Preview: 2014 Utah

Submitted by Brian on 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
THE LINE M –4
TELEVISION ABC
TICKETS From 23 bucks for a real game? Wow.
WEATHER Muggy, high 70s
70% chance of rain
light winds

Overview

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

1379289[1]

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

1336548

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.

Ace:

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.

Key Matchup: YOU PUT THE BALL THROUGH THE UPRIGHTS

Intangibles

blog10158widea[1]

And then:

desi_win_12_1[1]

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.

Win will cause me to... WE'RE GONNA WIN THIS CRAP CONFERENCE AS LONG AS MICHIGAN STATE IS ABDUCTED BY ALIENS MIDSEASON

The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:

Crap.

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

Comments

UMaD

September 19th, 2014 at 5:33 PM ^

I don't think anyone can rationally make the "we have superior talent so we will win" argument with Michigan, given the last few years. 

When I say on paper, I mean the quality of play we've seen this year and last year.  For example, we have more talent/recruiting stars on our OL, but theirs is better "on paper" because they've consistenly been able to run and nobody has shut them down like Michigan repeatedly has been....  We'll see if they play that way.

Reader71

September 19th, 2014 at 6:26 PM ^

I don't think you can just appropriate commonplace phrases and change their meanings how you see fit. "On paper" means a certain thing to most everyone, and its not the thing you're claiming.

BlueKoj

September 19th, 2014 at 7:07 PM ^

On the road the Utes averaged just below 3.3 YPC in their past 5 road games. They didn't have MSU/NE type debacles, but they weren't a strong running team on the road, and were not consistent except at being below average.

JonSnow54

September 19th, 2014 at 4:12 PM ^

You can make the same argument about us - Michigan went 7-5 last year with a lot of close losses against good teams.  Most would agree that Michigan was not a good team just because of some moral victories, yet you seem eager to use the same reasoning to give Utah the benefit of the doubt everywhere.  What's the difference?  Natural Michigan pessimism?  

Danny Bonaduce

September 19th, 2014 at 4:21 PM ^

This year, definitely, last year...I don't know.  Both conferences had 2 very good teams (MSU and OSU for B1G and Stanford and Oregon for Pac-12) but I'd say slight edge to Big Ten there.  Next tier for Big Ten was Wisconsin, Nebraska and Iowa.  For Pac-12 it was UCLA, Arizona State and USC. Slight edge to the Pac -12 there.  Both conferences had two absolutely awful teams (B1G had Purdue and Illinois, Pac-12 had Colorado and Cal).  The two conferences were very even last year, in my opinion.

alum96

September 19th, 2014 at 5:09 PM ^

Can;t judge everything by head to head but ASU v Wisconsin and UCLA v Nebraska were the 2 high profile matchups I can remember from last year.  The Big 10 was a 3 team conference last year - Wisconsin being #3, they went to ASU who was probably #4 or #5 and played them even.

Meanwhile UCLA who was #3 or #4 in the Pac 12 came to Nebraska and made them look pathetic...with Taylor Martinez playing for Neb.W

Washington came across the country and beat Illinois last year... Washington maybe was team #7 in the Pac 12.  Illinois wasnt great but they were not much different than PSU or UM last year who were 7th and 8th place in the conference.

USC was down last year but Oregon, Stanford, ASU, and UCLA were akin to our MSU, OSU and Wisconsin.   The Big 10 dropped off sharply after those 3 teams  The Pac 12 also fell off but I would argue held up a little better at teams #4 thru #8.

Utah  beat Stanford, lost by 1 to ASU and lost by 7 to UCLA last year.  UM  likewise played OSU close and Nebraska close at home.   So somewahat similar except Utah found a way to beat a much more talented team - something UM has not done since maybe VATech.

alum96

September 19th, 2014 at 5:37 PM ^

A counter to the nitpick.  They were terrible last year, I dont think UM was much better nor PSU.  We were a rousing 3-5 in Big 10 play with an 8th place finish.

Illinois played Wisconsin, UM avoided them.  Wisconsin was the 3rd best team in the conf.

Illinois lost 24-17 to PSU in OT @ PSU... essentially same result as UM

Illinois beat Northwestern by 3.... not any different than the rousing NW-UM game.

Main different was getting crushed by OSU and Nebraska whereas we were competitive in those games.

Not saying  UM and PSU were not better but honestly based on how UM was playing in the last 5 games or so, the gulf was not that wide.

 

Mr Miggle

September 19th, 2014 at 7:24 PM ^

They did not beat NW, they lost by 3. They also lost by 17 to Indiana. Their only conference win was 20-16 over a truly terrible Purdue squad. They lost four games by 20 points or more plus one by 17. We only lost one game by more than 4 points. As bad as our season was, the gulf between the teams was vast.

