Throughout the offseason, people wondered how Utah would do this fall after losing both coordinators.
If Thursday night’s performance is any indication, the answer is “just fine.”
That’s not to say that the Utes were perfect. The Utah pass rush – which led the nation in sacks last year – failed to produce one against Michigan. On the other side of the ball, the Ute offense struggled on third down, converting on just 3 of 13 attempts.
While the numbers (or lack thereof) are concerning, the good clearly outweighed the bad in this contest. Yes, the front seven failed to record a sack, but they did put some pressure Jake Rudock, which helped force a crucial pick in the first quarter. The defensive line also won the war in the trenches for most of the evening, limiting Michigan to 76 yards on 29 carries.
However, it was the Utah secondary that stole the show. Despite breaking in three new starters, the Utes’ group of defensive backs came up with big plays all night long, recording three interceptions, including a pick six in the fourth quarter that put the game out of reach.
The offense also turned in a solid performance. Travis Wilson looked extremely comfortable in Jim Harding’s offensive scheme, completing 24 of 34 passes for 205 yards, and rushing for 47 yards on 12 carries. This ultimately opened things up for Devontae Booker, who ran for 44 yards in the second half.
In all, the Utes racked up 337 yards of total offense. That’s not a bad outing against a Wolverine defense that returned seven starters from a unit which ranked seventh nationally in total defense last season.
So, what does it all mean?
Although it’s dangerous to make conclusions about the rest of the season based on just one game, it’s clear that Utah will be a contender in the Pac-12 South. While many expected the Ute offense and defense to take a step back under new leadership, Thursday night’s performances suggest that there will not be any drop-off this fall.
As the season progresses, this win will look a lot more impressive than it does now. From what we saw on the gridiron on Thursday, Michigan is a much better team than it was a year ago. Provided that the team does a better job of protecting the football – something it clearly didn’t do tonight – I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Wolverines finish near the top of the Big Ten East division.
That last sentence speaks volumes about how well Utah played in this game, and should ease any concerns about the team’s new offensive and defensive coordinators.