2015 Utah Football Preview

Submitted by alum96 on August 7th, 2015 at 1:13 PM

Disclaimer:  My previews of Big 10 teams are based on viewing of 2014 games of said teams plus extensive reading of local and national previews of that team.  I might be wrong in my assessment any one team or any specific unit of that team.  But that's clearly doubtful. (!!)  No, on a serious note I enjoy people who comment who live locally to these teams or is an opposing fan - helps us get a better perspective so if you are one feel free to add to the discussion. 

I also write this with the assumption Jake Rudock is the starting QB as the matrix of possibilities is too great trying to predict things with Shane Morris as a start.

Earlier previews:  BYU, Oregon State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Penn State, Maryland

TL;DR

Utah is a poor man's version of Tressel's Ohio State - focus on defense, special teams, good field position, low turnovers, and a relatively boring offense to beat you into submission.  Obviously the Utes don't get OSU calibar players and the transition from the Mountain West to the Pac 12 required a bigger, faster breed of player.... which is now filtering through the upperclassmen ranks.  I am a big fan of head coach Kyle Whittingham and was advocating for him (with the right OC coming along with him) over 1 hit wonders like Dan Mullen as a non Harbaugh plan B for Michigan.  Utah teams take low ranked recruiting classes and develop well coached players year after year even if the talent pool they draw from is not so great.  Watching a bunch of 3 stars physically own and execute around our cadre of 4 stars was a theme of the late Hoke era, last year in particular with Minnesota and Utah.  He is a younger, less scowly version of Dantonio/ Kill.  I think Nebraska picked the wrong Pac 12 coach in their coaching search - could have had a 20 year solution in Whittingham.

With that said, the Utes won't have an easy time of it this year; they play in what I consider the 2nd best division in college football (Pac 12 South). 

Life in the Pac-12 South ain’t easy: All but one team finished last season ranked in the Top 25.

A loaded UCLA (stacked everywhere but QB), a USC program with 1 of the best QBs in the nation very few east of the Mississippi seem to notice, in year 2 of a coach transition (often when teams take a big jump), and about at the stage the recruiting penalties begin to wear off, an Arizona State team with another top level coach (if not great person) who could be a darkhorse playoff team, and our good friend Rich Rod at Arizona who returns a stellar young QB, and phenom (Scooby!) on defense.  Many publications are picking a very good Utah team (which would contend for the Big 10 West this year) as a 5th place team in the South.  This division was brutal last year and could be even more so this year as each team ruins each other's chances to get a playoff berth.

To that end, Utah's over / under for wins is just 7.5 (identical to UM) but this is part and parcel with a loaded division (UCLA = 9.5, USC = 8.5, ASU = 7.5, AZ = 7.0).  Someone has to win and someone has to lose all these head to head matchups of 5 very closely matched teams.  Even lowly Colorado who skirts the bottom of this division now has an offense that will upset an opponent or two in the Pac 12 IMO.

Utah only returns ~11 starters (6 offense, 5 defense) and lost some star power in DE Nate Orchard.  Some high level WR production also was lost as well as a lot of experience out of the secondary.   A recent suspension of a 2015 starting corner also will hurt.  The coaching staff had a lot of turmoil this offseason as the apparently very disliked OC (who was there all of 1 year) moved off to the SEC and the very well liked DC shocked many by going to a Pac 12 rival. 

While game 1 will be tough on Michigan as a lot of new players, new systems, new coaches are implemented it is actually probably an advantageous time to play Utah as they will be breaking in a lot of new faces as well.

(a meme I am sure Utah fans are sick of)

Image result for yutes my cousin vinny

 

Last year

Again Utah was built very much in a Tressel mode - much like Stanford they are an outlier in a conference full of high flying passing attacks.   Their offense was ranked 66th by S&P+ and 69th by FEI. while the defense was 38th ranked by S&P+ but 13th by FEI.  Considering the competency of Pac 12 QBs I will give any Pac 12 defenses more leeway - ironically Utah's main defense weakness was in the rush vs spread teams, not pass defense.

As we use the NCAA's stats Utah's benign offense shows up again (ranked 76th) while the defense looks less stellar (58th) but again you have to adjust for conference and SOS.  The 9th best Pac 12 QB would be the 3rd best (if you combine all OSU QBs as one) in the Big 10.

