Preview: 2014 Utah Comment Count

Brian September 19th, 2014 at 2:43 PM

Drum and Feather VectorEssentials

WHAT Michigan vs Utah Utes Of Utah (We're From Utah!)
WHERE Michigan Stadium
Ann Arbor MI
WHEN 3:30 Eastern
September 20th, 2014
TICKETS From 23 bucks for a real game? Wow.
WEATHER Muggy, high 70s
70% chance of rain
light winds


We know very little about what Utah might be like this year; they opened the season against I-AA Idaho State (what's up Matt Gutierrez) and a hilariously incompetent version of Fresno State. Remember how Nebraska was in a dogfight with McNeese State? Yeah, they just blew the pants off of Fresno. The Bulldogs have three games under their belt and have given up over 50 points in each, and neither Nebraska nor USC has exactly covered themselves in glory in their other games.

So: I dunno man. 

Run Offense vs Utah


Utah's DL is a bit wee

Utah may be tractable here. While hilariously incompetent Fresno State couldn't go anywhere, Idaho State moved the ball on the ground efficiently. Their top two backs combined for 34 carries and nearly 200 yards; they averaged 5.7 yards a pop. (It was ISU's horrendous passing game that prevented them from doing much: 4 yards an attempt.)

The Ute DL is undersized, rolling out a 5'11", 285 pound nose tackle and 3-4-ish DEs that run 266 and 276; it's unknown how they'll respond to a 2TE offense but their slot corner is 5'8", 178 so just folding him inside is going to be a bad idea. They either went with six guys when Fresno put two guys in the backfield or rolled a safety down.

Against the spreads they've faced so far Utah runs a lot of the 3-man-front-with-standup-DE I've been calling "30 slide" in the UFRs; that standup guy is 255, so when they slide down to a four-man front their SDE and three-tech both weigh less than Frank Clark.

Meanwhile, almost all of these guys are new: only two front-seven starters are back from last year's in-fact-excellent rush D, which finished 17th in the nation at 3.5 yards a pop. (This obscures some roller coaster action: one week after giving up 300 rushing yards to Arizona, Utah held USC's entire team to poor-damn-Toussaint output: 30 yards on 30 carries… in a game they lost by 16!)

Ace noted that even when they were stuffing hilariously incompetent Fresno State those guys weren't holding up too well:

Utah's undersized DTs can get pushed around quite a bit—on a play that stood as a testament to Fresno's inability to do anything right even when doing something right, they pancaked both DTs on an inside run, but failed to account for a single linebacker, managing just two yards even though both tackles were on the dang ground.

The best things these guys have going for them are the legitimately disruptive Nate Orchard (who's from the same high school Sione Houma and Bryan Mone are) and their nose tackle's spectacular name: Viliseni Faounuku.

You never know about mostly new football defenses but the overall picture here is encouraging.

On the winged side of the ball, Michigan is gradually working out the kinks in its zone-heavy scheme. Last week Michigan had a lot of success after some early stumbles and blasted out over six yards a carry. It was against a horrible opponent, but it still represented progress. Michigan's tailbacks hit some of the large holes this time out. Tiny flags were waved in response. Michigan mashed an undersized Miami line off the ball for the most part.

Presented with an opportunity to do something similar against the Utes Michigan is likely to take it. Those kinks will linger—expect Derrick Green to cut to the backside when he's got a promising hole at least once; it actually seems like Michigan can expect success against a Power 5 school.

Key Matchup: Michigan tailbacks versus RUN THERE WHY DON'T YOU RUN THERE. Improved in the last game; there should be similar opportunities in this one.

[Hit THE JUMP for the terrifying tower of tempo.]

Pass Offense vs Utah

Utah freshman wide receiver Dominique Hatfield (26) is tackled by Oregon senior defensive back Brian Jackson (12) during the second quarter. The No. 6 Oregon Ducks play the Utah Utes at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore. on Nov. 16, 2013. (Michael Arellano/Emerald)

Corner Dominique Hatfield is one of many position-switch starters

Here too we have little data and promising optics. Utah's secondary is green and patchwork. Ace:

Top corner Eric Rowe, a senior, spent his entire career to this point at free safety. In the spring, he split time between safety and corner, and at one point was listed as the starter at both positions.