Yeoman

September 19th, 2014 at 7:24 PM ^

First the straight-up comparisons:

  • Illinois lost to Indiana by 17; Michigan beat Indiana by 16.
  • Illinois lost to MSU by 39; Michigan lost to MSU by 23.
  • Illinois lost to Nebraska by 20; Michigan lost to Nebraska by 4.
  • Illinois lost to Northwestern by 3; Michigan beat Northwestern by 8.
  • Illinois lost to OSU by 25; Michigan lost to OSU by 1.
  • Illinois lost to PSU by 7; Michigan lost to PSU by 3 (both were OT games).

There's not a single comparison that Michigan doesn't win (one admittedly by the slimmest of margins). The four games you don't mention see Michigan an average of 22 points/game better; one of the games you mention as a wash you had Illinois winning but they lost. PSU really was a wash, as you state.

And four of those Michigan games where they clearly win the comparison were in that five-game stretch when you claim they were especially bad--it's not like we're picking out Michigan's best performances here.

In their other two conference games Illinois:

  • lost to Wisconsin by 24.
  • beat Purdue 20-16. In Purdue's other seven conference games they were either shut out or they lost by at least three touchdowns.

That's a big gap. Massey had Michigan 12 points better than Illinois and PSU 10 points better. That's as big as the difference between 12-2 OSU and 7-6 Michigan, or between MSU and Iowa.

We're talking about a team that had a 20-game conference losing streak, only broken by a 4-point win over the worst B1G team in the last 25 years. That's not where Michigan is or was. Or Penn State.

Yeoman

September 19th, 2014 at 4:27 PM ^

UT: 5, 7, 9, 15, 20, 27, 31, 37, 39, 45, 80, 307

MI: 4, 18, 29, 33, 36, 47, 48, 64, 67, 119, 131, 141

No comparison. Utah had the weaker cupcake and the best team on the schedule's a wash (Michigan St. vs. Oregon) but otherwise Utah's was significantly better across the board. There's almost two games of difference over a season there just in the schedules alone (compare each Michigan opponent to the Utah opponent two games down and you'll see what I mean).

BlueKoj

September 20th, 2014 at 10:58 AM ^

The non-QB running stats vs. like opponents are significantly better. If you think the OL/RB play hasn't looked better then you lose credibility for not being able to observe and evaluate, and puts you in a gross minority. TFLs are down. Could this all be a mirage? Yes, but there certainly are 3 games worth of evidence.

The DL is better as well. TFLs are up, and there is a decent amount of pressure that hasn't gotten home in the stat sheet, but is there. The run D is up as well.

Hollowell and Countess were killed by ND, but Peppers and Hill instantly make the DBs a better group. Add a year to Wilson, Thomas, Strib and Lewis and it is reasonable to expect improvement. I've observed it in Lewis already. I think the coaches will put Blake in better spots and when Taylor comes back I like the DBs more based on their play and the reasonable expectations that experience and depth should help improvement.

JMFR and Bolden are better versions of themselves than last year. We surely know Jake is healthier.

Richard75

September 20th, 2014 at 12:45 PM ^

Mich is worse so far in defensive TFLs, both in average (4.3 now, 5.4 in 2013) and ranking (100th now, 90th in 2013).

Mich is just a total mystery right now. In some respects, the numbers contradict the eye test (e.g., ND's total yardage figure); in others, it's vice versa (Frank Clark). We'll know much more by 7 p.m. today.

Yeoman

September 20th, 2014 at 1:07 PM ^

If you play teams that run a passing offense designed to run a 3-step drop you aren't going to get a lot of TFLs. ND and Miami run the same offense. It doesn't matter how superior you are or how well your defense is playing--Miami didn't move the ball a lick but they managed to throw the incompletion before the rush got home.

UMaD

September 20th, 2014 at 1:01 PM ^

I do think the run-blocking from the OL looks better. They look more cohesive and consistent. There is reason to be optimistic that improvement will continue and by the end of the year we could be productive consistently if all goes well.

But that's a subjective opinion and not really backed up by improved production. The bottom line here is that the run game is still not very good - as evidenced by the performance against ND. Are TFLs actually down? I have not seen this stat for this year's 3 games vs last years.

The run-blocking improvement is offset by pass-blocking being worse. I believe there were 3 sacks through the first 3 games last year and this year, against inferior competition there have been 5. It looked to me that Gardner saw a lot of heat against ND. 

