It’s finally here! Utah football has returned and the world is right again. After a long and productive offseason the Utes are set to take on the Michigan Wolverines at Rice-Eccles Stadium this Thursday at 6:30; here is a brief introduction on what to expect:
For Michigan fans, the excitement level after the hiring of Jim Harbaugh would have you believe they are a contender for the National Championship. The problem however, is that Coach Harbaugh will not be suiting up for the Wolverines. While the Harbaugh factor is basically immeasurable at this point, we can look at his tendencies from his time at Stanford and with the San Francisco 49ers to get an idea of what to expect.
Jim Harbaugh stresses defense and a strong run game as his philosophy and he looks to have both of those with this team; especially his defense. Harbaugh has inherited a defense that finished the 2014 season ranked #10 overall, giving up just 22.4 pts per game, while holding opponents to 117 rush yards per game.
Though the Wolverines lost their leading tackler from last year Jake Ryan to the NFL, as well as local star Bryan Mone (6’4 325) to a broken ankle, they still have what looks to be one of the toughest defenses in the country, centered around #5; FS and all-world athlete Jabril Peppers. Peppers looks to be the star of the defense, many expect to be the B1G Defensive Player of the Year. Watch for ILB Desmond Morgan (6’1 236) to take the leadership role for this defense, you will see #3 all over the field trying to neutralize Devontae Booker.
As for the Offensive side of the ball, the Wolverines come in with an unclear starter at QB, (though Iowa transfer Jake Rudock seems to be the likely starter) and a stable of very solid running backs headlined by #27 Derrick Green and #4 De’Veon Smith, as well as an experienced, solid OL. Watch out for #88 TE Jake Butt as well, Harbaugh has always used his talented TE’s a weapon, and at 6’6 248 lbs, Butt will definitely be a factor. Rumor has it that Peppers will also be lined up at WR or RB as well, even still this offense is filled with far too many question marks to say they are dangerous.
With any season opening game there is so much of the unknown that will factor heavily into the game. For Utah, that centers around the offense and especially the quarterback position. Travis Wilson is the starter, but what can we really expect from him this year? When we look at his entire body of work, just one word really comes to mind; Inconsistent; and unfortunately for the Utes that is the last description you want out of a 4 year starter. Howeve,r Heisman Hopeful and team captain Devontae Booker will be in the backfield running behind a pretty solid offensive line, Booker was the definition of consistency last year for the Utes.
On the defensive side of the ball the Utes will be looking to continue as one of the best defensive units in the PAC-12, with the emphasis being on thedDefensive line and the ability to stop the run and get to the QB. The linebacking corps of Gionni Paul, Jared Norris and Jason Whittingham look to be solid for the Utes. If there was some question with this group, it will be with the Utes defensive backs, specifically the Corners. However this group is without question very talented, just mostly unproven as a unit.
With both teams boasting elite defenses and questionable offenses, this battle will really come down to a few things, Harbaugh vs. Whittingham, Harbaugh vs. Rice Eccles Stadium, and Harbaugh vs The Altitude. Jim Harbaugh will have his players prepared and ready to start his Michigan tenure off with a bang. Expect Kyle Whittingham and the Utes to come out fired up and ready to welcome Harbaugh back to college football with a loss. This looks to be one of the most exciting games of the year for both teams, as emotions will be running very high with each team to fighting to make national noise in the first game of the season.
The Swag is back for the Utes, their confidence is through the roof right now and with the National attention this opponent brings the Utes make a statement. Utah defense will be front and center. Look for the defense to shut down the passing game and neutralize the rush against the Wolverines. The Utes are stronger on both sides of the trenches, and on the shoulders of Devontae Booker, Utah will wear down the defense. This, along with an obvious and huge home field advantage means the “Cupcake” Utes should win.
Quick Bite: Michigan
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