Michigan let Miami (Ohio) hang around for a little over two quarters last week before stepping on the gas. Now Utah comes to town with an offense that make Michigan pay if the Wolverines turn the ball over. It seems most Michigan fans are equating Utah to a far inferior opponent, but the Utes are much better than we’re giving them credit for. Could they come into the Big House and win just like they did in 2008? Or will Michigan take care of business and head into conference play 3-1? Let’s take a look at our predictions.
Justin: Utah’s spread passing offense has scored 56 and 59 points in its fist two games and ranks 14th nationally with 557.5 total yards per game. It hasn’t faced a defense anywhere near as good as Michigan’s yet, but will the Wolverines be able to slow it down?
Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott will be a big test for Michigan’s secondary that may still be without Raymon Taylor. While Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers are talented, they’re young compared to the experienced Ute receivers. Quarterback Travis Wilson had a knack for committing turnovers when being pressured last season — he threw 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions — but he hasn’t really been challenged yet this season. If Michigan’s front seven can apply pressure and force some bad decisions the defense can slow down Utah’s offense. However, if it gives him time to throw, he can pick apart the defense just like Everett Golson did two weeks ago.
Michigan faces the same challenge on offense. Utah leads the nation with 5.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss per game. We all know Devin Gardner’s inconsistencies when facing pressure, so a lot will fall on the shoulders of the young offensive line and its ability to handle Nate Orchard and the Utah pass rush. If it can give Gardner time to throw, Utah’s secondary is vulnerable. Gardner hooked up with Amara Darboh quite a bit last week, but if Devin Funchess is still out tomorrow, can he do it again?
I think this will be a back-and-forth battle that will ultimately be decided on turnovers and special teams. Unfortunately, Michigan has been turnover-prone this season and has had lackluster special teams play, while Utah has a big advantage in that category with a near automatic kicker, a big-footed punter, and a home run threat return man. I hope I’m wrong.
Utah 27 – Michigan 24
Sam: It’s a testy time in Michigan Football history right now. The Wolverines have not won a Big Ten Championship in a decade, the Notre Dame series ended on the most rotten of notes, and Brady Hoke is looking like an embattled coach in his fourth season as the figurehead of the Maize and Blue.
Luckily for Hoke, the pitiful Big Ten is still up for grabs this season, and Michigan has one more week to shore things up on the field…but it doesn’t look like a week to relax. The Utah Utes, winners of two blowouts so far despite a shaky outlook before the season started, are less-than-a-touchdown underdogs and don’t seem to be fazed at all for this Saturday’s game. Junior quarterback Travis Wilson leads an aerial attack averaging more than 10 yards per pass attempt on the season that is set up by a ground game averaging a not-so-impressive-considering-the-competition five yards per carry.
Michigan’s run defense has proved extremely effective in the early going while the secondary play has left much to be desired. If Raymon Taylor and/or Jarrod Wilson sit again, I’ll be…worried. Willie Henry, Ryan Glasgow, Brennen Beyer, and Frank Clark are anchoring a tough front seven, but the cornerbacks will need to stick with their guys long enough to let the pressure get to the QB. Wilson is not a major threat to run, though back-up Kendal Thompson will see a few change-of-pace snaps, so it is imperative that Taylor, Jabrill Peppers, Blake Countess, Jourdan Lewis, and company are on their games.
I certainly have no idea what will come of this game. Nationally, pundits love Utah after seeing Michigan struggle out of the gates. The big question mark will be Michigan’s offense of course. The Wolverines should hold Utah under 25, so if Devin Gardner can stay calm in the pocket, step up under pressure, and fire bullets to (hopefully) Devin Funchess and company, I like the home team.
A close game will be no shocker, but I believe a blowout would go Michigan’s way. Ultimately, give me the Wolverines.
Michigan 31 – Utah 24
Derick: Michigan hasn’t shown a flash of the performance it demonstrated against Appalachian State in the past two weeks, and if Brady Hoke’s team comes out slow against Utah it may fall to 2-2 in the non-conference season.
Derrick Green put another strong performance together against Miami (Ohio), and the offense will need him to shoulder the load again against this Pac-12 defense. If he can take pressure off of Devin Gardner, then Michigan has a great chance to control the game.
Michigan should bounce back from the adversity of the last two weeks and squeak out a win heading into Big Ten play.
