Friday, September 19, 2014

Preview: Michigan vs. Utah

Rush Offense vs. Utah Rush Defense
Michigan has taken a step forward this season and comes into this game #30 in rushing (242 yards/game) and tied for #14 in yards per carry (6.26). Of course, the best performances have come against Appalachian State and Miami, but most teams have played a patsy or two by now. Leading the pack is sophomore Derrick Green (332 yards, 6.6 yards/carry, 3 touchdowns), who put the rushing game on his back last weekend. Backup De'Veon Smith (189, 7.9, 2) has also been effective at times, but has some athletic limitations. The offensive line has improved with the return of Graham Glasgow, who has taken over the right guard position from Kyle Kalis. Utah is #39 against the run and #22 in rushing average against (2.79 yards/carry), but they have yet to play a quality opponent in their two games. The Utes' leading tacklers are senior safety Eric Rowe, redshirt junior linebacker Jared Norris (6'2", 237 lbs.), and senior defensive end Nate Orchard (6'4", 255 lbs.). Walk-on defensive tackle Clint Shepard (6'2", 276 lbs.) has made some plays in the backfield, but is obviously undersized. The Utes run a base 4-2-5 defense that might leave them a little undersized against a decent sized offensive line and a couple running backs who are 220+ pounds.
Advantage: Michigan

Hit the jump for the remainder of the preview.

Pass Offense vs. Utah Pass Defense
Head coach Brady Hoke has not publicly announced whether top receiver Devin Funchess will return to action after missing the Miami-OH game with an ankle injury suffered against Notre Dame. Michigan is #101 in passing yardage per game (194.3) but #59 in passer rating. Quarterback Devin Gardner was great against Appalachian State, pretty good against Notre Dame until he started pressing when the team fell behind, and solid against Miami-OH. Gardner gets happy feet when people get in his grill, but he's effective when protected well and makes pretty good decisions on the edges. Starting tight end Jake Butt has returned from a torn ACL and was effective during a short stint against Miami-OH, and Gardner's other favorite target is redshirt sophomore Amara Darboh (9 catches, 137 yards, 1 touchdown). The Wolverines have allowed just 5 sacks so far this year, although that's partly due to some weak opponents and Gardner's running ability. That's still too many, but pass protection has improved since last year. Utah is #57 in passing yardage allowed (221 yards/game) and #61 in passer rating against. The Utes are tied for #8 nationally with 11 sacks, led by Orchard and redshirt sophomore defensive end Hunter Dimick (6'3", 266 lbs.) with 2.5 each. Backup linebacker Pita Taumoepenu has added 1.5 quarterback takedowns. They have failed to make any interceptions so far, and converted wide receiver Dominique Hatfield (5'10", 170 lbs.) leads the team with 2 pass breakups from his cornerback position. The nickel cornerback is Justin Thomas (5'8", 178 lbs.). The best potential match for Michigan's good-sized wideouts is converted safety Eric Rowe (6'1", 201 lbs.), who's in his first year at the position. Fifth year senior Brian Blechen (6'2", 210 lbs.) is a hybrid strong safety/outside linebacker who's more effective against the run and has only made 4 tackles this year; he was honorable mention all-conference in 2012 but missed last year due to injury. The defensive backs won't be an issue for Michigan, but the pass rush might.
Advantage: Utah

Rush Defense vs. Utah Rush Offense
Michigan is #10 in the country against the run, allowing just 80 yards/game. That's even more impressive considering that they have struggled to sack the quarterback. Teams are averaging just 2.64 yards/carry against them, which is 17th nationally. Junior linebacker Joe Bolden (22) and fifth year senior linebacker Jake Ryan (20) lead the team in tackles, and the next guy on the list is backup safety Dymonte Thomas with 10. While the Wolverines don't give much ground, they don't make a ton of plays in the backfield, either. They're tied for #85 in tackles for loss, and they have struggled to get penetration into the backfield. Meanwhile, Utah is #25 in the country with 248 yards/game on the ground. Despite being a fast-paced team, the offensive line averages about 311 lbs., which would give Rich Rodriguez a heart attack. Starting running back Bubba Poole (6'1", 197 lbs.) averages 5.1 yards/carry, but he has one fewer attempt (19) than backup Devontae Booker (5'11", 203 lbs.), who averages 7.3 yards/carry. The quarterback is 6'7", 233 lb. junior Travis Wilson, who runs with decent speed and some power. The Utes also have another threat in backup/change-of-pace quarterback Kendal Thompson (6'2", 192 lbs.). Michigan held up well against some good running backs at Notre Dame, so I think they can do the same on Saturday.
Advantage: Michigan