The DL should be better, as should the D as a whole. But, again, we haven't seen it manifest in production. We played better than the score indicates, but ND moved the ball at will. Jake Ryan is healthier, but his play at MLB is in question.

You think the coaches will do a better job, which is fine. But again, there is no evidence to support your optimistic feelings.

Michigan beat up on terrible teams last year and they did it this year. They beat ND last year and lost to them (badly) this year.  These are facts, not feelings.

Anyway, my point is not to critique Michigan as much as recognize that Utah is a good team that could be a legitimately top 25 outfit. They might be better than MSU, for example, who everyone is building up as a juggernaut these days. They have a couple common opponents in Stanford and Oregon and had similar results (though Utah was without Wilson against Oregon). Utah was a better team than their record indicated - close loses and Wilson's injury and FEI rank.

Everyone dissed them in 2008, but they ended up one of the best teams in the country. That was a long time ago, but the story could be the same.Utah is a legitimate program. I'm not going to bother going through FEI ranks for every season, but I'm guessing that Utah has had a better aggregate rank than Michigan over the last 4 or 5 years. They play in a better conference and they go head to head with very good teams just like Michigan does. The difference is that they haven't been totally embarrased the way Michigan has in the last year with the lopsided losses and offensive ineptitude we've shown.

I believe the recent history makes a compelling case that Utah is better. I refer to that as "on paper" but apparently that's misleading, so I'll just say that Utah has been the more impressive program in 2013 and early 2014. Based on that information I think they win.  Michigan's argument is homefield and talent, but I've seen again and again that that is not enough and I don't need to list all the example hopefully to justify that view.

BlueKoj

September 20th, 2014 at 3:31 PM ^

I agree Utah is good, but I think you think they're better than I do. Also, the RB production after three games is much higher than it was after three games last year. It is a significant improvement in stats. That with the "eye-test" leads me to believe it'll continue to be better than last year.

Irrespective of the whole thread...we're about to find out.

GO BLUE!

alum96

September 19th, 2014 at 5:43 PM ^

You can argue last year but this year its apples to oranges.

Utah has played the equivalent of Miami OH and App State.  If UM had a bye week instead of ND and played only Miami OH and App State it would be akin to what Utah has played in 2014.  Based on our 2 games against those 2 bad teams and their 2 games against those 2 bad teams they look slighhtly better mostly based on the 2nd quarter of Miami OH.  But its not a world of difference. 

Anyhow this doesnt matter - it will be seen on the field one way or the other.  Both teams have MASSIVE questions - one has played no one, the other one when it played someone was waltzed off the field (no matter what the stats said).

UMaD

September 20th, 2014 at 9:32 AM ^

Michigan DID NOT have a bye week, and there is zero reason to think Utah would have done as poorly as M did against ND.

I agree that we have little to go off in this season, which is why I'm choosing to pay attention to last year -- when Utah looked like the better team.

JonSnow54

September 19th, 2014 at 4:40 PM ^

Yeah, that is a very valid part of your post, which is why I did not critique that line in my response.

I mainly responded to highlight your negative slant towards Michigan.  I typically enjoy your posts and find them very knowledgable, however they often lean towards being anti-Michigan, and it almost seems like you enjoy being negative about Michigan.  

UMaD

September 19th, 2014 at 5:43 PM ^

In general, I prefer to think of myself as being logical rather than pessimistic.  In this case though, given the vegas odds favor Michigan, I acknowledge I am genuinely pessimistic here.

I think the Vegas line is a mistake, and that's why it got hammered so hard (from 7 down to 3). I'm not sure it shouldn't be hammered further.

We have very little info on this year's Utah team, and only 1 meaningful game to glean insights from for Michigan.  That one game is very negative for Michigan.  I agree with Brian that the ND outcome is not as bad as the score indicates...but it's still pretty bad.

Take away the brand names and Utah is the better team.  Have been overall since 2007. Were last year, and (I think) are again this year.  Vegas (now) says it's a 3 point game, which means they view it as a neutral field toss up.  Is it because they think the teams are equal or that they don't know?

If you go off last year - Utah is better.  Has the situation changed?  Maybe, but we don't have any real good reason to think it has changed to our advantage.

Here are the pro-M arguments I've heard of why M is better than U:

-Talent, which is not remotely convincing

-Our run game is good now, which ignores ND shutting it down.

-Their D is patchwork, which is the same I heard for ND this year, MSU in previous years, etc.

-Their O improvement is a mirage because of opponent, which - why wouldn't you apply that to our O as well?

 

BlueKoj

September 19th, 2014 at 8:10 PM ^

- 2007 has no relevance to this game. 2011 and 2012 UM was significantly better. Last year is debatable (FEI is not the only indicator).