Michigan 31 – Utah 28
Josh: This ain’t Urban Meyer’s Utah Utes but they are an explosive, high scoring team, to a point. Fresno State has give up 50-plus in all three of their games this year and Idaho St is a mid-level FCS team, so of course Utah has put up some crazy numbers. I circled this game as a toss-up and called it as one of my potential losses coming into the season. I haven’t changed my mind and depending on how the injuries play out Michigan may end up on the wrong end Saturday.
Before I go any further let me say I am a big fan of Blake Countess, he is a damn good ZONE cornerback but he is just awful as a press corner, especially against speedy receivers. He’s just not athletic enough to do it. His gift lies in baiting quarterbacks to think a receiver is open and then jumping the route for a nice pick or pass break-up. If he is made to play anything but zone against Utah I don’t like his chances. However, if some form of the combo of Lewis/Taylor/Peppers play the boundary, as we saw last week with Lewis and Peppers, I feel good about Michigan’s chances to lock down Utah’s receivers. The run defense has been rather stout thus far and I think that holds serve here against the Utes. The defense doesn’t concern me as it has been pretty solid through three game. For me, this game all boils down to the cornerback play. If Peppers/Lewis/Taylor are the guys pressing we’re in good shape, but as soon as Countess is called upon to play press odds are he’s gonna get beat and Utah will test him.
Offense is where I think we can run into some trouble. Every single team in America knows the formula to beat Michigan: pressure Devin Gardner and he will eventually turn it over. Utah is aggressive on defense and will pressure Gardner. Utah will be able to take advantage of turnovers and that could spell doom. If the offense can run the ball well, enough to keep the chains moving, then this shouldn’t be an issue, but if Gardner is put in third-and-long situations the offense will sputter. If Gardner can not turn it over, something that he struggles with immensely, the offense should be okay. But that is a big IF as we still have not seen the run game do anything against a decent opponent.
Devin Funchess may or may not be out, and I wouldn’t expect Brady Hoke to tip his hand regarding injuries, especially with his stud receiver. To be honest, I like our chances better if Funchess is out. Wait, what?! Yes, I like our chances better if Funchess is out. No, I’m not crazy…well, maybe. But hear me out. Gardner has a tendency to lock on to his No. 1, and then he has another tendency to force it to his No. 1. Funchess is a monster, we all know that, but when Gardner is under pressure (which he will be a lot come Saturday) he makes ill-advised (to put it lightly) throws and forces it to Funchess, which in turn leads to turnovers, which in turn often lead to bad losses. Without Funchess, Gardner (in my mind) will be less likely to force it to another receiver with whom he doesn’t have unfailing faith, as he does with Funchess. So somehow in my roundabout logic I think we’re better off without Funchess because Gardner won’t force so many bad passes and will be less likely to turn it over. On second thought, maybe I am crazy.
As with most games the better team does not always win, usually the team that makes the fewest mistakes wins. With Gardner at quarterback (I’ve all but lost faith in him, way too inconsistent to be trusted week to week) that is always a likelihood and I hate to be the guy who picks us to lose again but I’m going to do it anyway. Gardner will be pressured non-stop, he will turn it over one too many times, Utah will capitalize and win a close one.
Utah 31 – Michigan 24
Joe: I am starting to get the same feeling I had last year as Michigan battled a string of inferior programs. It’s not a good feeling! I want to see that killer instinct from a hungry group of Wolverines. I want to see something from this team that screams “things will be different this year.” I think I’m starting to see a little bit of this in the defense and hope they continue the upward progression this week. Let’s finally get the offense to join in and hit the Big Ten schedule running next week.
Utah likes to run an up-tempo offense and score in bunches, so keeping their offense off the field will be key. If Michigan is able to establish the run game early and control the clock, they will be just fine. I can see Green going for 150 and two touchdowns and Gardner mixing in another two through the air. The defense will force a few timely turnovers and hold on late for a close win. Michigan pulls this one out and look forward to Minnesota.
Michigan 31 – Utah 27
For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Utah game preview; a First Look at the Utes; our Week 3 Big Ten Power Rankings; this week’s BBQ/tailgate idea, grilled ravioli; a Q&A with Steve Bartle of the Utah blog Light the U; and this week’s Five-Spot Challenge.
Also check out game previews from MGoBlog, Maize n Brew, Maize n Blue Nation, and Touch the Banner. MGoFish provides a list of Michigan targets visiting tomorrow. Also, roundtable predictions from Maize n Brew.