The Michigan Wolverines put up an above average fight in the first game of the Jim Harbaugh Era, but inconsistent play from start to finish constantly held the team back as it fell to the Utah Utes 24-17 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Utah was able to take control of the game early on the first possession, which certainly helped on top of having home-field advantage. Though the drive resulted in a field goal, Utes senior quarterback Travis Wilson was able to set the tone early by moving the chains with both his arm and his legs, pulling off a 13 yard run on the drive on top of completing a 20 yard pass to running back Devontae Booker.
Still, despite such a tone being set, Michigan’s defense was able to hold strong and keep Utah in check for most of the first half. That is, until Booker decided that his team needed some more points. His one-yard touchdown run capped an 11 play, 75 yard drive that was highlighted by a 20 yard pass from Wilson to Britain Covey, and Utah went into the half up 10-3.
Naturally, Harbaugh was frustrated with his team’s play.
Things didn’t get better for the Wolverines on the opening possession of the second half, as the team got far enough down the field to get into field goal range only to miss a 44 yard attempt. Utah immediately struck back as Wilson picked and popped the offense before running into the end zone for a 14 yard score to put the Utes up 17-3.
But then, the Wolverines appeared to wake up. Led by quarterback and Iowa transfer Jake Rudock, Michigan responded with a 12 play, 75 yard drive that ended with Rudock firing a bullet to tight end Jake Butt, and the game was suddenly close again.
After a rough start, it appeared that Harbaugh’s men were starting to show their coach’s trademark feistiness. Utah missed a field goal on the ensuing drive, and Michigan appeared ready to strike once again upon taking over, starting the drive with 23 yards over two plays.
But Rudock’s inconsistency took over again as he threw his third pick of the night two plays later, and Utah defensive back Justin Thomas returned in 58 yards to put the Utes up 24-10.
Such was the story for Rudock all night, as the young man simply could never get it together on a consistent basis. Though he did complete 27 of 43 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns, his continually overthrowing his receivers and three interceptions kept Michigan’s passing game from making an impact from start to finish.
It also didn’t help that Michigan’s running game came out of the gate slow, managing just 76 yards on 29 carries, the longest run being a seven-yarder by De’Veon Smith. Yes, starting the season on the road for a team in rebuild mode is going to be tough (especially in a high altitude stadium like Rice-Eccles) and it was fairly common knowledge that Michigan wouldn’t immediately contend under Harbaugh, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the pressure is on for the former Wolverine after he inked a lucrative contract with the university this past winter.
Utah, on the other hand, stayed calm and poised in the face of the never-say-die attitude of Michigan’s defensive line. Despite six penalties for 55 yards, the players shook them off quickly and refused to back down in the defense of its house. Wilson only managed to throw for 208 yards and an interception, but still completed a respectable 24 of his 33 pass attempts and also managed 53 rush yards and his key touchdown on just 12 carries. Coach Kyle Whittingham had everyone locked in and ready and though the offense could have performed better on the whole, the unit stepped up when it counted.
And Michigan can look forward to another Pac-12 matchup next week, when the Oregon State Beavers visit the Big House on the 12th and offer the Wolverines a better opportunity to iron out the kinks and shake off the mediocre performance of tonight.
Utah, however, faces a more difficult challenge when the in-state rival and defending Mountain West Mountain Division champions Utah State Aggies take a trip to Salt Lake City.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to Sporting News