then upheld after a review. He missed the remainder of the game and — importantly — will miss the first half of Utah’s game against Caleb Williams and the high-powered USC offense in Los Angeles next week.

Neither Utah’s team nor fans agreed with the targeting call — the fans spent much of the the remainder of the fourth quarter booing the referees.

Utah has already begun the process of appealing Bishop’s targeting penalty, though Whittingham said that the Pac-12 has never overturned a Utah targeting penalty.

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