Michigan Football Forecast

Utah is known in the Mountain West as "Running Back U." but there is more to the Utes of coach Ron McBride than simple handoffs. This team has a powerful defense. The challenge for Michigan is to slow down Utah's blitz and attack with an assortment of offense designed to spread the field.

Although Ron McBride has turned Utah into "Running Back U." in his 13 seasons as coach, there is more to Utes' football than simple handoffs.

Utah (2-1) returned eight defensive starters from a team that posted an 8-4 record a year ago, a 10-6 victory over USC in the Las Vegas Bowl included. Junior defensive end Jason Kaufusi was named the Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Week for his career game against Arizona. Kaufusi racked up 11 tackles, including five tackles for losses totaling 29 yards. He had two sacks and forced two fumbles.

Utah's first three opponents -- Utah State, Indiana, Arizona -- have made a total of six trips inside the Utes' 20-yard line and have one touchdown to show for their efforts in the red zone. To say the least, they have the personnel and the numbers to grab Michigan's attention.

"We know plenty about them," Wolverines senior tight end Bennie Joppru said. "We know they beat USC last year, and they have nine guys back from that defense. You can't take them lightly because they are a good team. Their defense is probably going to be just as good, if not better than Notre Dame's. We all understand that we can't take them lightly, and we really realized that watching film."

Michigan ran 23 plays in the first half of its 25-23 setback at Notre Dame. The challenge for the Wolverines will be to take better care of the ball and funnel their frustrations in a positive direction when they meet the Utes head on Saturday (12:05 EDT/ESPN-TV) in the Big House.

Utah will blitz Michigan and try to force more Wolverine turnovers, try to control time of possession in a similar manner as the Irish.

"Defensively, they are a team that plays very good technique," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. "They are very athletic up front. It is a team that has a great inside player, they have a great end, their linebackers are sound and Ron (McBride) feels their safety is as good as any safety in the country.

"They took their starting strong safety from a year ago and turned him into a cornerback. He is the fastest player on the field, and I think they feel he can cover anyone in the country. They play a lot of man-to-man coverage. They will blitz you. They bring everybody and play man coverage without any help deep.

"I would say for the most part they will play man-to-man coverage with a free safety to help the corners and also if any runs break out of there. They have a safety up on the line of scrimmage that they bring a lot. It is a pressure defense."

Yes, it is a defense that will challenge Michigan's offensive line and quarterback John Navarre. To avert an upset, the `M' line must stand its ground and Navarre must unload his passes in a timely fashion. He must be on target short. He must also look deep. Look for the Wolverines to run right at Utah's defense, and look for Navarre to make use of fullback B.J. Askew's pass-catching abilities. The idea will be to slow the Utes down and force them to defend the entire field.

"They will do a lot of blitzing, and their defensive line is very tough up front," Michigan center Dave Pearson said. "They have a lot of speed and have some good guys up there. So, it will definitely be a challenge for us, but I think we are all looking foward to facing that challenge."

On the defensive side the ball, the Wolverines must do more than contain Utah's ground game. They must also get in the face of the Utes' junior quarterback, 6-foot-2, 203-pound Lance Rice. He boasts a 12-6 record as a starter. This season, he has completed 49 of 96 for 441 yards (147 ypg.) and five touchdowns. He has not thrown an interception. His primary target is Josh Lyman with 15 catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns.

"They have an experienced offensive line," Michigan free safety Cato June said. "Their quarterback is good and he has a strong arm and he is accurate. He has a few good receivers that are explosive. They can make some things happen. The quarterback gets the ball around to all the receivers.

"They like to use the tight end, so offensively they have a lot of weapons. Their running back (Marty Johnson), I think he's hurt, but he was leading the nation in running. The other running back (J.R. Peroulis) I hear is the fastest guy on the team. We have a challenge in front of us as far as the Utah offense in concerned. Everybody is saying, 'It's just Utah.' But their personnel is good."

Michigan's personnel is better. The trick is for the Wolverines to show how much better on the field. They must begin to eliminate the mistakes that cost them a victory at Notre Dame. They must play with a passion.

My hunch is they will do just that.

Kremer's call: Michigan 27, Utah 13

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