Most of us are hoping for at least a winning record this season, getting Michigan into its 5,000th straight bowl game and giving us hope for great things to come as the Rodriguez Era progresses. Well, my first shot at a diary entry will be a Notre Dame fan-esque outlook for the Utah game, with a similar entry to follow for each game leading up to our trip to the rural Mississippi of the north, the Horseshoe. Do I think this will be how it plays out? No, but I'll be trying to convince myself for the next month that UM can start 11-0...and convince you too, one game at a time.
Utah -- August 30, 3:30
Even after that game from last year, the Big House remains an intimidating force for visitors to deal with. Especially since none of these Utes have played in Michigan Stadium (2002 was the only meeting between the teams). Utah's current players have played tough road games against BCS conference teams at UCLA (L) and at Louisville (W). Michigan Stadium on Saturday August 30th has potential to be mentioned with some of the loudest games that we've been reading about on MGoBoard, and if Michigan grabs the lead, or makes a few plays defensively, the crowd will be an even bigger advantage.
It is also hard to imagine this team coming out as flat emotionally as it did last year. Barwis may actually eat a live Mormon child in the locker room before the game. Notwithstanding that display, these kids are going to be fired up. There will be a level of passion out there that we have rarely seen the past few years, and I mean from everyone, not just one or two guys trying to fire the rest up. Don't be surprised if Brandon Graham "aggravates" Brian Johnson's shoulder injury.
Speaking of the injury to the quarterback's throwing arm, we all remember the last time a QB tried playing through a shoulder injury at the Big House. Even if Johnson's injury is a non-factor by late August, Trent and Warren form one of the best cover duos in the country and it will be tough to pass on them. Utah seems to have a load of running backs led by Darrell Mack, a bruiser who ran for over 1,200 yards last year. With four returning O-linemen, the Utes will rely on the run to set up the pass. If Taylor really has bought into the new staff, he should be ready to start game one, rounding out (but not in the same sense as last year) our D-line. I think the line gives Utah's O-line fits and lets our young LBs run around and make plays.
Defensively, from the early scouting reports I've seen it looks like Utah is weak at DT and lost three linebackers from last season. The LB inexperience is bad news for them against UM's offense. Bite on a play fake and a slot WR will have one man to beat for six. The Utah defense was pretty good statistically last year, but it did give up 32 to Navy in one of the more exciting bowl games of the season. I'm not sure how athletic these new LBs are for Utah, and I'm no expert on defending the spread (God knows I haven't seen it done well recently), but I would think you need speed and good instincts as a LB against the spread. I don't think they'll have enough of either.
Overall, the defense will win the day against Utah. UM will make enough plays to keep the crowd going and this thing will be about a 10 point win, maybe a lot more if we catch some breaks early.
I know it's way early to get a good idea of how the game will shake out, but those are my thoughts as of today. Mr. Steele obviously disagrees with any rosy predictions I may have as he has Utah ranked 14th preseason. Wow.