The other starting corner, Dominique Hatfield, played wideout last year and was slated to be the starting Z receiver this spring.

Free safety Tevin Carter was a four-star Cal commit as a wide receiver in the 2010 class. He didn't stick there, stopping over at two different JuCos. He didn't play football last year and missed this spring with an injury before entering fall camp as the backup. He's now the starter.

Position switch starters are alarming. Offense-to-defense position switch starters are more alarming. Post-spring offense-to-defense position switch starters are the time when you call the national guard in to contain fan rioting.

Idaho State could do nothing with these facts; Fresno State passed for nearly 300 yards at a decent 7.1 an attempt despite being hilariously incompetent on the line for most of the game; they acquired three completions of over 40 yards.

Utah does have a staggering 11 sacks already, with seven coming in the Fresno game. Utah blitzes a lot and the Bulldogs sometimes elected to not block defensive ends on three-man rushes. This was an explosive combination. Expect that to continue against Michigan. The 3-3-5 originated as a way to compensate for undersized players with the element of surprise, and Utah is going to be coming from every imaginable angle on both run and pass to compensate for their general lack of size. Picking those up is half the battle.

Michigan hasn't thrown the ball that much so far except against Notre Dame, and that was a bad outing, with Gardner coughing up a metric ton of turnovers and Michigan squeaking to a 5.9 YPA with just one downfield shot all day, that to Devin Funchess. Funchess may or may not be available after injuring his ankle late in that meaningless blowout, and having him around is going to be a big deal. Do you put the converted FS or the 5'10 guy on him? Both seem like wrong answers.

Gardner has been a high YPA guy for his career and Michigan should have an advantage against that secondary if 1) Funchess plays and 2) Gardner is given time.

Key matchup: Mason Cole and Ben Braden against blitzes and Orchard. Both had plays on which Miami's star DE blew past them to Michigan's detriment; as the least experienced and most exposed pieces of the Michigan OL their ability to keep Gardner upright will be put to the test.

Run Defense vs Utah


As Ace noted in FFFF, this is going to be hairy because of one dread word: tempo. Utah is not as light speed as Indiana, but they get to the line fast and when they're not checking once there the snap often gets off with over 20 seconds on the playclock. And like that other guy who we don't talk about any more, Utah spreads to run.  QB Travis Wilson, isn't exactly Denard at 6'7", but he has a Shane Morris level of mobility. He had almost 400 yards on the ground last year at 4.8 an attempt, and that's without bothering to remove sacks. He can go.


The consistency of the running game opens everything up for the rest of the offense. Wilson is a solid threat to keep on zone reads, and he's paired with a solid one-two running back rotation in JuCo transfer Devontae Booker and last year's starter, Bubba Poole. While Booker got the start and has better numbers this year, I liked Poole more in limited viewing—he turned a dead-in-the-water outside zone into a ten-yard gain with a couple nice jukes and finished his runs well.

The line is big and strong, especially on the left, and they make it hard on opponents by using their quarterback enough to make you account for him. They run the good ol' inverted veer quite a bit, and that's always a pain.

Add it up and Utah was a solidly above-average rushing offense a year ago at 5 yards a carry, and that's without a standout yard-machine star. This is going to look very familiar; it's the offense Michigan ran under the guy we don't talk about anymore. Add in the pressure of lining up right at pace and this going to be a challenge for Michigan.

Fortunately for Michigan, they seem up to it. Ryan Glasgow has been a revelation as a nose tackle in the first three games, the rest of the line is above average, and after some hiccups in the opener the linebacker tandem of Bolden and Ryan has been solid. They straight-up murdered the Miami run game a week ago, and more impressively they clubbed Notre Dame in the midst of disaster all around them—the longest carry by a Notre Dame back was six yards, and Notre Dame clunked to 54 total rushing yards.

