Breaking it down: Michigan vs. Utah
Who: Michigan vs. Utah
When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. CT
Where: Rice-Eccles Stadium, Utah
TV: Fox Sports1
Spread: Utah -5.5
Matchup to Watch: Devontae Booker vs. Michigan LB’s
The Utah running back is not the same guy that was held to 34 yards in last year’s meeting. One of the nation’s top returning rushers will give Michigan’s 17th-ranked run defense an important early test. The strength of the Wolverines on the defensive side is at linebacker, where Joe Bolden and James Ross III will look to wrap up the talented Utah back. Booker also made headlines for saying that he’s annoyed with all the Jim Harbaugh hype. He might not be enemy No. 1 for Michigan, but the senior definitely has a chip on his shoulder heading into Thursday.
Thing I’m excited to see: Jabrill Peppers play football
If not for all this Harbaugh hype, we’d be hearing even more about Peppers’ first full season — Michigan fans hope — in the starting lineup. The former five-star recruit will start at strong safety, where his combination of speed and strength will shine. But it’s everywhere else that could make Peppers one of the nation’s most versatile threats. It’ll be interesting to see if Harbaugh has the redshirt freshman involved in offensive packages right away or if he eases him into things. Peppers already said he’s comfortable lining up anywhere besides the line. He figures to be a factor on special teams as well, though Harbaugh didn’t name him the outright starter at either return positions. We’ll see a ton of Harbaugh on Thursday — don’t forget about the “khaki cam” — and if we’re lucky, we’ll see a ton of Peppers, too.
Number to Remember: 0
That was Michigan’s offensive output against Utah in the second half last year. That stormy night was the first time the boo birds surfaced in Ann Arbor. To go that long without points in the Big House is rare. Utah returns seven of those starters that pitched a second half shutout. Sure, it’s a new set of Michigan skill players, but the Utes defense executed well enough against the Wolverines to get one of their nine wins. All three of Utah’s talented linebackers are back, including captain Jared Norris, who has a Utes logo tattooed on his head?! The point is, Utah still has some bad dudes on that defense, and Michigan’s new-look offense will face quite the challenge in the opener.
Prediction: Utah 24, Michigan 17
Ok, so I’m probably going to catch some serious flack for this but hear me out. I do think the Michigan offense will show significant improvement in 2015. Whether it’s Jake Rudock or Shane Morris at quarterback, there’s no way the Wolverines can be as clueless offensively as they were last year under Brady Hoke. The Harbaugh effect will surface, but I don’t think the Wolverines have the playmakers yet to go into a hostile road environment and beat a solid Pac-12 team Week 1. Patience, my maize and blue friends. It’ll happen.