Big game of the season to this point in the biggest venue in all of College Football for the Utes on Saturday as they play the Michigan Wolverines. This will be Utah’s 3rd trip to Ann Arbor and the “Big House”. In 2002 it was a 10-7 loss to Michigan and in 2008 it was a 25-23 win over the Big Blue.
Their last match up against Michigan came during the turbulent Rich Rod Era and the loss to Utah in the 2008 opener was the beginning of the end of Rodriguez at Michigan. Saturday Utah will see another Michigan Head Coach in some trouble. Brady Hoke is in year number four at Michigan and Big Blue Nation is restless, because they’ve seen Hoke go from 11 wins in year 1 to 8 wins in year 2 to 7 wins in year 3. Then 2 weeks ago in South Bend, Michigan was shut out 31-0. It was the first time in that long and storied rivalry that the Wolverines had been shut out.
The Wolverines enter Saturday with some injury questions to key starters, including their most dangerous offensive weapon and Biletnikoff Award nominee Devin Funchess, who missed last Saturday’s game and remains questionable with a leg injury.
Utah comes to Big 10 country in good shape coming off their bye week. Both Junior Salt and Kaelin Clay are expected to play on Saturday and Utah fans will get their first look at Miami transfer LB Gionni Paul, who will start at Middle Linebacker against Michigan.
Weather conditions for Saturday are expected to be 74 degrees and a 60% percent chance for rain at kickoff. So with that said here are my 3 Keys for tomorrow’s big match up…
1. Stop the RUN!–It sounds simple but against this particular Michigan team it’s the truth. The Wolverines are 3rd in the Big 10 and 29th in the NCAA after 3 games at 242 yards/game. Lead back Derek Green has 332 yards and 2 100 yard rushing efforts in their first 3 games. While QB Devin Gardner ranks #1 in Passing Efficiency at Michigan, he’s wildly erratic through 3 games, with 3 interceptions and 1 fumble. Plus Michigan may be missing it’s #1 receiving target, Devin Funchess. Stop the run and take your chances with the Wolverines passing game.
2. A Need for Speed-The last few years Utah hasn’t found itself at an advantage when it came to team speed. After 4 years of recruiting Pac 12 caliber talent, that advantage is beginning to turn. Saturday against Michigan Utah should have a big advantage in edge speed, especially in Wide Receiver vs. Secondary match ups. Dave Christensen and his ability to exploit Anderson, Scott, Clay and Tonga against a beat up Michigan Secondary could be the big difference in this game.
3. Special Teams-Yet another area where Utah could have a decided advantage in Saturday’s match up. I don’t think many, if any, teams in College Football have a better punter/kicker combination that Kyle Whittingham does. Hackett and Phillips are game changers, plus the addition of a healthy Kaelin Clay makes the kick and return game major threats. Michigan is average at best in their kicking game. Matt Wile the place kicker is just 3-6 on the season on field goals, while punter Will Hagerup averages 43 yards per punt. The one bright spot in the Michigan special teams is return man Dennis Norfleet, who ranks 2nd in Big Blue history in kick returns. Utah’s ability to control field position with special teams should be a major advantage Saturday.
My Prediction: Utah 31 Michigan 21
Ute Game Day on ESPN 700 starts at 9am Saturday with Sean O’Connell and John Pease. Join Me, Frank Dolce and Bo Nagahi from the Big House at 11:30 on ESPN 700. Go Utes!