Michigan Wolverines at Utah Utes
Rice-Eccles Stadium – Salt Lake City, Utah
Thursday, September 3, 2015, 8:30 pm Eastern, TV: Fox Sports 1
Opening Line: Utah -4 1/2
Current Line: Utah -5
Opening Total: 46 1/2
Current Total: 46 1/2
Opening Money Line: Utah -210 / Michigan +160
Current Money Line: Utah -205 / Michigan +173
Brady Hoke was the coach at Michigan for four seasons. After an 11-2 season in 2011 culminated with a Sugar Bowl win, Michigan had three mostly forgettable seasons. Last year’s 5-7 season was the last straw for Michigan administrators and boosters. Hoke was fired. The Wolverines lost to rivals Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State all by 14 points or more. There was a rumor that Hoke was going to join Notre Dame’s coaching staff, but Hoke got a job as a TV analyst for CBS Sports.
Michigan hired former Wolverine quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who had previously had great success as the coach at Stanford and for the San Francisco 49ers. Harbaugh led the 49ers to three straight trips to at least the NFC Championship including a Super Bowl loss in 2012. After a disappointing 8-8 season last year, Harbaugh was dismissed. The 49ers say it was a mutual decision, but Harbaugh claims the team forced him out. He had clashed with team owners and the GM over personnel decisions.
The Harbaugh era gets underway Thursday night as the Wolverines travel to the Utah Utes. Utah is coached by Kyle Whittingham, who enters his 11th season as head coach of the Utes. Utah went 9-4 last year, including a 45-10 rout over former Mountain West/WAC conference rival Colorado State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
This is the fourth meeting between Michigan and Utah, and first in Salt Lake City. Utah leads the series 2-1, with all three meetings coming since 2002. The Utes won last year in Ann Arbor 26-10 after a nearly 3 hour lightning delay in the fourth quarter.
Michigan was 5-7 ATS and the total was also 5-7 last year. Utah was 9-4 ATS and the total was 4-8-1 last year.
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Michigan was terrible on offense last year. The Wolverines averaged 333 yards per game on offense, including 170 passing and 163 rushing yards. Michigan scored 20.9 points per game. The Wolverines were #109 or worse out of 128 teams all those categories except rushing. Michigan was -16 in turnovers last year and only 7 teams were worse than that. Michigan had a dominant defense allowing 311 yards per game, including 194 passing and 118 rushing yards. Michigan allowed 22.4 points per game. The Wolverines were #27 or better in all four categories.
Quarterback Devin Gardner has graduated. Last year, he threw for 1,896 yards with 10 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, and rushed for 258 yards with 4 touchdowns. Shane Morris, last year’s back-up, and Iowa transfer Jake Rudock have competed throughout the fall for the starting job. Harbaugh has said he told the two who will start Thursday but will not release that information to the public until game time. Rudock threw for 2,436 yards with 16 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, and rushed for 176 yards with 3 touchdowns. Morris threw for 128 yards with 3 interceptions and no touchdowns last year.
Running back De’Veon Smith had 108 carries for 519 yards and 6 touchdowns, along with 3 catches. Derrick Green had 82 catches for 471 yards and 3 touchdowns. Drake Johnson is questionable with a knee injury. He had 60 carries for 361 yards and 4 touchdowns. Sophomore Ty Isaac will also get some carries.
Leading receiver Devin Funchess is now with the Carolina Panthers. He had 62 catches for 733 yards and 4 touchdowns. Amara Darboh had 36 catches for 473 yards and 2 touchdowns. He is probable with a finger injury. Tight end Jake Butt has 21 catches for 211 yards and 2 touchdowns. Jehu Chesson will also get more targets after making 14 catches for 154 yards last year.
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Last year, the Utah offense averaged 388 yards per game and 31 points per game.The Utes averaged 198 passing and 190 rushing yards. The Utes were in the top 50 nationally in rushing and scoring. Utah was +5 in turnovers. The Utes gave up 394 yards per game and 25 points per game on defense. Utah gave up 247 passing and 147 rushing yards.
Senior quarterbacks Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson split time last year at quarterback, and will likely do so again in 2015. Wilson was cleared to play last year after a severe concussion in 2013. Wilson completed 60.7% of his passes for 2,170 yards with 18 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Wilson was also the team’s second leading rusher with 114 carries for 309 yards and 5 touchdowns. Former Oklahoma quarterback Thompson replaced an inconsistent Wilson twice last year as the starter, but Thompson suffered a knee injury before the bowl game. Thompson threw for 324 yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, and also rushed for 192 yards on 56 carries with 1 touchdown.
Running back Devontae Booker is back for his senior year after he had 292 carries for 1,512 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2014. Booker also had 43 catches for 306 yards and 2 touchdowns. JUCO transfer Joe Williams will likely get the back-up carries. Sophomore Troy McCormick suffered a knee injury in the spring game and is questionable for the fall.
Utah must replace receiver Kaelin Clay now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He had 43 catches for 523 yards and 4 touchdowns. Utah will rely on senior receiver Kenneth Scott who had 48 catches for 506 yards and 4 touchdowns. Utah must also replace tight end Westlee Tonga who had 30 catches for 391 yards and 4 touchdowns. Siale Fakailoatonga will be the new starting tight end. Receiver Dres Anderson is now with the San Francisco 49ers after making 22 catches and 4 touchdowns. Bubba Poole moves from running back to receiver in 2015. He had 49 carries for 211 yards and 3 touchdowns, and also had 12 catches for 93 yards.
Michigan is 4-1 ATS on fieldturf, 11-25-1 in road games, 1-6 in non-conference games, 0-8 against Pac 12 teams, and 0-6 in September games.
Utah is 5-0 ATS against Big Ten teams, 4-1 in Thursday games, 9-4 overall and 37-17-2 in non-conference games.
Michigan will be improved under Harbaugh, and will likely return to a bowl game. However, the offense will still struggle. I think Michigan keeps it close in a low scoring game, but Utah wins at home on a late field goal. Interestingly, all four of Michigan’s non-conference games are against teams from West of the Rockies. Michigan will host Oregon State, UNLV and BYU after this game.
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