- Talent: By every objective measure UM has more. Even with the crater left by attrition UM has had more NFL draft picks, recruiting rankings in macro analysis are a good indicator, and UM will have the best athletes on the field tomorrow

- The run game is improved and that was clear even in South Bend. I think you agree with this, but choose to state otherwise for your argument.

- The D is patchwork. Comparing Utah talent to ND talent is a mistake and comparing Utah D to MSU D regardless of pre-game statements by Brian is ridiculous

- Their O may be improved, but it doesn't just erase the history of TOs by Wilson...it is an unbroken and extended pattern throughout his career irrespective of age and injury.

EDIT: I'll add one -- this is a home game. UM is a different team at home, and Utah is a different team on the road. I think in both cases it is more than the Vegas norm of 3 points. The line change is due to a massive reputation hit by UM and the B1G in general.

UMaD

September 20th, 2014 at 9:26 AM ^

The point about 2007 was to say that Utah is a good program and has been for a while. It speaks to the quality of coaching.

Michigan has more talent than most of the teams it loses to. It has more talent than MSU.

The run game was not improved against ND.  They dropped from 4.3 ypc last year to 2.9 ypc this year. Smith and Green combined to go 20 for 55, worse than 22 for 70 last year from Fitz and Green. The fact you just said this tells me you're seeing what you want to see. We ran easily on CMU for over 240 yards last year against CMU.

Regarding patchwork D - I wasn't comparing talent, I was comparing the arguments made by Mgoblog and others.

I agree that Wilson's TO problems can't be erased...neither can our offense's ineptitude. If you're going to ignore one, ignore the other.

"M is a different team at home".  The last game I went to was Nebraska, so you'll have to excuse me for not buying into the home field magic.

"The line change is due to reputation hit" - the reputations changed after Monday? No. The line change is due to professional gamblers absolutely slamming the Utah side with money. You don't see 4 point changes that often without some sort of significant news.

BlueKoj

September 20th, 2014 at 10:53 AM ^

I do think there are UM fans that think the Utes don't have a good program. They're wrong. They've been good since 2003, and were able to continue to be good even after Meyer left. So, Utah isn't an MWC doormat, and UM isn't the powerhouse it has been in the receding past.

M is different at home. Your last in-stadium experience just happened to be their first loss under Hoke. It doesn't mean there isn't a very solid trend of playing better at home...nor does it erase the trend that Utah (and all college teams) struggle more on the road. It's not magic but it certainly is a good indicator about how these teams might play.

You seem to use general trends when they suit you, but like to throw out single game outliers to refute those trends that don't.

UM has more returning starters -- this is generally good. UM recruits better -- this is generally good. UM is at home -- this is generally good. Utah is on the road -- this is generally bad. Utah has moved players between units and between positions in the off-season and even between spring and fall camps -- this is generally bad. Utah is playing its first road game and is playing its first legit opponent -- this is a challenge.

Brian and few MGoBloggers are using their arguments as guarantees, but it doesn't mean they're not reasonably good indicators of future success.

You've made a great argument not to take Utah lightly. You've also continued to point out the weaknesses of the UM team -- we all are painfully aware of those. It seems like you're implying even more than just Utah is a team not to be taken lightly. You seem to think it is unlikely that UM will win and UM will continue to show their warts today.

UMaD

September 20th, 2014 at 1:16 PM ^

This is the only reason M is favored. If your argument is that the homefield advantage is bigger than normal (first time I've heard this argued for Michigan Stadium - which is flat out not an intimidating place to play) than you are saying it is more than the standard 3 points...in which case Vegas is saying that Utah is better on a neutral field - which I agree with and is exactly my argument.

"You seem to use general trends when they suit you, but like to throw out single game outliers to refute those trends that don't."

Well - yes. I think that's the intelligent thing to do, and consistent with the scientific method, quanitative analyis, and logic. f you're accusing me of cherry-picking data, I disagree. Are you referring to something specific?

More returning starters?  Now you're getting somewhere. Best argument yet!  I have no counter for that other than you've thrown a few stats out there that aren't true, so I'm slightly skeptical - but you're probably right.

Again, I am not guying to buy the recruiting/talent argument. That was true in 2008 too. It was true against KSU. It was true against NW, UConn, Akron and all our other narrow losses. Utah consistently outperforms against their talent, Michigan consistently underperforms relative to theirs. It was the case last year, it was the case against ND.

I don't think Brian made any guarantees. I do think he is exhibiting a bit of wishful thinking here and that he's prone to overrating the personnel deficiencies on good teams (e.g., ND, MSU).

