Utah Up-Close

As a casual or die-hard Michigan fan, you are eagerly awaiting the opening game of the 08 season. But you may have questions about our first opponent. So what the heck is a "Ute" anyway? Are they any good this year? Should I be worried? Is this going to end up like Appalachian State?

All of those questions, and many more will be covered in this, our first preview post of the 08 season!

Basics
Who: University of Michigan v. University of Utah
When: August 30, 2008, 3:30PM
Where: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
TV: ABC
Radio: 104.3 WOMC
Series: UM-1 Utah-0

Program Background
Conference: Mountain West
Head Coach: Kyle Whittingham
Off. Coordinator: Andy Ludwig
Off. Scheme: Spread
Def. Coordinator: Gary Anderson
Def. Scheme: 4-3
Last year: 9-4 (5-3)

Utah On Paper
First of all, this is not the same Utah team from a few years ago that went 12-0 and beat 4 BCS teams. That was in the days of Urban Meyer's players. Now-a-days, they still run the spread, who doesn't...but right now, the mainstream media is desperately searching for this year's Boise State or Hawaii...and Utah is on their radar. With an opening game at Michigan, if they should somehow win...it would thrust them into the ESPN cross hairs.

We here are MBN are not buying into that hype. Do they have a clear shot to win the game? Sure. Why not? At this point, Michigan fans know less about Michigan than they do Utah. So the same argument could be made that the Utah coaching staff knows less about Michigan than they would like as well. As Sean from Utah blog Block U pointed out last week, there really is no way for Utah to adequately prepare for this game. That could be obvious right off the bat.

And let's not forget, let's NOT forget...Utah plays in front of 40,000 people at home. The biggest stadium they played in last year was at BYU at 65,000. Playing in the Big House, especially the now bigger Big House in front of 106,000 people is going to be intimidating. I don't care who you are.

Utah On Offense
7 starters come back from 2007. They do return some key players, including starting QB Brian Johnson. He had a okay 2007. A 66% passing percentage, but he only had 11 TDs and 10 Ints. Corbin Louks, a sophomore who planned to redshirt last year but came out in week 3 saw action in 10 games. Word on the street is Johnson is fragile...so Louks coupld play if Johnson gets hurt or struggles.

Their top rusher, Darrell Mack is also back. He ran for over 1200 yards and 12 TDs last year, with a 4.8 yds/carry.

Receivers are all over the place...9 guys caught TD passes last year, with 4 of them having 3 each. But their 07 top receiver Darrek Richards is gone.

One of the nice things for Utah though is 4 of the 5 O-Line starters are returning. And they better be, because if there is one place Utah better be good, it's the O-Line. Our whole D-Line returns and they are good.

The official Utes webpage has a little rundown of the final scrimmage last week. Some noteworthy quotes:
Statistics weren't kept at Wednesday morning's scrimmage, but had they been, the offensive numbers would have beaten anything tabulated in two prior scrimmages. Both the No. 1 and No. 2 offenses moved the ball well, which won them praise from head coach Kyle Whittingham.

"That's the best the offense has looked this camp. Our No. 2 offense, in particular, showed improvement. It has struggled against the No. 1 defense, but did a nice job today," said Whittingham. "The No. 1's picked up where they left off yesterday, when we had a very good practice."

In the last scrimmage before the Utes open their season at Michigan on Aug. 30, several players stood out for the offense. On the first play, Ray Stowers broke loose for a 20-yard gain in a drive that ended with a 42-yard field goal by Ben Vroman. Vroman, who made two of three field goal attempts, filled in for All-American Louie Sakoda. Sakoda sat out with an infected calf, believed to be caused by a spider bite. The bite is healing and he is expected back on the field in the next day or two.

Also...

Red zone situations followed and the offense performed significantly better than on Saturday, when it struggled to get anything against the defense. Johnson threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Brooks and the No. 2 defense also scored, when Eddie Wide ran 25 yards for a touchdown on the first play against the No. 1 defense. Sean Sellwood made a 32-yard field goal for the second string in other red zone action. The No. 3 offense almost made it three-for-three, when Chad Manis found Chris Joppru in the back of the end zone. RJ Rice and Robert Johnson stripped the ball from Joppru, resulting in an incomplete pass.

The punt return team had its chance to shine next and made up for a poor showing at Saturday's scrimmage. Reed ripped off a 60-yard return for a score, followed by a 50-yard run back by Brooks - both coming against a scout team unprepared for their speed.

