Michigan Utah Primer

Here is what the Wolverines have in store tomorrow when the high-flying offense of the Utah Utes invades the Big House.

Utah (2-0) vs. Michigan (2-1)

Michigan Schedule
(W) Appalachian State 52-14
(L) Notre Dame 31-0
(W) Miami (OH) 34-10

Utah Schedule
(W) Idaho State 56-14
(W) Fresno State 59-27

Utes Players to Watch
QB Trevor Wilson: 24/38, 446 yards, 6 TDs, 0 INT
RB Devante Booker: 20 carries, 145 yards, 2 TDs, Long of 38 yards
WR Dres Anderson: 7 receptions, 195 yards, 2 TDs
WR Kenneth Scott: 10 receptions, 134 yards, 3 TDs

Injuries: “Well, you know, we are not going to talk about any injuries”- Head coach Brady Hoke.

Questionable: Wide receiver Devin Funchess, linebacker Desmond Morgan, cornerback Raymon Taylor.

What’s at stake: This is the third matchup between Utah and Michigan, the first since 2008. If Michigan comes out with a victory, the Wolverines will begin conference play with a 3-1 overall record and a realistic chance at claiming the Big Ten Championship. If Utah leaves Ann Arbor as victors, Michigan would then sit with a .500 record and a decidedly lower chance at winning the B1G.

History: In their less than storied history, the Utah Utes and Michigan Wolverines have met only twice, with both programs boasting a victory by three points or less.

These teams first meet during the 2002 season when Utah travelled over 1,500 miles to square off against Michigan in the Big House. The Utes struggled to move the football all game, totaling just 227 yards of total offense. Michigan safety Julius Curry preserved a 10-7 UM victory over Utah with an interception, his second of the game, coming on Utah’s final drive in the waning moments of the game. Michigan held off a surging Utah offense in what turned out to be a low scoring affair between the two cross-country opponents.

Utah Season So Far
Week 1: Idaho State

Opening the 2014 campaign, Utah began its season with a decisive 56-14 victory over the Idaho State Bengals at home. Much like the final score suggests, this contest was all but over by halftime as the Utes had dominated to the tune of a 35-7 lead at the game’s midway point.

Led by quarterback Trevor Wilson, Utah showcased its explosive offense in the first half by scoring on drives of less than a minute on three occasions. In fact, by the game’s completion, Utah compiled 589 yards of total offense, all while possessing the ball for nine minutes less than Idaho State, who only racked up 337.

Wilson, who took the offseason to recover from a concussion sustained last year, amassed 265 passing yards and one touchdown on an efficient 13/18 passing in playing time that was limited to the first half. Wilson’s favorite target on the day appeared to be wide receiver Dres Anderson, who pulled in four passes from Wilson and totaled 111 yards.

Week 2: Fresno State

In week 2, Utah kept with the theme of a productive offense on its way to a 59-27 route over Fresno State. Led by Wilson’s five-touchdown performance, the Utes were a model of consistency in this matchup, scoring at least 14 points in each of the four quarters.

Thanks to Wilson’s five-touchdown outburst, the Utes were able to focus on a running attack that was merely an afterthought during week one. Instead, Utah pounded the rock 54 times with the game already in hand, picking up 258 yards, good for 4.8 yards per carry. The Utes’ leading rusher on the day was Kendall Booker with 9 carries for 71 yards and one touchdown.

With Fresno State trailing early on, the Bulldogs were forced into clear passing situations all game long. Despite the need for extra Utah defensive backs to take the field, the Utes were still able to generate a hefty pass rush, accumulating seven sacks on the day.

Week 3: Bye

Last Meeting: Six years after the initial meeting in 2002, The Utes travelled to Michigan in ‘08 to open the Rich Rodriguez era of Michigan football. The Wolverines jumped on the scoreboard with 10 points in the first quarter, but were not able to sustain that momentum. In fact, the Wolverines were held scoreless from that point on until the 4th quarter. During this time, Utah rattled off 19 consecutive points via four field goals and a touchdown (2-point conversion no good) to take a 25-10 lead heading into the contest’s final stanza.

