College Football: Will the Utes Uspet Michigan?

Jason BarczyCorrespondent IAugust 28, 2008

Utah Utes (0-0) at Michigan Wolverines (0-0)

at Michigan Stadium, 3:30 p.m. ET

Line: Michigan -3.5

Last time: Michigan beat Utah in its only other meeting 10-7 in 2002.

Last season: Utah 9-4, Michigan 9-4.

Alright ladies and gentlemen, let's get this show started and who do we have first? The Utah Utes, everyone's favorite upset pick of the week. You know, if it wasn't for the nightmare that occurred on Sept. 1, 2007, Michigan would probably be favored by three scores.

But, unfortunately App. St. did happen and Michigan fans still have a vein waiting to pop in their foreheads, mine included. Now every little mid-major program and D-II team thinks it's David waiting to slay Goliath.

All of which has led to Utah being the fashionable pick this week to win in the Big House. Before we get to predictions, let's analyze this little darling before we crown her Cinderella.

Utah Offense

Utah was pretty banged up last year with starting quarterback Brian Johnson knocked out of the first game with a shoulder injury against Oregon State. When he did return, coaches limited his running ability. After missing two games, Johnson returned and went 8-1 the rest of the season. He ultimately finished with over 1,800 yards passing with 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Matt Asiata started at running back but he never got started after breaking his leg on his fourth carry against Oregon State. He returns healthy and should split carries with leading rusher Darrell Mack, who rushed for over 1,200 yards and 12 TDs.

If the medical staff wasn't already swamped after week one, it got worse in week two when leading receiver Brent Casteel went down with a knee injury. Casteel is back but the Utes lost their top receiver to graduation in Derrick Richards and depth is an issue for a team that usually spreads it out. The tight end position in Utah's offense is usually just a blocker, but it features Chris Joppru. Yes that's right, the brother of former Michigan All-American Bennie Joppru.

The Ute's offensive line returns four starters so they're solid there. Overall, Utah finished the 2007 season ranked 79th in total offense and just 7th in the Mountain West. The passing game was 81st and rushing was 43rd.

Utah Defense

Defensive Ends Paul Kruger and Koa Misi shored up Utah's defense after the Utes started the season 1-3. But two sophomores are expected to start on the interior of the d-line that helped Utah register 37 sacks last season.

Utah lost two linebackers and should not be as strong. The secondary returns both defensive backs but loses starting strong safety and leading tackler Steve Tate. Overall, Utah lost five starters on a defense that was quite impressive last year.

The Utes ranked 18th overall in the country and had the 11th best pass defense and 52nd best run defense. With Michigan rebuilding on offense and Utah taking hits on defense it'll be interesting to see these two units on the field together. Could be great, could be a disaster.

Some more fun facts to throw out there: Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham is 2-2 against the Big 10 with two wins over Indiana. He's 4-3 versus BCS schools and Utah is 6-8 all-time against the Big 10.

Michigan is still pretty new to running the spread, and Utah has been doing this for years. Michigan's defense has got to be sick of not being able to stop the spread (App. St., Ohio State, Oregon, Texas, etc. etc.) and with a full off-season of practicing against it, they should be well-versed in how to stop it.

Nick Sheridan and Steven Threet both ran spread offenses in high school and while this isn't high school anymore, whoever starts on Saturday (probably Sheridan) should be more than ready for this.

Rich Rodriguez is a master of preparation and won't be taking Utah as lightly as Lloyd Carr did App. St. Scott Schafer's defensive philosophy of constantly putting pressure on the quarterback is exactly how you stop the spread.

Get to the quarterback quickly and force him to make mistakes. Tim Jamison and Brandon Graham will be having a field day against smaller offensive tackles. Brian Johnson has developed a decent relationship with just one of his receivers so put Morgan Trent on him and force Johnson to second guess his other receivers.

Michigan is going to win this game and I don't think it's going to be pretty for Utah. There are two HUGE motivating factors going into this:

Appalachian State. Everyone still remembers it and right now it's being shoved down their throats on ESPN and from fans and media outlets everywhere. There are still a lot of players on the Wolverines who were here last year and remember it. They don't want to go through that again and will do anything to prevent it.

Secondly is RichRod. Who really thinks that he wants to start his Michigan coaching career with an embarrassing loss at home? Yeah, no one. He wants to prove to everyone that he made the right choice coming here and that Michigan made the right choice hiring him.

And adding to the little history lesson I wrote the other day about how similar Bo Schembechler's first year has been to RichRod's. Just look back and see that Bo won his first game 42-14 at home against Vanderbilt.

Prediction: Michigan 35, Utah 10


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