In just two days, 8:30 in the East, 6:30 in the West, the Utah Utes will take on the Michigan Wolverines inside Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah live on FOX SPORTS 1.
Utah currently leads the series 2-1.
Let’s take a look at the matchups.
Travis Wilson/Kendal Thompson vs Shane Morris or Jake Rudock
Travis Wilson will be the starter at QB for the Utes, unless something changes in the next couple of days. I am assuming that Kendal Thompson has some packages installed for him as well so both QBs should play vs Michigan. Nobody knows besides Michigan who will start for them at QB. I am going to assume it will be Jake Rudock but I wouldn’t be surprised to see both he and Morris get playing time vs the Utes.
Last season Wilson and Thompson both saw time against Michigan. Wilson finished the game 14/20 for 172yds and 1TD while Thompson finished 4/7 for 33yds and 1INT. Jake Rudock transferred to Michigan from the University of Iowa. Rudock has started 25 games in his career so he does have playing experience just not against Utah. Shane Morris played against Utah last season and finished the game 4/13 for 42yds and 1INT.
Last season both Utah and Michigan seemed to struggle on offense and couldn’t quite get much of anything going. This season I expect a lot of “smash mouth” football from both sides, but I think both teams will want to show they are a passing threat as well. It will be interesting to see how the QBs from both teams play.
Reason: The QB position is a ? for both teams.
Devontae Booker/Joe Williams vs De’Veon Smith/Derrick Green/Ty Isaac
“SMASH MOUTH” Football, like I mentioned above. Both teams are going to run the ball A LOT! Last season Devontae Booker saw limited action against Michigan. Booker finished the game with 11 carries for 34yds. It’s kind of crazy to think that Booker wasn’t even the starting RB against Michigan and this season he is a Heisman hopeful. Booker went on to finish the season over 1000yds rushing. His backup Joe Williams will for sure get some carries. Williams is a very capable backup who can burn you if you let him.
Derrick Green was the leading rusher against Utah last season. He finished the game with 14 carries for 59yds. De’Veon Smith also saw some action finishing with 4 carries for 5yds. Green was the starter last season until an injury cut his season short. Smith took over and led Michigan in rushing with 519yds and 6TDs. Smith and Green should get a majority of the carries with Isaac sprinkled in.
Reason: Booker is one of the best RBs in College Football. All American Candidate/Heisman Hopeful
Kenneth Scott/Bubba Poole/Receivers by Committee vs Amara Darboh/Jehu Chesson/Receivers by Committee
Probably one of the more intriguing matchups on offense. Last season was tough for both teams receiving wise. Utah really never established any kind of passing game and Michigan struggled as well.
The Utes return Kenneth Scott, Bubba Poole and possibly Tim Patrick. Last season Bubba Poole led all Utes receivers with 3 rec for 75yds. The funny thing is, Poole was the starting RB last season against Michigan but he made the move to WR this spring. Tim Patrick finished with 2 rec for 30yds against Michigan while Kenneth Scott chipped in 4 rec for 21yds. Not stellar numbers for a receiving core but Utah’s offense really struggled throughout the Michigan game last season. Hopefully they will be out for some redemption this time around.
Michigan returns two receivers in Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson. Last season against the Utes both Darboh finished with 1 rec for 5yds and Chesson 2 rec for 18yds. Not a stellar outing either for Michigan passing wise last season. Darboh is Michigan’s top returning receiver.
Both teams have their work cut out for them in the receiving department. It will be interesting to see who steps up. The Utes like Michigan have a lot of young talented receivers who will see the field.
Reason: WR is a ? on both teams. Who will step up? Remains to be seen.
Siale Fakailoatonga/Evan Moeai vs Jake Butt/Khalid Hill/AJ Williams
Tight End was kind of an after thought when both teams met last season. The Utes didn’t have a tight end that recorded a single catch while Michigan had a couple of their tight ends pitch in a little bit.
Both the Utes and Michigan have some pretty big targets at the tight end position. How much outside of blocking they will be used remains to be seen. Most likely both teams will look to utilize the tight ends a lot more this time around. Michigan does have a 2015 Mackey Award Candidate in Jake Butt 6’6 250lbs so he should get a lot of looks.
Reason: Michigan’s style of offense, Mackey Award Candidate
Tevi/Asiata/Aiono/Uhatafe/Dielman vs Cole/Braden/Glasgow/Kalis/Magnuson
The big fellas up front. Both teams return starters along the offensive line. Both teams have a lot of experience along their offensive lines.