As with most matchups against a spread offense, it greatly behooves a defense to have a DL that is consistently winning one-on-one matchups with the OL. Eating a double is okay as long as you don't let somebody slip to the linebacker level. So far, so good for Michigan—expect them to play it straight up with the occasional blitz/slant to muck with OL reads.

Key Matchup: Glasgow and Henry versus Utah's interior OL. If they can win that allows Michigan to hang back with the secondary, and that's going to be important because of…

Pass Defense vs Utah

Dres Anderson Arizona State v Utah Dn_7Ya0CxNIl[1]

Dres Andersen is a threat.

The prospect of Utah receiver Dres Anderson is an alarming one after what we saw Will Fuller do to the Michigan defense. He is on NFL radars, so we have scouting reports:

Anderson boasts impressive first-step acceleration and lateral agility to slip through creases and break away from the defense. He's frequently targeted on relatively simple passes like screens and as vertical threat but also runs pro-style routes (slants, comebacks, crosses, drags) that require more sophistication. He shows very good hand-eye coordination and body control to contort in space to make the tough reception, though his spindly frame puts him at a disadvantage on 50-50 balls.

Anderson put up a thousand yards last year and picked up where he left off in the Utes' first two games of 2014. He will be a challenge for… probably not Blake Countess. Raymon Taylor's knee injury is likely to keep him out for the next few weeks, but Michigan started futzing around with a lineup that had Pepper and Lewis on the outside with Countess reclaiming last year's nickel spot. With Delonte Hollowell having some struggles and Royce Jenkins-Stone almost totally lacking in experience but still deemed better than James Ross, Countess at the nickel seems like a good bet for Michigan's configuration against a pure spread outfit.

That would put Anderson in contention with Peppers and Lewis most plays. Michigan is going to find out if those guys are for real on Saturday.

The guy throwing it to Anderson and friends, Tyler Wilson, is wobbly. He had a nice 7.7 YPA a year ago but only completed 56% of his passes, which is very low for an outfit that uses a lot of wide receiver screens.

And the rather enormous catch here for the Utes is Wilson's interception rate. With 16 picks on just 237 attempts last year it stood at a gargantuan 6.7%; he threw six(!) in a loss to UCLA and was on a streak of five straight games having thrown a pick when he was relegated to the bench for the tail end of last season. Most of those interceptions were horrible decisions or iffy throws that saw the receiver tip it to a defender. Here are his first 14 from last year:

He has not thrown one this year in 38 attempts against low-level competition. How much that means is unknown. It seems doubtful his chuckin' tendencies are just gone, and if Frank Clark is bearing down on him, Ute fans are going to be clutching whatever's available in fear.

How likely is that? Well, Utah wanted to move their left tackle inside this year but that move did not come off. Clark's primary foe, then, is Jeremiah Poutasi:

Poutasi has struggled with his weight (he's reportedly down to 330 now) but is surprisingly quick and light on his feet. He does not possess ideal flexibility or length and struggles a bit with leverage but could emerge as a draftable commodity.

This is a guy Clark can win a lot of battles against, and should given his performance over the past year or so. Fresno's given up two sacks in each game so far; they were about average at ceding them a year ago and return three OL starters.

Key Matchup: Frank Clark versus Can A Defensive End Get Some Help Here? Whether it's coverage or DTs keeping to their lanes, it's time for someone to give Frank Clark the time to get home.

Special Teams

Ute kicker Andy Phillips is excellent, hitting 17 of 20 a year ago despite his field goals being considerably biased towards length. He was 9/11 from outside 40 and hit a 51-yarder.

Junior Tom Hackett is the Ute punter; he averaged an excellent 43 yards a kick last year and is at an unsustainable but impressive 51(!) through ten punts this year. Even more impressively, only one of Hackett's punts has even been returned. That went for one yard. Opponents only returned 19 of Hackett's 76 punts a year ago for an average under 5 yards a kick; the Ute punt team is elite; FEI had them 11th in the country a year ago and they're off to a national-best start this year. After field position was an issue against Notre Dame this veritably looms.