What did Utah excel at?  Any number of things:

  • #1 in the nation in sacks at 4.2 per game.  That's 55 for you counting at home.
  • #6 in tackles for loss at 8 per game.
  • #9 in punt returns
  • #3 in net punting

Again - Tressel ball.  Be strong on defense, be strong on special teams, don't give good field position and let your boring offense win some games.   Nate Orchard led the nation in sacks with an astounding 18.  His teammates Hunter Dimick was not far behind.   Just for kicks I looked up Orchard's recruiting profile - he was a 3 star and the 60th ranked WR in his class.  So that's player evaluation and coaching.  The Browns took him in the 2nd round last year (sorry Nate).   Likewise Dimick was 247's 1400th ranked player.   You get the idea of what Utah's staff needs to do to develop good teams.  Anyhow, I digress.

The Utes ranked second in the Pac-12 in total defense, allowing 393.5 yards per game.    Utah also finished fourth in scoring defense, allowing 24.9 points per game led by the strength of the pass defense that finished second in the conference.

 

Image result for nate orchard

 

On the flip side, Utah struggled at quite a few things - mostly offensive things.   Passing offense was 93rd, sacks allowed was 85th, tackles for loss allowed was 121st.  Strangely FootballOutsider's still ranked Utah's OL 42nd - they seem to do decent when not giving up big losses? 

In terms of schedule Utah began the season facing 2 really bad teams 3 really bad teams in Idaho State, Fresno State, and Michigan.   They won all 3 comfortably.  Then they fell over losing to a not so good Washington State at home.  Must have been the Michigan win hangover.  Impressive wins over USC and UCLA sandwiched around another strange win vs not so good Oregon State led to a team with a lot of momentum heading to a massive showdown with Arizona State.  Utah lost that one in OT 19-16 in a heartbreaker (I watched that game, two real good teams).  That seemed to take the wind out of the sails as did a mid season loss of WR Dres Anderson to injury - two blowout losses to Oregon and Arizona followed, offset by close wins vs a meh Stanford and bad Colorado.   Utah beat Colorado State handily in the bowl to finish 9-4 (5-4).   A nice season after a few struggles in the first few years of Pac 12 play.

Utah was led on offense by relatively meh QB Travis Wilson.  To Big 10 fans he looks like a very good QB but that is because Big 10 QBs were mostly awful last year (and for many years before).  

In his first three seasons, the 6-foot-7 quarterback never ranked above eighth in the conference in pass rating.

He threw for only 2170 yards, while completing a solid 60% of his passes at a decent 6.9 clip.  Part of that is this is Utah's offense, not the typical Pac 12 run and gun.    His big improvement last year was dropping his INTs from 16 to only 5 - that had been a big issue in prior years.   Backup Kendal Thompson came in for a lot of games in the 1st half of the year but was injured so it was Wilson or bust the rest of the way.

Utah had the worst passing offense in the Pac-12 last year with an average of 197.7 yards per game which resulted in Travis Wilson being replaced by Kendal Thompson twice during the regular season before he was lost with a knee injury.

When Michigan played Utah last year, junior college transfer RB Devontae Booker had yet to establish himself.   Bubba Poole was doing most of the damage.  Starting in game 4, Booker wrested the job and ran for 100+ in 7 of the remaining 10 games.  5 of those efforts went for at least 142 yards and Booker finished with a very nice 5.2 yards per carry.

Dres Anderson was set to be the feature WR in last year's Utah offense - as much as you can feature a WR in this conservative brand of football.  But he fell to injury mid season and guys like Kaelin Clay and Kenneth Scott had 500 yardish season.  TE Westlee Tonga came out of nowhere to record 30 catches and nearly 400 yards.

The defense was the defense - solid, tough, well coached with some dynamic playmakers on the defensive line and Eric Rowe patrolling the secondary. 

“Hold on to your ass and get the ball out quick,” one Pac-12 offensive coordinator said of his approach to handling Utah’s pressure-packed defensive attack.

Sophomore Andy Philips had a solid year with a 82% clip at FGs made.   He has a big leg with 10/13 in 40-49 yd range and 2/2 in 50+.  Australian punter Tom Hackett averaged 46.7 yards, and 36 of his 80 punts went inside the 20-yard line.  Stellar mate!

Image result for kyle whittingham

 

This year

Utah lost a good amount of players and the schedule remains tough.  Getting to 9 wins again this year would be a major accomplishment.   The season opens with Michigan and then a decent Utah State team is followed by a not decent Fresno State.   With only 6 teams in each division and the Pac 12 going to a 9 game conference schedule North and South teams play each other a lot.  3 of the 4 Pac 12 crossovers are manageable in Cal, Washington, and Oregon State; Oregon is the 4th.   Then there are 5 division games of which only Colorado would Utah clearly be favored over.    

One could see wins vs Fresno State, Utah State, Colorado, Oregon State and a loss to Oregon.  (4-1)  That leaves 7 games where Utah and the opponent are quite similar... Cal is the worst of that bunch but has an awesome QB in Jared Goff - they just need to find a defense.  The 7.5 over/under makes a lot of sense in that framework.