The defense, which "did not have its best day of camp, but still is right on track," according to Whittingham, showed some energy at the end of the scrimmage when the offense started on its own 35-yard line. None of the offensive units scored in those drills and Chaz Walker made a big pass breakup.

After the scrimmage, Whittingham reported that attention would now be completely turned on preparations for Michigan. The Utes will hold a light workout this afternoon and have nine total practices remaining before playing the Wolverines in the Big House.
So take that for what it's worth. Most pre-season scrimmages are rife with mistakes and goofs...especially when they take place in the stadium and not on the practice field. But from the sounds of it, Utah is not quite where the coaches need them to be.

Let's face it, finding good credible information (for free) about a Mountain West program is not easy. We have to go with what we can find. I am pretty much Googling as much as I can, and it seems like the Salt Lake Tribune is the place for "official" Utes Football info.

They have graded each position going into the 08 season. They are as follows:

QB: B+
WR: B+
RB: A
OL/TE: B

Now, okay. Those are the grades I might give USC this year. So we'll add a bit of homer-ism in there. Utah is a good team, but an "A" at running back is a stretch. tOSU is may be one the only teams in the nation that I would give an "A" to in the RB dept. Utah was ranked 43rd in the nation in total rushing last year.

They offer up some info on each position to back up their claim, you can read those here.

Utah On Defense
The Utah coaches say the defense is not where they need them to be right now. Some of that can be pre-season coaching banter...coaches are never satisfied no matter what in the pre-season. But for them to actually proclaim they are behind schedule is not a good sign.

I like to think the Mountain West Conference is kind of like the MAC of the west. By that I mean, in some conferences, its all about offense. And when it's all about offense, it's not about defense. Utah last year bucked that trend with the #5 ranked scoring defense in the country. But in 5 non-conference games they averaged 23 points against per. 10 more points per game than in-conference.

Let's put it this way, for Utah's defense to do well against you, you had to be a conference opponent with a losing record playing at Utah.

Howeva!

How good Utah's defense looks against Michigan will have a lot to do with how good Michigan's offense looks against Utah.

Huh?

Well, like I said before, no one knows anything about Michigan's offense. We know what it looked like last year. But that's with 9 guys who are no longer on the team. And we usually know what to expect from Lloyd and DeBord...but they're not here either. So if you're Utah's defensive coordinator Gary Anderson, you have the toughest job on the staff. Everywhere you look is another question mark. There is no game film to study, there is no returning starters to look at. All of our QBs have yet to throw a pass in college. Good luck!

However, Utah's defense is not such a mystery.

Let's start with the Salt Lake Tribune's grades and work backwards.

DB: A
DL: B-
LB: B+

Again...tOSU? Yes. Utah? Not quite. Apparently, they don't watch a whole lot of college football in Utah. When the coaches are less than nervous about the defense's performance in the final scrimmage of the summer, it's time to be worried. Maybe they should just pick up a Salt Lake Tribune, turn to the sports page and put their minds at ease.

Now all kidding aside, the defense for Utah is good.

In defensive backs, the same squad that led the country in defensive pass efficiency last year are back. Brice McCain, Robert Johnson and Joe Dale are the leaders in the group. McCain can reportedly run a...ahem...4.28 40-time. Which is fast.

Johnson and Dale were lights out in the...ahem...Poinsettia Bowl last year, and earned defensive MVP honors.

That's the good. It kind of drops off from there.

Linebackers are not too bad...not much leadership though. Not one senior in the group.

And the D-Line is the most inexperienced group on the field. Which is good, because so is our offensive line.

Let me just say that the Utah defense will see at least 4 different running backs coming at them at any given time. Both Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown are healthy and should play. Freshman Sam McGuffie and Michael Shaw will start, and they are what RB coach Fred Jackson calls the best RB class ever.

Oh, and not to mention 5-wide sets, no huddles and more spread-option than you can swing a dead cat at*.

More info will make it's way out by the end of the week, but this should give you enough to chew on until then. Go Blue!

*= MBN does not condone killing cats, and/or killing cats and swinging them around...especially in Ann Arbor.

2 comments

  1. UTAH has a good team, but you are right, they aren't going to beat Michigan. I just don't see it, and the line for that game at -3.5 is stupid. Utah does have a dynamic QB, and a 1000 yard rusher returning, BUT their QB has never lived up to the hype he brought with him after their BCS year.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous2:57 PM

    Uh...anyone printing retractions? And best of luck to Michigan for the rest of the year...we don't want this victory tainted by a 5-7 record from Michigan this year.

    With love from UTAH

    ReplyDelete

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