Ute kick returns were towards the bottom nationally a year ago and while Kaelin Clay took one back for a touchdown in the opener, it was against Idaho State. Don't expect that much danger here. However, punt returns were consistently good a year ago and are off to a good start. Michigan is amenable to providing them; hidden yardage might be a big Ute advantage here.




And then:


I hope that ribbon is for Most Demonic Eyes

Cheap Thrills

Worry if...

  • Michigan's OL keep turning around because the guy it turns out they were supposed to block is now way upfield of them.
  • Anderson is hamblasting the secondary.
  • Tempo tempo tempo wait what was I supposed to do?

Cackle with knowing glee if...

  • Funchess plays.
  • Glasgow and Henry are clogging the Utah run game.
  • Clark is making Wilson run around and make decisions.

Fear/Paranoia Level: 5 (Baseline 5; +1 for They Deploy So Quickly It Seems Unsporting, +1 for Look An Actual Team, –1 for Lollipop Guild Front Seven, –1 for Position-Switch Secondary, –1 for Interception Pile, +1 for Oh Right Our Turnover Pile, +1 for Four Point Spread Is Not Much Spread For A Home Game Against A Team That Just Went 5-7, –1 for I Think Everyone Is Overreacting To Notre Dame)

Desperate need to win level: 8 (Baseline 5; +1 for Boy I Don't Want To See The Recrimination Spiral If They Lose This, +1 for Especially If It's Because They Can't Deal With Modern Looking Football, +1 for They Can Still Have A Season In The Terrible Big Ten And I Just Want To Win Some Games, –1 for Lingering Notre Dame Ennui, +1 for Good Things Are Good)

Loss will cause me to... wander streets of Ann Arbor moaning "teeeeempo" at anyone who passes by, fade from vision, become Weird Tempo Ghost Of Ann Arbor.


The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:


This game does not scare me. That is a terrible thing to think because when I think that Michigan inevitably folds in on itself in twelve different ways until they are an intricate origami turd. See: two weeks ago. But I'm looking at a team that just gave up five yards a carry to Idaho State and has a tiny DL and went 3-7 against I-A competition a year ago and throws a bunch of interceptions and I'm just… I know we are all piling on Michigan but this doesn't look like a real threat.

Two things are worries: Dres Anderson and what may be a massive hidden yards advantage. Oh, and a pile of turnovers and delay of game penalties at the worst possible time that make me want to die. Oh and Michigan going into shock on the field when someone snaps the ball with 30 seconds on the play clock. But if you look at the trenches this should be a win on both sides of the ball, and then you're talking about big outliers to get to a Utah win.

I am going to build in tempo stuff and punting stuff into the score prediction because that's going to hurt M; when people are having Queensbury rules faceoffs Michigan will look like the much better team.

I hate thinking like this.

Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:

  • Utah is almost 100 yards to the good from punt exchanges.
  • Derrick Green goes over 100 yards with ease.
  • People complain about Devin Gardner afterwards for dubious reasons.
  • Michigan, 32-25



September 19th, 2014 at 4:14 PM ^

I was also surprised by Brian's overall optimistic take on this one-most predictions go the other way.  Bottom line is like many of us it is hard to get any real take on this team yet so why not be a little optimistic this week.  I do think this is a good test and by end of day Saturday I think we will really know what we have going forward this year. 


September 19th, 2014 at 4:52 PM ^

Yes, it is very optimisitc. 

I sure hope it turns out to be accurate.  I confess I have been dreading this game on this year's schedule for quite a while.  I confess I still feel a lot of anxiety about this game.  I hope that anxiety is misplaced.  But I attended Utah's game against ISU, and confess I was very impressed with Utah's offensive talent (viz. at the skill positions). 

I haven't been sleeping well since.  The ND game hasn't helped, but watching Utah in that first Thurs. night game is what did most of the damage. 


September 20th, 2014 at 12:12 AM ^

and I think for good reason. I just don't feel a win here. I said that before the season, btw. I honestly had them as our first loss before week one (I later picked nd after seeing golson play against Rice in a few threads). So, I'm expecting 2-2 now. I thought we'd start 3-1 so if we can keep it that way with a win I'll be fine. I just don't feel it and I don't know why. Maybe tempo? Maybe our perpetual issue with high tempo teams (even with less talent)? Definitely my not so bold knowing of our running game struggling against a team with a pulse like last year. Hard to win when you're relegated to one aspect of offense.....and our top threat may be out. I'll be there. We'll see.