Down but not out, the Wolverines found the end zone twice, scoring on a 33-yard pass from Steven Threet to Junior Hemmingway and a three-yard scamper from running back Sam McGuffie. After McGuffie pulled Michigan within two points at 23-25, the Wolverines opted to go for a two-point conversion in hopes of knotting the game. Instead, the conversion failed and Utah held on for a two-point win on the road over the Wolverines.

During the game, Michigan suffered a bout of ineptitude as the offense accounted for just 203 total yards (167 passing, 36 rushing) as opposed to the Utes 341. Although both teams turned the ball over three times, Utah possessed the ball for a full 11+ minutes longer than the Wolverines, a margin that allowed for the Utes to control the clock and hold on to a slim lead late into the second half.

Utah Offense vs. Michigan Defense

First and foremost, Michigan will have to hone in on the Utah offense, specifically the passing attack, if it hopes to have success stopping the Utes from moving the ball on Saturday. With back-to-back 50-point performances, Utah has proved it can score with anyone in the country. In fact, the Utes rank No. 3 in the country in terms of scoring offense, which is largely dependent on the passing game.

Operating mostly out of a spread formation, Utah will likely force Michigan play five, even six defensive back sets with regularity on Saturday. As one of the deeper position groups on Michigan’s defense, the secondary will need to have a strong showing in hopes of stifling the Utes’ prolific passing attack.

That is a task that will require all hands on deck, however it is unclear who will receive the most playing time—and when. Senior cornerback Raymon Taylor and senior safety Jarrod Wilson, both listed as starters before the season, were unavailable last week against Miami (Oh.). The status of those two is undetermined, and UM head coach Brady Hoke has not given much injury information to sift through at this time.

With Taylor and Wilson possibly out of the lineup once again, the onus will be placed upon either true freshman sensation Jabrill Peppers or sophomore Jourdan Lewis to lock down the Wolverines’ secondary.

The main concern for Michigan’s defensive backs is wide receiver Dres Anderson, who has accumulated a stout 25+ yards per catch total thus far and will be a dangerous threat to stretch the Wolverines defense. Wilson connected with Anderson four times for 111 yards during week 2.

While Wilson is more than equipped to hurt a defense through the air, the dual-threat quarterback also possesses the ability to extend plays and gain yardage with his legs as well. This facet of the Utes’ offense looks to be on display once again this week, likely requiring a contain from Michigan’s defensive ends to keep Wilson in the pocket.

Here is a quote from Wilson last week via ESPN:

"Me running every week is part of the game plan. I'm reading the defense off some of our plays and I saw some advantages I could take in running the ball," Wilson said.

Utah Defense vs. Michigan Offense

After two weeks of competition, the Utah defense has surrendered just 41 total points in 2014. Michigan looks to be its toughest opposing offense to date, but the Wolverines may be without their top offensive weapon—wide receiver Devin Funchess. After injuring his leg late in the Notre Dame game, Funchess was held out of last week’s game and is questionable to play this week.

If Funchess plays, Michigan should utilize his monstrous mismatch ability as it has through the season’s first two games. If not, senior quarterback Devin Gardner will be forced to look for others to fill Funchess’ role.

Luckily for Gardner, Michigan has plenty of other options starting with sophomore wide receiver Amara Darboh. Last week, Darboh had a strong against Miami with 6 catches for 88 yards and a touchdown. Apart from Darboh, expect for Gardner to utilize freshly-healed tight end Jake Butt and wide receivers Jehu Chesson, Dennis Norfleet and Freddy Canteen against the Utes.

Given Miami’s quality of opponents up to this point, it is difficult to glean much from their defensive performance thus far. However, the Utes’ are without their leading tackler from 2013 in Trevor Reilly, leaving Michigan with an opportunity to establish the run game early on.

In 2014, Derrick Green already has two 100-yard rushing performances so far, and he looks to be the Wolverines’ top back heading into the Utah game. Green has momentum on his side after a 137-yard, two touchdown performance last week, but if Funchess is not healthy enough to suit up, the Utes’ defense may key in on Green and stuff the box.

If Funchess is not available, Michigan’s ability to solidify its running game early is of paramount importance to ensure success against Utah.

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