SALT LAKE CITY -- It was at this point last season that Isi Sofele and the Cal offense caught fire.

If Sofele can help spark a similar surge Saturday night against Utah, it will be a meaningful homecoming for the Bears' senior running back who prepped at Cottonwood High in suburban Salt Lake City.

"It's going to be my first time going home, playing in front of the home crowd," Sofele said. "I'm excited. I'm ready."

The Bears (3-5, 2-3 Pac-12) would welcome any catalyst to alter their fortunes. They need three wins in their final four games to qualify for a bowl bid.

A year ago, Cal was 4-4 after eight games and coming off a decisive loss to UCLA when it found a consistently potent running game. Sofele gained 572 yards over the next four weeks as the Bears won three of four.

"This year, we're fighting against a little bit of adversity ... a lot of it, actually," Sofele said. "We're working on overcoming that. ... We have the talent."

Sofele gets no argument from Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, whose Utes (2-5, 0-4) are seeking their first win since Sept. 15.

"They have struggled at putting it all together this year," Whittingham said of the Bears. "But the talent level of their football team is something else."

Partly because the Bears are sharing carries among three backs, Sofele has just 430 rushing yards after gaining 1,322 a year ago. His per-game production is barely half what it was a year ago.

Cal offensive coordinator Jim Michalczik is rooting for Sofele to have a special homecoming. "You want those guys to have a chance to go home, then go back in the summertime and walk a little taller," he said. "Even him."

Sofele's height was a big reason why the Utes didn't recruit him -- even after he'd rushed for 3,356 yards and scored 52 touchdowns his final two seasons at a local high school.

"They thought I was a little oversized," joked Sofele, who is now listed at 5-foot-8, 200 pounds but was more like 5-6, 150 pounds in high school. "They didn't like my height. They didn't trust in me."

For more on Cal sports, see the Bear Talk blog at ibabuzz.com/beartalk. Follow Jeff Faraudo on Twitter at twitter.com/CalBearsBANG.