Playing Utah is a long day of getting slugged, trying to win field position, and more slugging.  If you have a spread option (hi Brian!) they are a lot more easy to score on.  We don't.

Overall, Utah was stout against the run, allowing just 3.8 ypc (No. 31). But vs. the spread option? Against Arizona: 298 rush yards allowed, even with QB Anu Solomon lost to injury at halftime. At Arizona State: 239. Against Oregon: 269. No other team cracked the 200- yard rush mark against the Utes all season.

 

Utah Offense

Utah has had a revolving door at OC for years on end.  Based on some comments from Utah fans there was a lot of disarray inside the locker room on the offensive side and the OC leaving was a positive despite his ability to get Wilson's INT total to drop significantly. As I looked at Wilson's stats I could not help but notice they look like someone Michigan fans will be familiar with.

Cmpl Att Yds Cmpl % Yds/A TD INT Rating
190 313 2170 60.7 6.93 18 5 134.7
213 345 2436 61.7 7.06 16 5 133.5

If you are playing at home...top guy = Wilson, bottom guy = Rudock.  So you get the idea of what Wilson is.  A game manager type who won't carry a team on his back but is fine for a low risk, run based offense.  That said, much like Michigan fans w/ Rudock - you hope he improves in his 3rd year as a primary QB.

Booker should be the feature back with a stat like this:

His 815 rushing yards after contact last year was 196 more than that of any other Pac-12 player.

/deep sigh

/must be nice

There are some questions at WR as leading receiver Kaelin Clay departed as did Dres Anderson (whose season was cut short).  The TE (Tonga) who came out of nowhere to record 30 catches last year also departed.  So Kenneth Scott who is a possession WR type is your main guy back in that group.

OL is also a question as those pass protect #s need to improve over 2014.  Junior tackle Jeremiah Poutasi left early for the NFL which was a hit.   I will also miss guard Junior Salt if for nothing else than his name.

There are no surprises here with Utah.  Expect more of the same as last year - lots of running behind Booker offset by Wilson's good not great passing.  Secondary wide receivers and a TE must be found.

Image result for devontae booker utah

 

Utah Defense

Normally I'd worry losing a DC the caliber of Kalani Sitake but did Utah need to worry when Gary Andersen left to go coach Utah State?  Nope.  When your head coach is a defensive guru you can sort of work around it.  Old dude John Pease (in his 70s) was rolled out of retirement to be a short term answer at DC.

With that said uber defensive end Orchard leaving to the NFL is a big hit.  But Utah fans are uber exited about Hunter Dimick.  The question is will there be a second DE to offset pressure on Dimick - I would assume without watching a ton of Utah games last year that all the attention on Orchard helped Dimick out.  But don't expect this not to be a sack happy defense - it can come from many areas:

Utah's front seven returns five members who recorded 4-plus sacks.

Image result for dimick utah

 

Lowell Lotulelei, Star’s younger brother also is one to watch on the DL.

There were a lot of injuries in the linebacker ranks last year but again - good coaches find ways.  Utah had a fine defense even with the injuries.  Jared Norris is the group’s most productive player with a team high 116 tackles, including 13 for a loss.

The big drop off for Utah will most likely be in the secondary.  Not only did both starting corners graduate, the one "for sure" starter  for 2015 (Hatfield) is suspended.

While not a defensive player per se, the top end punter Utah has is also a boon.

 

Image result for football offense v defense

Matchups

(take these matchups with more of a grain of salt than usual because once you get past the month of September teams grow and evolve - well at least well coached teams.)

UM rush off v Utah rush def - Adv: Utah.  Michigan is meh running until proven otherwise.  I don't expect miracles in game 1 - hopefully by game 6-7 that running game is working well.  As for Utah if you have a spread option they can be run on - if you don't, it is difficult.

UM pass off v Utah pass def - Adv: Even.   The wildcard here is Utah pass rush and UM pass protect.  While I expect Utah to be well coached, the loss of both starting corners and 1 of this year's presumed starters SHOULD be an advantage to UM.  Especially if the OL can give Rudock time.   Can UM's OL figure out Utah's stunts?  Will Dimick be able to star without Orchard taking so much attention? 

Utah rush off v UM rush def - Adv: Even.  Strength on strength.  Very good RB vs in theory very good run defense.  How UM's newbie starting ends contain and play the run will be key.

Utah pass off v UM pass def - Adv: UM.   Senior QB who is efficient but not someone who is going to strife you all day with 1 proven possession receiver.  I'd expect a lot of passes to Booker out of the backfield.

