So Utah can force turnovers. While Gardner and Morris liked throwing them right to Utah defenders, you've still got to be able to hang on the the ball, and Utah did, to the tune of 3 picks. Throw in a fumble recovery and the Utes were +3 in the turnover department. Do that, and you're going to win game. A lot of them.
Turnovers, though, weren't the big key against Michigan. Even if they hadn't forced a single turnover, Utah likely would have still won. The defense played like something we saw back in 2008 with the big-uglies dominating at the line of scrimmage, the linebackers taking heads off, and the secondary flying all over the place making big plays. It's hard to pick just one defensive standout as Nate Orchard, Brian Blechen, Gionni Paul, Hunter Dimick, Filipo Mokofisi, Tevin Carter, Eric Rowe, Dominique Hatfield, and Jared Norris all had stellar games. That's EIGHT of your 11 starters that I viewed as tremendous today. Norris and Blechen really set the tone defensively, delivering some punishing blows early and making sure Michigan wouldn't be able to move the ball consistently. An early field goal was all the Wolverine offense could muster and they never really threatened again after that. Big credit to Kalani Sitake. For those of you on this newfangled Twitter, I sent out this tweet right after that Michigan field goal.
Utes hold and Michigan knocks it through for 3 point lead. Remember, no one adjusts like Sitake— Brian Swinney (@BSwinneyScout) September 20, 2014
And he did as Michigan crossed Utah's 20 yard line only once more in the game, failing to come away with points. That's just nutty.
Offensively, Utah used a combination of a few big plays, mostly mistake free execution, and a lack of offensive penalties to move the ball efficiently, and come away with enough points to win. Not their best day, but still a good day against a good Michigan defense.
The injury bug came out to bite today...for a bit. Travis Wilson made an ill-advised jump attempt (not smart when you're 6 yards short of a first down on a 3rd down scramble) and landed awkwardly on his head/neck/face, knocking him out for a couple of series. In comes Kendal Thompson, and out went the fan confidence as Thompson looked like an 8th grader out there through 2 series racking up -15 yards of offense and throwing a pick 6. He turned it around with a nice drive where he got into a rhythm, but it's as clear as my pasty Irish skin; if Utah's going anywhere, Travis Wilson is the only one taking them there at the quarterback spot.
It's another notch on the belt. The constant narrative has been about this team taking the steps towards being a Pac 12 contender. The first real step was a signature win. That happened last year when Stanford came to town. The next step was beating someone of note on the road. That happened today in the Big House as Utah made Michigan look like a MAC team.
Michigan isn't very good. I think that's apparent now. They're talented enough to go bowling in a down Big 10, but the Wolverines are more of a mess than I think anyone thought. What do good teams do? They beat teams like this Michigan squad, even on the road. And there it is. I'm ready to say it; Utah is a good team. They're good. The team that most (including yours truly) didn't think would go bowling this year is good right now.
Now Pac 12 play begins, and this has been the Achilles heal of the Utah program since joining for the 2011 season. Fortunately, things get kicked off at home against arguably the worst team in the conference in Washington State. Utah will be an overwhelming favorite against the Cougars. Then trips to UCLA and Oregon State, two teams that have underwhelmed so far in comparison to expectations, could put the Utes on the national map. Back home against a USC squad that lost to Boston College (Utah is better than BC) and then to Tempe against the nemesis in Arizona State, who may be missing their all-conference QB in Taylor Kelly. You never want to get ahead of yourselves, and Kyle Whittingham never does, but 8-0 doesn't seem outlandish anymore. Is it probable? No, but it's not utterly impossible. If there's one thing we've learned about Kyle Whittingham teams is that nothing is impossible. Just ask Stanford and Alabama...and Barry Switzer.