Pass Defense vs. Utah Pass Offense
Michigan is #23 nationally and giving up just 173 yards/game, and they're #53 in passer rating against. The pass rush has been pretty weak this year, partly because quarterbacks have been able to get rid of the ball quickly. The team's "top" pass rusher, defensive end Frank Clark, has zero sacks and two of the four team sacks have been by backup defensive linemen against Appalachian State. Strongside end Brennen Beyer is the top sack artist with 2 so far, and one of those happened because of a botched snap by Notre Dame. Michigan has a strong competition going at cornerback between sophomore Jourdan Lewis - who has the team's only pick - and Blake Countess and Jabrill Peppers and Raymon Taylor. Michigan will need to blitz to get to the quarterback, which is risky because of Utah's tempo and their receivers' playmaking ability. Fifth year senior Dres Anderson (6'2", 190 lbs.) is the star with 7 receptions, 195 yards (27.9 yards/catch), and 2 touchdowns. Redshirt junior Dawan Scott (6'3", 208 lbs.) is the possession guy. Fifth year senior Westlee Tonga (6'4", 244 lbs.) has 6 catches, 85 yards, and 1 touchdown in two games. Quarterback Wilson is completing 63% of his passes for 6 touchdowns and 0 interceptions, and he averages 11.7 yards/attempt, which is #2 in the country. Thompson has just 17 passing attempts, but he averages a respectable 9.2 yards/attempt. It's a multi-pronged attack that will challenge Michigan from a tempo standpoint, which was an issue against a team like Indiana last year.
Advantage: Utah

Roster Notes
  • Utah players offered by Michigan include OT Jackson Barton and DE Moana Ofahengaue.
  • Utah has a defensive tackle named Beaver Ho Ching, a cornerback named Boobie Hobbs, and an offensive guard named Junior Salt.
  • Utah LB Uaea Masina is the older brother of 2015 Michigan LB target Osa Masina.
  • Right guard Isaac Asiata is the cousin of Minnesota Vikings running back Matt Asiata.
  • Utah's head coach is Kyle Whittingham. His son, Alex Whittingham, is a walk-on linebacker. Kyle's brother, Fred Whittingham Jr., is the Director of Player Personnel. Their nephew is Jason Whittingham, a linebacker on the team. Kyle and Fred's father, Fred Whittingham Sr., was an assistant coach at Utah in the 1990s.
  • Running backs coach Dennis Erickson is the former head coach of the Miami Hurricanes, the Seattle Seahawks, and the San Francisco 49ers, among others.
  • Wide receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield used to be a wideout at Purdue.
Last Time They Played . . .
  • In the 2008 season, home, and Rich Rodriguez opener, Utah beat Michigan by a score of 25-23
  • Matt Asiata had 13 carries for 77 yards, plus 1 catch for 39 yards against the Wolverines. Paul Kruger led the Utes with 9 tackles 2.5 tackles for loss, and .5 sacks
  • Utah quarterback Brian Johnson was 21/33 for 305 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception
  • Brandon Minor had 4 carries for 21 yards while Sam McGuffie ran 8 times for 8 yards
  • Martavious Odoms caught 5 passes for just 7 yards
  • Junior Hemingway caught a 33-yard touchdown pass and then redshirted
  • Michigan notched 6 sacks, including 2 by Tim Jamison


  • Michigan gets exposed a little bit against tempo.
  • The Wolverines run the ball well but Utah forces Devin Gardner into getting happy feet.
  • Frank Clark gets his first sack of the year
  • Derrick Green fumbles for the first time
  • I am not feeling good about this one
  • Utah 31, Michigan 27


  1. Other than the prediction, the biggest thing that stood out was that Dymonte Thomas is 3rd on the team in tackles.

    Thomas DOES always appear to be around the football. Could his aggressive approach get us burned? Sure. But we also have made many "plays" on the back end. I would love to see him get some more run over Jeremy Clark as he appears to be much more aggressive.

  2. I have a terrible feeling about this game, this boat has been taking on water for 2 straight weeks.

    1. I agree. The fact we're worrying so much about a home game against Utah is very revealing. I can understand penciling games at Sparty and OSU as probable losses, but you'd think by now we'd have a little more confidence in games like this. Nope.

    2. Utah is good. I think they might be better than MSU. The transitive property may not mean much, but against Oregon Utah lost by about the same score last year, without their QB, as MSU lost this year.