 

Image result for coin toss

Overall

It may seem strange that I fear BYU more than Utah but if this game was in Michigan Stadium and game 5 rather than 1 I'd feel like Michigan should be favored and not by a tiny amount.   Utah does all the small things right.  Utah is well coached.  Utah's kicking game is real good.  Utah is greater than the sum of the parts.  But UM matches up better with this type of offense than  BYU's offense.   A steady QB with a very good RB is the type of offense UM's defense should do "well" (not great but well) against.  As for Utah's defense, I don't expect fireworks from Michigan's run game early so I Rudock needs to carry the offense a bit early in the year.  This is the type of defense that he can do it against.  Baxter's impact will be interesting to see here as Utah has a heck of a kicking game.

First game for both teams.  Both teams should be a lot better later in the year and a lot of open questions for both teams.  Utah is a fun venue to play at, night game, both teams are going to be hyped, probably a messy first half.  Two very good coaches, Utah has our # of late  This is a good coin flip game that should go down to the wire in relatively low scoring fashion.

Comments

True Blue in CO

August 7th, 2015 at 1:32 PM ^

Thanks again for a great write up.  Our defense may have to find a way to score in this game in order for us to have a chance.  Offense will have to have more lengthy possessions (run the damn ball) to help keep the defense fresh.  Totally agree it will be a tighter low scoring game.

AZ_blue

August 7th, 2015 at 1:44 PM ^

I live in Utah and listen to Utah football's sports talk radio a lot. They are confident in their D-line and for offense they're going to rely heavily on Booker.

They're radio guys have been saying for weeks that they think Michigan will be a fairly easy win for Utah. They're expecting the same team from last year.

Hopefully Harbaugh and company will prove otherwise.

Bambi

August 7th, 2015 at 2:13 PM ^

You don't think that Utah's OL questions gives Michigan the advantage for our Run D vs their Run O? I know they have a good RB, but as you said they gave up a ton of tackles for losses last year and have major question marks on the OL. We on the other hand return all of our contributing DT's from last year and get Desmon Morgan back, a better run stopping MLB than Jake Ryan.

alum96

August 7th, 2015 at 2:39 PM ^

They return 3 starting OL of 5 - 50 starts among those 3.  They have another guy with 5 starts.  That's very typical for OL turnover across the college landscape.

They have a bunch of Junior types competing for these spots.  With the hell around here lately I think UM fans think at other programs when you lose a senior you are forced to play a rs freshman to replace him next year.  We used to replace seniors with guys in their 3rd or 4th season for decades without significant dropoff - until past half decade.

http://www.blocku.com/2015/3/10/8171099/utah-football-2015-o-line-previ…

They were able to run the ball last year - the issue seemed to be protections.

We have our DTs, but questions about our DEs.  People seem to dismiss Clark and Beyer as if they weren't here or didn't play 75% of last year's snaps.   Will the new guys be as good as run stoppers as the old guys?  I dont know.  And even the old guys when facing Minn, MSU, OSU etc didnt do a very good job stopping the run.

As for LBs I like the defense down the middle - I have concerns on the outside with their speed.  I will be curious how runs that break outside the hash are handled - we dont have a lot of quick twitch athletes in our LB core.

Both teams have questions to answer and they have a pretty damn good back on top of it who gets YAC.

wahooverine

August 7th, 2015 at 2:31 PM ^

You gotta believe that Utah, among all our opponents this year, is at a disadvantage by playing us first.  How does Wittingham gameplan for Harbaughs first game at Michigan with an as yet unknown QB?  Watching 49ers tape?  Watching 6 year old Stanford tape?  No one has any idea what Michigan's offense will look like and I gotta believe that Harbaugh, Drevno  and Fisch will pull out all the stops to get this W.  I have a feeling we'll be pleased with the result of this game.

alum96

August 7th, 2015 at 2:41 PM ^

Yes it is an interesting game.   You dont often get two P5s playing in week 1; usually they both have a patsy to work on some things and then week 2 they butt heads.  I do like the timing for Michigan once I did the research and saw how many starters Utah lost.  The secondary especially will be trying to break in a lot of faces and you hope Jake can exploit it.  (or Morris I guess)

Everyone Murders

August 7th, 2015 at 2:54 PM ^

This reminds me of those seasons where we'd start off against Notre Dame, and get things into full swing early in the season.  Utah is a worthy opponent, and this game will garner a lot of attention, what with our shiny new coach and all.

I agree that the outcome is a coin flip.  I think that Rudock gives us a chance to play Tressel ball (now with 100% less sleaze) our own damned selves, and win this thing via defense.  Rudock seems like the classic "don't beat yourself" QB.  That approach won't work all season, but should work against the Utes. 

