A coaching change can only do so much.
Michigan flashed their potential to turn the corner. De'Veon Smith had some punishing runs. Jake Butt couldn't be covered. Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson consistently got open. The alignment of Chris Wormley and Willie Henry looked like a stroke of genius at times. Jourdan Lewis locked down one side of the field. After an up-and-down first half, Jabrill Peppers looked like a five-star talent in the second. Blake O'Neill had that punt.
But the mistakes were numerous. Jake Rudock's first interception looked to be the fault of freshman slot receiver Grant Perry, who hitched when Rudock expected him to cut outside. The next two Rudock picks, both thrown in Perry's direction, looked to be the fault of the quarterback; the third proved especially costly when Utah's Justin Thomas jumped a throw to the flat and took it back 55 yards for a score, giving the Utes a late 24-10 lead. Rudock also missed a few open deep throws that could've changed the outcome of the game; he finished with an underwhelming 279 yards on 43 attempts and didn't tally his second touchdown until desperation time.
The errors weren't limited to Rudock. Michigan's second cornerback spot is far from settled; neither Channing Stribling nor Jeremy Clark stood out there. Joe Bolden missed a handful of tackles on slippery Utah running back Devontae Booker. The offensive line got manhandled in the run game, losing leverage and missing assignments. Smith offset many of his broken tackles by failing to hit the correct hole. Kenny Allen pushed a 44-yard field goal wide right, after which Jim Harbaugh could clearly be seen muttering "I should've gone for that."
There were flashes, chief among them Peppers' second-half TFLs and Jake Butt's spectacular third-quarter touchdown catch to briefly pull Michigan within seven.
But on the road against a decent team, Michigan simply made too many mistakes, big and small, to expect to come away with a victory. They'll be better than they looked tonight, there's little doubt of that. There'll also be rough patches. Home games against lesser teams lie ahead until BYU comes to the Big House, by which time the Wolverines should look more impressive.
At least there was Harbaugh, a sensible gameplan, and a solid outing from the defense. That's something to build on. If this turns out to be an anomalous performance from Rudock, this squad still could be very good. After all the offseason excitement, it's painful to wait through the development process, but even tonight it wasn't hard to see that the process is underway. It just might take a little longer than we had hoped.