Utah comes to the Big House on Saturday smarting from a controversial loss to Arizona (23-17) and smarting from the loss of the NCAA's leading rusher, Marty Johnson.
Johnson tore his MCL and lateral meniscus cartilage in the fourth quarter of the Utes' victory over Indiana on Sept. 7. He underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair the torn meniscus in his right knee on Monday. He is out for the season.
Don't count Utah (2-1) out just yet.
Under coach Ron McBride, the Utes have developed a reputation for producing running backs of NFL caliber. Last year, Utah went 8-4 and beat USC in the Las Vegas Bowl. The Utes finished 12th in the nation in rushing offense (218.9) and the leading rusher off that team, Dameon Hunter, is with the Baltimore Ravens. Other Utah backs who have made the NFL during McBride's 13-year run as the Utes' coach include 1999 all-pro Jamal Anderson (Atlanta), 2000-01 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Mike Anderson (Denver) and Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala (Pittsburgh).
With Johnson out, the Utes have turned to senior J.R. Peroulis (6-1, 207) and he has delivered. Peroulis is averaging 76.3 yards a game. He had a career-high 118 yards against Indiana. He ripping off yardage to the tune of 5.7 per carry. He is big and fast. He runs a 4.46 for the 40-yard dash. He transferred to Utah from Arizona State.
Edwin Benton (5-10, 206) and Brandon Warfield (6-0, 200) are listed behind Peroulis on the Utes' depth chart. Warfield is a juco-transfer who had been expected to redshirt this season.
"When you look back on some of the guys that Utah has had recently, Jamal Anderson is a Utah guy, so was Luther Ellis," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. "I think that Ron McBride is an outstanding football coach. I respect the job he has done. I have known him since he coached here in the conference at Wisconsin.
"He has done a tremendous job. I watched the USC vs. Utah game this summer, and I can tell you that what they did in that bowl game was very impressive. He has built his team on great defense. They are third in the nation in rushing defense as we stand here."
Carr watched video tape of the Utes' 23-17 setback to Arizona.
"They were down 23-7," he said. "They came back to 23-17 and threw a touchdown pass on the last drive that was complete in the end zone. The official blew the call. Utah should be 3-0. For some reason, the guy missed the call. It is one of those things. They are a good football team. They are well-coached.
"They pride themselves on being able to run the football. They lost Johnson, who I think was a great tailback. He was a big, strong, powerful guy that ran north and south. But they have several other guys. No. 2 (Peroulis) is the fastest guy on their team. He is a good player."
The danger for Michigan (2-1) is twofold: One, there will be a temptation to overlook Utah and think ahead to the start of the Big Ten, which for the Wolverines means a road trip to Illinois next weekend. Two, there is a matter of addressing the team's emotional state after dropping a 25-23 decision at Notre Dame.
"When it's your last year, it's always frustrating," Wolverines' senior free safety Cato June said of how the loss to the Irish has affected him. "For me, I've been to Notre Dame twice and lost, so it makes me feel bad. But it's not about me. It's about what can we do as a team. I have a lot of personal goals and such, but they have to fit within the team's goals.
"I can't do anything without my teammates. I'm disappointed, but I'm ready to move on."
Added junior inside linebacker Zach Kaufman: "We have to play hard every game, this one especially. Coming off a loss, we have to step up and play real hard. I think it will be a lot of fun. When you lose a game, you want to get back in the seat and get that taste out of your mouth."
Michigan vs. Utah
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