Ron Utah

August 7th, 2015 at 3:27 PM ^

Stanford put up 190 yards at 5 YPC last year against Utah.  Their problem was that they only managed 3.7 YPA in the passing game, with lots of lost yardage on bubble screen attempts.

I believe the Utah run defense vs. the U-M run offense will be a close match-up, and I believe the U-M run defense--one of the best in the nation last year and should be even better this year--is advantage U-M.

Further, I believe Utah's pass defense and hyper-aggressive rush will cause big problems for our passing attack.  If that turns out to be an even match-up, we will win this game.  However, I'd give Utah the advantage there.  

There is no doubt this is still a coin flip game, and U-M has to prove they can compete with well-coached teams again.  Will be a great barometer absent our usual against ND.

alum96

August 7th, 2015 at 3:57 PM ^

I would have never guessed #1 if I didnt just google it.  All the usual suspects next - Air Force, Colorado, Colorado State.

University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wyo. (elev. 7,165 feet): The University of Wyoming is nestled between mountain ranges and sits about 7,165 feet above sea level.

alum96

August 7th, 2015 at 3:52 PM ^

Cool answer = Harbaugh!!!! 4 hr practices!!

Serious answer = most likely.

http://triblive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/college/pitt/s_697180.html

The stadium sits 4,657 feet above sea level, which is high enough that the body feels the effects of altitude. Only six stadiums in Division I football sit at a higher elevation than the 45,017-seat venue.

Studies show it takes about four days to acclimatize to an elevation of about 5,000 feet.

 

SpikeFan2016

August 7th, 2015 at 4:54 PM ^

I think acclimation depends heavily on age and fitness status. In shape 18-23 year olds would definitely take much less than 4 days.

I'm 21 and have been to the ski hills in Utah (which are 3,000-4,000 feet higher than SLC) and I was fine after a day or two. And I'm not in quite as good of shape as our student athletes. Anticipating Michigan team arrival on Tuesday, I think they'll be fine and it won't have an impact. Even Wednesday morning arrival would be fine IMO.

Wolverine fan …

August 7th, 2015 at 3:48 PM ^

the advantage should be Michigan's when it comes to Utah pass D vs Michigan's air attack. That's not to say Darboh or Chesson aren't capable of getting open against a green CB, but a healthy Harris will hopefully be the guy that could be a game changer. The O-line will be more experienced, coached up and working as a unit throughout fall practice, so it seems like a good bet that there will be some hungry, angry men out for vengence for last year's defeat. To me that means success running the ball and hitting the man accross from you in the mouth.

Call me a homer, but I have a good feeling that this game will serve as an announcement to the rest of the country that Michigan is not going to be a team that beats themselves, and has the potential to compete with anyone in the country.

blueblue

August 7th, 2015 at 4:47 PM ^

I like our passing offense against a team that lost its top three pass defenders. If we stretch the field by sending some combination of our Fast Guys deep (Chesson, Canteen, Harris, Cole), will the Utes be able to cover Jake Butt or Ty Isaac in the seam? Can our line pass block long enough to let Ruddock threaten deep? Will Michigan's running backs be able to slow down the Utah blitz enough, and will our receivers finally get open quickly enough to give Ruddock a check-down when they do? 

With Utah mostly playing a deep zone, they are vulnerable to seam routes. We have Butt, Bunting, Cole, Isaac, and a quarterback who's good (maybe too good) at checking down to a short pass. Short completions could become big gains because their defensive backs are also overmatched against strong downfield blocking from Darboh and Chesson. 

Utah's strength is threatening the quarterback to create havoc. That was the ideal way to disarm Michigan with Gardner under center (and probably Morris), but Ruddock is a seasoned veteran with a calm demeanor and a history of success checking down against the blitz. 

alum96

August 7th, 2015 at 5:19 PM ^

With the aggressiveness of Utah's defense I could see a long day of Rudock doing dump offs of 6-8 yards.  Our OL has stunk at reading blitzes for a few years so it would be nice to actually start picking them up on a regular basis.  Utah's LBs might actually be their best unit this game so will be interesting how they handle Butt in those seams. 

Until i see guys like Isaac Bunting Cole Harris do a darn thing in a NCAA game hard to count on them.  At least Isaac has touched a ball on an actual Saturday.  That's the problem with the pass game right now - outside of a few guys it's all assumptions on production since so many faces people are counting on haven't done it yet.  A guy like Gallon or a "motivated" Funchess would have been nice for this type of game.

blueblue

August 7th, 2015 at 5:39 PM ^

I'm not sure it's about whether we can count on those unproven guys (Isaac, Bunting, Cole, Harris) or not. Maybe it comes down to whether Fisch and Harbaugh come up with a scheme and playcalling that brings out the best in them. We've sort of gotten used to watching talented athletes look disorieinted and awkward on the field lately. I'm hoping we'll come away from the Utah game saying, "Right: that's the level of talent we recruited manifest on the playing field." Wouldn't surprise me at all.