    3. Utah is better than MSU? Wow, you are really laying the groundwork to diminish a loss. You should consider a career as a campaign manager.

  3. Uh...whut?

    Magnus, I realize that you go off numbers and a few observations, but the Utah-Fresno State game. Most of Utah's good plays on defense had nothing to do with Utah. I really don't think passing against these dudes will be an issue unless Orchard turns Cole into a turnstile.

    1. I'm afraid of Utah's pass rush, and I'm afraid of what will happen as the game goes along if they are getting to Gardner. My feeling is that the second half will look somewhat like the Notre Dame game. I hope I'm wrong.

  4. The way our team plays, I worry about every game, regardless of opponent. We should roll these guys, but I don't have any faith that that will happen. I hope I can be pleasantly surprised.

  5. "pass protection has improved since last year" - wow! That's not been my impression at all. Against ND, I thought Gardner saw heavy heat.

    Last year, through 3 games, Michigan had given up only 3 sacks, and that was against better competition than App St and Miami (not that CMU and Akron were great) and ND had a better DL.

    IMO, we don't have much to go on in this game as far as this season is concerned. Out of the 5 games these teams have played, 4 are against terrible teams. The stats are all but meaningless. The ND game is the real contest we have, and Michigan looked pretty bad in that one. It seems fans and pundits want to give MIchigan the benefit of the doubt that that was just an off day. I'm not so sure...

    Given the lack of evidence on this year's teams, I default to last year. Since both teams return a lot, this seems pretty reasonable...

    Utah was better than Michigan last year, despite their record. They played a tougher schedule, upset Stanford, and lost a lot of close games to good teams. Michigan won (and lost) close games too, but the close calls against UConn, Akron, Indiana, etc. spoke volumes.

    Now, Utah gets their QB back. While he has been interception-prone, he was also a true freshman (and a few games as a true soph). Now he's an upperclassmen, healthy, and still a 6'7 dual-threat. Utah is big and they run a very threatening scheme. They seem stronger than last year.

    I see no rational reason that Michigan should be favored here other than "talent". Home field will help, sure, but Utah is more stable and better coached and they've won here before. The ND game tells us Michigan is worse than last year. I have confidence in our defense being solid, but they've struggled against spread and tempo too many times for me to feel confident they will stop Utah.

    I agree with your prediction. Michigan fans will explode if we lose to Utah, but the reality is that Utah is (or at least could be) a very good team, potentially better than Notre Dame. A loss here does not mean doom for the program...but it will put Hoke on the hot seat, even to those that are reluctant to do the coach-blame thing that seems so popular these days.

    I'm actually a little worried we'll get blown out here, a la Notre Dame. A loss shouldn't be a huge deal, and won't be a real surprise, but man will is the public perception thing going to get ugly.

    So, I'm hoping for an 'upset' here. I hope Michigan can beat what looks like a better team with the advantage of homefield advantage. If this was in Utah (as next year's opener will be), I'd have very slim hopes for victory.

  6. I think we do roll these guys, the talent differential shows itself on this one Michigan 45, utah 10.

    1. I'll have what you're having please

    2. Michigan couldn't even beat Miami of Ohio by 5 touchdowns. You think Michigan will all of the sudden pummel a much better team?

  7. Jesus, you "fans" just can't be positive for one day can you! Everything is doom and gloom! Why not support the team! And guess who else is a part of the Michigan Wolverine football team? Brady Hoke!

    1. If they gave me reason to be positive, I'd be positive. I'm positive I was at that game in South Bend where Michigan positively stank and didn't sniff the end zone. I'm positive we booed last week when Miami of freakin Ohio was in the game at the half courtesy of the same crap mistakes we've seen for years. There's really not much reason to be positive based on what we've seen to this point.

  8. We WILL win this one fairly easily. Throw out the ND game. All the holes in the cheese aligned. Hot QB, bullshit PI calls, 2 of our 3 top CBs injured, road game, etc.....

    It's going to be VERY windy. I like our odds to stop their running game and also to get ours going a bit. That will be the difference in the double digit win. (Disclaimer- that's a DD predicted win if Funch plays)

    1. I agree. We win big. Gardner shreds a weak Utah defense early and often. Defense plays great throughout.

      Go Blue!

    2. Well you were half correct.
      Gardner looks lost out there. I dont know what it is. The time spent (wasted? ) at WR. His third OC in 5 years.

      I'd hate for a coaching change because we'll lose Mattison who I think is a fantastic DC.
      Also there is some talent on this team. Funchess, Clark. Starting over will just mean
      another couple of years of mediocre teams.