September 19th, 2014 at 2:54 PM ^

The Michigan offense vs. [Opponent] defense reads a heck of a lot like the ND preview where the front 7 was green and the secondary was starting position-switch guys.....we all know how that went. Michigan also seems to get torched by tempo sometimes (see Indiana 2013)...

OTOH, it's at home. We are infinitely better at home. I still have no clue

Michigan 29
Utah 29

[game called in the 3rd quarter due to lightning]


September 19th, 2014 at 3:05 PM ^

Overreacting to the ND for sure. It's amazing to me that nobody is even giving Michigan a chance. Something about "Blah, blah, blah, struggled against ND, will lose to Utah because I said."

It's Utah. Michigan is at home. Michigan rolls 34-13.


September 19th, 2014 at 3:07 PM ^

Yeah I agree with all the predictions. I feel after people have complained about borges, funk and the oline, etc. They will finally turn towards Devin. Everyone has kinda stayed away from him because of the first few things we had to complain about, but now we have a new OC, somewhat better oline play, now it's up to devin to orchestrate the offense to the next level. If he continues to look average people will jump on him.

For me, I really don't know what I'll do if this team fails against Utah. This is a game we should win with a 4th year coach and a 5th year quarterback at Michigan. I'll probably just crawl into a deep hole if the worst happens.

I believe in this coaching staff and the players. So I think we can win this game. More importantly I want them to win to get some of the heat off the coaches and the players.


September 19th, 2014 at 3:13 PM ^

But I just can't see it. Wilson and Anderson are the real deal. Also, Whittingham and his coaches watch film. 3 step drop and boom.

I think Utah makes a lot of big pass plays like ND and Miami did, and wins this game. Also, turnovers continue to a major problem placing a good UM defense into bad situations and then we're playing from behind.

Utah 38

Michigan 28




September 19th, 2014 at 3:41 PM ^

So they're going to beat us with both 3 step drops AND big pass plays? I guess that's kinda what ND did, but I don't think Utah is nearly as good, despite have a talented WR. I also think that we won't be playing the same coverages that we did verses ND if the Miami game is any indication.

Sent from MGoBlog HD for iPhone & iPad


September 19th, 2014 at 4:06 PM ^

They have one good WR and a decent qb (who threw 16 ints last year). Do the other positions of football play a role in deciding the outcome? perhaps the OL and DL? UM has more than two players I would consider to be the "real deal" at least as defined here. Mattison and Nuss watch film too.


September 19th, 2014 at 5:54 PM ^

Generally, you are a three step drop passing team or you aren't. Every team has such packages, but they're not gonna come out with an ND offense if that isn't your thing.

Of course, they are coming off a bye, sk they might have installed more than most teams would.

I dunno. I'm like Brian. This game doesn't scare me more than any other game. We could still lose, of course, but this one hasn't cost me any sleep.


September 19th, 2014 at 3:11 PM ^

between UM Pass Defense and Utah's Pass Offense, at least to me, is how the UM corner's hold up against the Utah wr's.  I think UM's run defense will hold up fairly well, so how well Utah can move the ball will come down to the success of passing game. 

Peppers has only played against Miami and a bit against Appy St.  Dres Anderson will probably be the best wr UM has seen so far this year.  If Utah is having success getting the ball to Anderson, it could be an interesting game. 


September 19th, 2014 at 4:14 PM ^

Everything is nuanced and full of caveats...including UM's horrors. His is no more nuanced than DG...if you're worried about UM's TOs, you're a UM fan. If you're worried about Utah's TOs you're a Utah fan. Most on here only see UM's TOs...Maybe this is where Wilson stops doing that...maybe this is where DG stops doing that...