991GT3

August 8th, 2015 at 7:35 PM ^

of the state of the Michigan offense. Good teams know to blitz them because the line play has been confused along with the receivers. The failure to handle the blitz has been the downfall of the offense. Fix that and the entire team gets better because the offense will keep the ball longer and give the defense breathing room.

Glennsta

August 11th, 2015 at 11:02 AM ^

Gardner had a tough time with the blitz as well, although part of that was on the line and receivers.  It was so damn frustrating to have a 5th year guy at QB and have him be a relative liability.

Having an experienced QB like Rudock should help a lot.  Should.

Uper73

August 7th, 2015 at 4:55 PM ^

We folded in the second half and were severely out coached. Our offense went anemic.

This year-better offense, and, Harbaugh won't get out coached.

The most highly motivated, best prepared and emotionally charged Michigan we have seen in many years will be tested, but will prevail.

I predict a fun plane ride home and super excited fan base.

Greg McMurtry

August 9th, 2015 at 4:17 PM ^

Last year's game was a joke. Utah starting QB lands on his head, almost breaks his nose, leaves, comes back and is still the best QB on the field. Meanwhile UM's only TD is an int return TD from a D lineman. I knew the season was over during this game, sadly, and Hoke was done. And thank God for that.

Sent from MGoBlog HD for iPhone & iPad

gb21

August 7th, 2015 at 5:49 PM ^

I still don't understand why we keep scheduling Utah. Even during the Carr era, we struggled against them. It's a very good football program, but we have already played them and no one is really excited about it. And snce this was a home-and-home, I would have rather played someone like Cal or Stanford (teams we haven't played in a long time).

WolverineHistorian

August 7th, 2015 at 8:05 PM ^

The game against Utah under Carr was the result of a last minute schedule change. 

Our original non-conference schedule in 2002 was Western, Notre Dame, Washington and Oregon.  That was considered way too difficult.  So Bill Martin asked Oregon to reschedule the Ann Arbor meeting to a later date and since schedules were booked until 2007, that was when the game with the Ducks would now take place. 

Enter Utah as the replacement opponent, which was supposed to be an easier matchup.  And in reality, it should have been.  That Utah team didn't even qualify for a bowl game. 

From there, I don't know why Utah continued to be scheduled. 

In yet another be careful what you wish for moment, we probably should have never rescheduled that game with the Ducks.  They ended up going 7-6 that year.  I'm pretty sure we would have beaten them and then there would have never been that disaster game against them in 07 and probably no Henne injury either. 

alum96

August 7th, 2015 at 9:54 PM ^

Fascinating stuff. 

Utah is one of those programs that the fanbase and general public wont get up for but will give you a tough game.  So it's a no win situation - you win and everyone says "well you should" and you lose and people say "pathetic" when in reality they are a solid squad and have been since Meyer showed up there.  It's a lot like playing Boise State and why they have difficulty getting a lot of blue bloods to face them.

Image result for the more you know

linesman

August 8th, 2015 at 11:43 AM ^

Maybe one ray of hope for Michigan would be if Rudock is the starter, he's a 5th year guy, and throws for good percentages, and doesn't make a lot of mistakes.  So, Michigan would actually have the luxury of starting an experienced QB.   In addition, per your analysis, he's going to be throwing into a defensive backfield that lost a lot of personnel.  So at the risk of sounding too optimistic, I think Michigan could catch the Utes in a "ripe for picking" mode, if they take the Wolverines too lightly.   Especially if the run game can throw in a couple hundred rushing yards.

Joby

August 8th, 2015 at 3:57 PM ^

Alum96, thanks for these previews. Here's a thought: given Utah's difficulty containing spread option, do you think we could see Gentry or Morris tested out on a few spread looks early, and, if they are picking up chunks of yards, stick with them unless and until they get stopped? That would be in line with what I understand to be JH's philosophy.

alum96

August 8th, 2015 at 6:46 PM ^

I think a spread "look" only works if you have a threat at QB to exploit it.  Now there are many variations of spread - Oregons is different from OSUs.  Heck rich rod's has changed to more pass oriented in the Pac 12 then what he ran here. 