The question remains- Which offensive line is going to perform better?
Last season, neither offensive line performed that well in an ugly game. This season both O lines will go up against pretty stout Defensive Lines.
Which line is going to open up the holes for the running game?
Which line is going to give the best pass protection?
Reason: Utah’s offensive line is a little bit smaller than Michigan’s line but what they lack in size they make up for in “NASTINESS!!” Michigan’s offensive line is going to have their hands full all game long. They don’t call it Sack Lake City for nothing.
Sack Lake City vs Michigan’s D Line
Utah will again have one of the best defensive lines in college football. The Utes are stacked at all four positions along the defensive line. Hunter Dimick,Lowell Lotulelei,Jason Fanaika, Filipo Mokofisi and Co. will look to continue to wreak havoc upon opposing QBs. Sack Lake City shouldn’t miss a beat after having an incredible season last year.
Michigan returns a solid defensive front. All four of their returning starters have a lot of playing experience. Will they be as good as Utah’s D line? I don’t think so but they will be good.
Reason: Utah is stacked at all four positions across the defensive line. They could be one of the best, if not the best D Line in the country.
Whittingham/Paul/Norris vs Morgan/Bolden/Ross
Both teams return very good linebacking groups. Experienced, Seniors, Tough, Hard Nosed Leaders on both teams.
Utah returns 3 Seniors in Jason Whittingham, Gionni Paul and Jared Norris. Last season against Michigan, Paul led the Utes in tackles with 14 and chipped in 1INT. This trio could go down as one of the best in Utah history IF they can all stay healthy. Paul and Norris are both candidates for end of the season awards.
Michigan returns 3 very solid linebackers. Bolden, Morgan and Ross are all candidates for end of the season awards. Like Utah’s linebackers, all three of these guys have motors that are unmatched.
We will call this a battle of the ball hawks. All these linebackers have the ability to change the game.
Reason: It’s so close to being even but I have to give the edge to Michigan. Their linebackers as a group might be a tad bit better than Utah.
Porter/Butler-Byrd/Thomas/Carter/Williams vs Lewis/Stribling/Peppers/Wilson
Utah will have two new Corners in Reggie Porter and Cory Butler-Byrd to go along with a “new” Strong Safety Tevin Carter and returning starter Marcus Williams at Free Safety. Porter and Butler-Byrd should fill in nicely at corner. The only knack on them is experience. Carter moves over to Strong Safety from Free Safety last season. Michigan should remember Carter pretty well. Marcus Williams, who filled in for the injured Carter last season will resume his role at Free Safety. The Utes play A LOT of Nickel, not sure how much they will play against Michigan but Justin Thomas will start there.
Michigan has a very good defensive backfield. Jabrill Peppers is a very good athlete at Strong Safety, Jourdan Lewis is a very good Corner. At Free Safety the Wolverines return Jarrod Wilson. Opposite Lewis at the other Corner is Channing Stribling.
Jabrill Peppers and Tevin Carter are two very good safeties who both had their seasons cut short last year by injury. Both are playmakers who have the ability to change the pace of the game. That would be my key matchup in the defensive backfield.
Reason: The Defensive Backfield on both teams have a lot of talent. It will be interesting to see which side makes the most plays.
The Utes definitely have the advantage in the Kicking and Punting game. They have the best duo in all of college football.
The return game is what will be interesting. The Utes have a FR Punt Returner and a JC Transfer returning Kickoffs. Both guys are insanely talented but experience will play a factor in the first game.
Michigan has two talented returners in Jehu Chesson and Jabrill Peppers who both have experience returning punts and kickoffs.
Reason: Phillips and Hackett, Covey will surprise a lot of people and Butler-Byrd will have a Kaelin Clay type impact.
Whittingham and Staff vs Harbaugh and Staff
A good matchup of some tough, hard nosed, competitive coaches. Whittingham is the defensive guru while Harbaugh is more of an offensive guy. It will definitely be a fun battle to watch.
Reason: Whittingham is the master at getting his team ready for big games.
HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE: UTAH UTES
Reason: Rice Eccles, Elevation, The MUSS, The NEZ
My prediction: Utah beats Michigan in a hard fought battle. The first half is a grind em out, feel each other out battle but the second half Utah pulls away.
Give me your predictions!