I do think it is unlikely that Michigan wins. I acknowledge there is a great deal of uncertainty here, but just as Brian looks at the personnel on Utah's D and looks optimistically at the Miami/App State games as meaningful evidence that we are better to conclude that M is about 7 points better in this matchup than Vegas says, I go the other way in the same magnitude.

I think Michigan fans are overrating the home field effect. Utah has won here before. If it was a noon game I'd feel better about Utah being tired. As is, it's a 1:30 pm local game for them, so no biggie.  And SLC/DTW isnt that much longer in travel time than a lot of conference games.

Yeoman

September 20th, 2014 at 1:26 PM ^

Whether you want to look at it as a home-field advantage or a road-game disadvantage, the home-road disparity in Michigan's performances is the biggest in the B1G. There have been multiple threads on the board the past couple of weeks discussing this; you can go to Massey for confirmation.

Also of note at Massey is that Utah's home-road disparity is the biggest in the entire FBS.

Reader71

September 19th, 2014 at 6:30 PM ^

That's totally understandable. Just know that you are exactly who Brian was talking about when he mentioned people overreacting to ND.

Also, Michigan lost to ND. Not believing in Michigan is fine. But Utah didn't beat ND 31-0. No need to build them up. They might be a fine team, but there's not a lot of evidence to support you, and I don't think 5-7 is not worth mentioning.

UMaD

September 20th, 2014 at 9:16 AM ^

There's overreacting (Fire Hoke, "This is a gamechanger") and then there's burying your head in the sand (just a bad day, look at our rushing stats!).

I don't think I'm building up a team that was better than Michigan last year and so far looks better than MIchigan.

2-0 vs cupcakes is better than 2-0 plus cupcakes and 0-1 vs real teams.  That's not overreacting, that's reality.

Reader71

September 20th, 2014 at 12:58 PM ^

Utah was not a good team last year. Utah won 1 road game last year.

Michigan has its own problems, and like I said, not believing in them is fine. But Utah does not deserve this respect until they beat someone. They might do it today, but there is no reason to fear them more than any other middling team.

UMaD

September 20th, 2014 at 1:27 PM ^

They were 1-0 with Wilson (beating BYU) and 0-4 without him.

Their outcomes, in aggregate, were better than Michigans, as reflected in FEI.  They did that, despite losing their QB for more than half the year. With him, they beat Stanford, which is far more impressive than anything Michigan did.  Imagine Michigan without Gardner against Indiana and Northwestern....

You can read a ton into the record or you can recognize that other measures (like point differential and opponent strength and yardage differential) are better indicators (see 2011 Michigan).

It's not really about not believeing in Michigan as much as it's about recognizing that Utah is good. As I've argued in other comments, they may be better than MSU. Take away the brand names and local bias and it's a very reasonable question.

Utah should be feared in the same way as teams like Nebraska and USC. They had nearly identical outcomes against Fresno State.  Those team have issues, but you'd still give them a healthy dose of respect. Utah seems to be getting the "middling" type respect here - more like  a Indiana/Northwestern level of respect.  They seem a heck of a lot better than that to me.

 

 

Reader71

September 20th, 2014 at 2:51 PM ^

I get your point, everyone does. You don't have to keep repeating it. Utah was better than Michigan last year. OK, I'll grant that.

Michigan gets no respect. Nor should they. But Utah was 7 spots higher in FEI and 5-7 last year. There are no useful data points this year. Why are they getting respect?

That'sthe issue. We sucked last year, they sucked marginally less. Now you're telling me they are better than MSU. Big leap there.

Either that leap is justified or its not. If not, then its just you projecting your fears for Michigan onto them. If it is justified, then I don't really see a reason for M not to make a similar jump, particularly because I've watched every snap and see improvement in all aspects of the game.

Danny Bonaduce

September 19th, 2014 at 3:48 PM ^

I completely agree with this preview.  Utah will probably score on a few deep pass plays but I don't see them being able to consistently move the ball on Michigan.  Don't get me wrong, Michigan is by no means a great team but Utah is not near as good as a few posters here would suggest.  I would compare them to Rutgers.  This game is a toss up if it is in Utah; in Ann Arbor, not so much.

UM - 27

Utah  - 16

Danny Bonaduce

September 19th, 2014 at 4:09 PM ^

Lol, yeah that would be a pretty solid team.  When I said I would compare then to Rutgers I just meant overall talent level, certainly not style of play because the two are nothing alike.  I am definitely worried about the game at Rutgers and I would be much more worried about this game if it were also on the road.