But Shane Morris is not that type of QB from anything I've seen.  He is a guy who is not a statue (Navarre) but I have seen little "scoot" out of him despite the "athletic" label.  People say he is like Luck in terms of not being a running Qb but a "mobile passing Qb" but Luck averaged 400 yds rushing a season net of sacks i.e. 35 a game post sacks.   He generally ran about 5x a game.  I just dont see Shane Morris as a guy you design a run for.  So if you do that 1-2x a game I dont see the point, its not going to change Utah's thinking.  Rudock has similar "mobility" to Morris so if he is the starter you might as well have him do those plays over Morris.

Gentry maybe you do it and maybe closer to the goal line.

But at this point I think Michigan football is just learning how the hell to line up and execute a damn play - something it failed at so many times the past 2 years.  If you cant run the basic offense I dont know how you have time to put in all the wrinkles.  So I dont see much if any of that except if they have a 5-6 play package installed for Gentry only.

Richard75

August 8th, 2015 at 11:56 PM ^

That may well be true about Morris, but I'm not sure we know that yet.

Remember that we hardly even used Gardner as a runner last season until things were ultra-desperate against Maryland and OSU. Until those two games, he ran about 5 times a game (70 carries minus about 20 sacks). And that was a guy who's athletic enough to play WR.

We just had very little inclination to run the QB. As with so many other elements of this team, there may be more ability there than was utilized.

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Hill Street Blue

August 9th, 2015 at 1:21 AM ^

The Utah players have the Hoke-coached team from last year in their heads.  

Gotta believe with all the competition, intensity, accountability going on under Harbaugh, our team is gonna be a friggin' nightmare from out of nowhere for the Utes.

Glennsta

August 11th, 2015 at 10:49 AM ^

What does Utah prepare for?  Do they watch Rudock film from last year?  Do they watch film of Stanford's offense from years ago?  Do they watch Florida defense film?

I don't expect a JH team to be terribly gimmicky but I have to believe that there's some advantage to be gained by surprise and by not having known tendencies.

Richard75

August 9th, 2015 at 1:40 PM ^

Forgotten fact about last year's Utah game: Morris was 4-of-13 with a pick and a fumble, yet they promoted him to starter the next game against Minnesota.

Concussiongate overshadowed what was one of the most bizarrely coached games of all time.

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cGOBLUEm

August 9th, 2015 at 2:23 PM ^

I've said it before and I'll say it again. I expect this defense to take a step forward this year. If they can do so and the offense can simply lessen the turnovers, Michigan will be in great shape.

Let's also remember that M's defense has stuggled mightily to create turnovers since Hoke's first season. This could be a huge difference make rfor the season as well.

Michigan will travel to Utah and pull out a victory.

jrj84105

August 9th, 2015 at 5:46 PM ^

Just for clarification, Utah's DBs going into the 2014 season were:
CB: Porter, Rowe
NB: Thomas
SS: Blecken
FS: Carter

Utah's top DB (Porter) was lost for the season in fall camp. By top DB, that means the #1 lockdown DB. Rowe (2nd round pick) was in his first start as CB vs Michigan after playing FS in prior seasons. Porter is back for 2015, and his 2014 backup pre-injury (Hatfield) was reinstated to the University this week. FS Carter was injured as well in fall camp, but played a few games before getting a medical RS. When healthy, he is the best player in Utah's secondary. Utah is not in so bad of shape with DBs.

61_Shasta

August 10th, 2015 at 5:06 PM ^

TL;DR in the last paragraph. 

Very well written preview and I can't say that there are huge amounts that I disagree with. Couple of things I'd add into the mix. 
 
Overall
Just as you said, this year's Utah is built like it always has been under Kyle Whittingham. Strong defense, strong special teams and an offense that's built to not lose the game. Utah finished 9-4 last year but easily could have been 11-2 or 3-9.  Two losses (Washington State & Arizona) were played in pouring rain which is always the great equalizer plus the Arizona game was played after OC Dave Christensen had been told he wasn't coming back.  By that time too many guys on both sides of the ball had already quit on Dave. 
 
Utah won many games it easily could have lost and lost games it easily could have won. The WSU game was a one point loss, Utah beat UCLA, USC and Oregon State by 2 points, 6 points in OT and 3 points respectively. They dropped an interception, missed two chip shots under two minutes in the 4th and lost at ASU in OT.  Oregon finished a blowout but was competitive to start. Utah would have been up 14-0 had Kaelin Clay not had his infamous drop. Stanford was an OT win on the road and Colorado was a four point win. 
 
Offense
I'm still trying to figure out if Travis Wilson wasn't good last year because he's not good or because he had an OC who's sole purpose in life was to tear him to pieces in practice. New play caller Aaron Roderick has been on the staff for Travis's career and knows his strengths.  Whitt says there is a QB competition between Travis and Kendall Thompson but also emphasizes that it's Travis's job to lose, not an even competition.  To my mind it's too much apples/oranges to base a forecast on Travis on last year's performance.
 