DG TD:INT ratio

2012 11:5

2013 21:11

2014: 5:4


September 19th, 2014 at 7:37 PM ^

In my view in almost all of your posts in this thread, where assumptions, caveats and the unknown are concerned you lean towards a positive bias when speaking about Utah and a negative bias when speaking about UM.

Utah may win this game and it is probably reasonably a one score game on paper, but it is also reasonable to think UM plays well at home and solidly beats a Utah team that is playing its first road game against a legit opponent and has fewer returning starters and a new OC...again.

Both teams are flawed and there are a wide range of reasonable outcomes...your posts seem to exaggerate the Utah arguments and denegrate the UM arguments.


September 19th, 2014 at 6:40 PM ^

This is something I forgot to think about.

Utah had 7 sacks for 34 yards. That would put the rushing total at 89 rushes on 33 carries, or 2.70 YPC. This isn't great, obviously, but it is much better than the 1.38 YPC that it looks like.

Additionally, they had a play that went -26 yards on a fumble, and while I haven't seen it, that will skew the numbers as well. Without that, 115 yards on 32 carries, or 3.59 YPC. That meshes a lot more with what Brian is thinking about the defense, and what we saw happen with the ISU game.


September 19th, 2014 at 3:21 PM ^

I'm kind of surprised this one was a desperate need to win level 8. I guess we're saving like desperate need to win level 20 for the MSU game.

I'm looking froward to hanging out with my buddy at the game tomorrow who was generous to give me a ticket. I really hope the weather is nicer than that prediction but at least it can't turn into Northwestern '08 since those temps are above 70.

I'm still going with my low scoring prediction because I want that t-shirt.

/any win will do really.


September 19th, 2014 at 3:34 PM ^


he threw six(!) in a loss to UCLA and was on a streak of five straight games having thrown a pick when he was relegated to the bench for the tail end of last season


He wasn't benched for his play--he suffered a concussion against Arizona St., and during the evaluation for the concussion they did an angiogram "which showed what appears to be a previous injury to an intracranial artery."

At the time there was concern that it might be career-ending, but follow-up scans over the next few months showed that the injury wasn't as bad as was thought and the situation was stable, so he was finally cleared to play again this summer.



September 19th, 2014 at 3:46 PM ^

A 70% chance of rain? Damn. Of course, it's been picture fucking perfect weather all week long...

Anyway...who knows. This may favor the run game, and I'd say our guys would benefit the most, if the rain truly amounts to anything substantial and not just an annoying piss drizzle for 3 hours.


September 19th, 2014 at 3:48 PM ^

I think you're overrating the problems in their front 7.  ND had a bit of a rag-tag group too, around a couple of stars, and they shut out Michigan.

Utah has had good defenses year in and year out.  They might not be at their Alabama-defeating pinnacle, but the Ute's defense is never bad. The scheme mitigates the size issues. So does their coaching. Their star DE is going against true freshman. We are not just going to plow through or pass over these guys and we have not done well against relentless blitzing.

The 5-7 thing is not worth mentioning. The went 4-2 with Wilson, 1-5 without him - and they lost a lot of close games against good teams.  By FEI - they were better than Michigan last year, despite Wilson missing half the year.  They beat Stanford and lost to UCLA by one score when Wilson threw those 6 picks. 

He hasn't throw any this year, and so if you're going to say Michigan can now run, you might just as well say Utah/Wilson are past their turnover issues, because both are dependant on looking at how they did against terrible teams. Michigan's run game against ND was not good.  Are we sure that was just 'a bad day' and that the problems from last year are behind us?

Utah might be a top 25 team, hiding underneath an 5-7 record that would have been more like 8-4 with Wilson healthy.  With Gardner hurt, we'd have been 5-7 too.

This line has gone from 7 to 3 in the last few days because, on paper, Utah is the better team.  Hopefully home field and an improved run game are enough to offset all the stuff I mentioned above.  But no one should be shocked if Utah wins.

Danny Bonaduce

September 19th, 2014 at 4:38 PM ^

I'm pretty sure he was responding to you saying Utah has a better team on paper.  When one says "a better team on paper", they typically are referring to talent. 

I apologize in advance if that is not what you meant but I don't know what else that could possibly mean.