Offensive line seemed a lock until Friday.  Expected starter at LT JJ Dielman has been moved to RT but one of the local media guys who played in the NFL has repeatedly said it's because Sam Tevi has earned the LT spot.  Isaac Asiata is rock solid at LG and is the cousin of Minnesota Vikings RB Matt Asiata if you're curious.  (Fun fact if you want to impress your Viking fan friends:  Both Isaac & Matt's full name is Isaac Matthew Andrew A'Alia Asiata) Salesi Aiono returns at center and Salesi Uhatafe is big but unproven at RG. 
 
Booker you're spot on and anything I say here would contribute to TL;DR. 
 
Kenneth Scott is indeed a possession receiver of moderate speed but has established himself as the leader of the group. Cory Butler is a JUCO transfer that is quickly establishing himself as the speed guy and Tim Patrick returns from a really gruesome leg fracture that happened right in front of us last year.  He's your 6'5" guy you can lob jump balls at all day.  Siale Fakailotonga at TE is this year's announcer tongue twister.  That's all I know about him. 
 
Defense
Nate Orchard is another in a line of D-ends to make the trek to the NFL but I'm having a hard time finding weakness despite his loss.  Hunter Dimick deserves all of the praise he gets but right end Jason Fanaika could easily be this years Robin to Dimick's Batman just as Dimick was Boy Wonder to Orchard last year. And while the coaches are expecting big things from Lowell Lotuleilei my personal opinion is that the better player inside is Filipo Mokofisi.  Keep an eye on him.  He won't have gaudy numbers but he'll stop the middle every time.
 
Linebackers will be really fun for Ute fans as long as everyone stays healthy.  Jason Whittingham and Gionni Paul were both lost to injury much of last year but both seniors are back this year.  Jared Norris in the middle impressed last year.  The linebackers are key to the Fred Whittingham defense Utah runs. The scheme calls for pressure from the line & LBs while the CBs are expected to cover 1 on 1. 
 
Defensive backfield is really up in the air but the one constant is Tevin Carter who received an additional year of eligibility.  He's a strong safety who's tackling reminds me of Eric Weddle. Marcus Williams is a sophomore free safety and is something of a mystery but cornerback is where the greatest mystery lies. Dominick Hatfield embodies that mystery. His robbery charges have been dismissed but he's still off the team because while out on bail he got into a fight and was charged with assault.  There are multiple reports now that the assault charge will likewise be dismissed.  Whitt has now said that he has made clear to Domo a "clear and extremely stringent set of behavior modifications" that will have to happen for Kyle to consider Domo rejoining the team. 
 
Assuming he's not back for the game (and I think there's about the same chance of you guys rehiring Hoke as Domo suiting up for the opener) the corners are at this point up in the air.  No matter who plays, the corners will be inexperienced and will need the front seven to create chaos to cover for them.
 
Special Teams
I know most people don't like spending time on them but I am convinced that they will win at least one game if not more.  Punt returns are in the hands of true freshman Brittain Covey.  Size is a concern (5'8", 160 lbs) but the speed is there (4.45 40).  Former RB Bubba Poole is slotted as the kick returner but has to prove himself in camp. 
 
Andy Phillips lived up to his "Automatic Andy" nickname other than the ASU game connecting on 23 of 28 FGs last year.  He was 21-26 from 40+ and 3-3 from 51+.  Tom Hackett was amazing last year.  Of his 80 punts, 19 were inside the ten and 36 were inside the twenty.  Unofficially he was the best "field flipper" in the NCAA last year.
 
Coaching
I'm in the "move along, nothing to see here" camp on the defensive side.  Like Bruce Dickinson, John Pease puts his pants on one leg at a time but when John Pease puts his pants on he puts players in the NFL. Bottom line, losing Kalani Sitake will hurt a bit in recruiting but Utah has played the Fred Whittingham defense since the early 90s and that won't change any time soon. 
 
Dave Christensen was a mistake from the word go and I have no idea why Kyle hired him in the first place. I've heard that multiple times DC and other coaches had to be physically separated in the locker room and by the end of October Kyle had told Dave he wouldn't be back. Roderick on the other hand is loved by his players and Devonte Booker came out and said that the feeling in the locker room is polar opposite of what it was last year.
 
TL;DR Version: 
QB: Which Wilson will we see?
RB: Outstanding
OL: Good
WR: Inexperienced
TE: ???
DL: Will be among best in nation
LB: Strong & Experienced
DB: Total mystery
ST: Very strong unit.