Head coach Kyle Whittingham opened his press conference this week touching on what was accomplished during the bye week and when the team leaves for Michigan.
"We're ready to get going after a bye week. We accomplished quite a bit during the bye week, as much as you can accomplish I suppose," Whittingham said. "Got some guys feeling better, healthy, we got three days of practice in, we got some recruiting in, so overall as most every bye week is, you try to make it as productive as you can, but it's good to get back into a game-week mode. We'll be heading to Michigan a day early. Any time we go a couple of time zones we go a day early, so we'll be leaving on Thursday and getting practice in on Friday over there and teeing it up on Saturday."
"We know they are a typical Michigan team, good athletes all over the place, physical up front on the line of scrimmage, particularly the offensive line, very physical, very good defensive line. No. 57 [Frank Clark] is a very good player - active, tough. They are a talented team, and we have to be ready to play our A game, without a doubt," said Whittingham.
On Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner: "Their quarterback is a big strong kid. He runs the ball well. He's got quickness and athleticism. He's throwing the ball pretty good too. He's a dual threat for sure. Although he hasn't run a bunch yet this year, he's very capable and we need to make sure we have our bases covered. He's a really good athlete," said Whittingham.
Whittingham noted that true freshman quarterback Donovan Isom has been used to simulate Gardner on Utah's scout team since they are both big quarterbacks with good mobility. This will also help Isom, who many consider the future of the position at Utah, to develop as a quarterback.
On Michigan head coach Brady Hoke: "I have a great deal of respect for Brady. I think he's a fine football coach, defensive-minded. We only had a couple of years in the Mountain West. The style of football he likes is tough, hard-nosed, blue collar, and that's what he preaches and what he's all about. And you can see that in the play of Michigan," said Whittingham.
The two coaches have squared off twice when Hoke coached at San Diego State, with Whittingham's Utes besting Hoke's Aztecs in both 2009 and 2010, giving Whittingham a 2-0 record against Hoke. Hoke has been stout at Michigan in home nonconference games (11-0) and home games in September (20 game winning streak). However, those numbers may be skewed by the level of competition (most notably directional Michigan programs).
When asked about the 2008 game against Michigan, Whittingham said he had good memories of the victory, one which propelled the Utes to an undefeated season, a Sugar Bowl victory over vaunted Alabama, as well as a no. 2 final ranking.
"We started fast," Whittingham remembered. "I think we were up at halftime 22-10. It ended up being a close game at the end. We had to hang on for the victory. Great venue. We expect over 100,000, whatever they are going to pack in there. Our guys are excited. They are excited to go there and play one of the most storied programs in college football."
But how will the Utes deal with the crowd noise and intimidation of 115,000 people in The Big House? One would think the Pac-12 version of the Utah Utes would be prepared for a crowd of that size from playing in other notable venues like Autzen Stadium, the Rose Bowl, and the LA Coliseum.
"We deal with crowd noise every time we're on the road. Our offense will practice with crowd noise, we pipe it in. There's nothing different or no way we can prepare any differently than any other road game. You talk to them about the situation they're going to be in. We have a walk through at the Big House on Friday. We'll go in there on Friday so that when we go in on Saturday it's not the first time they've seen it. Obviously, it's a lot different with nobody in the stands then when it's full. There are a few little things you can do but not much, you just have to prepare mentally and make sure they are mentally right when you go over there," said Whittingham.
Whittingham will only report injuries if they are season ending, so not much was said other than two questions about specific players and the general "Got some guys feeling better, healthy" in his opening statement.
"We sure hope [linebacker] Gionni Paul is good to go. He had some work last week in practice and looked like he's good to go. Barring a setback, he should be good to go for this week," said Whittingham.
This is welcome news for fans. He is starting on the two deep at Mac linebacker, taking over for Jason Whittingham.
On Jason Whittingham (who is now off of the two deep), coach Whittingham did not have much to say other than "[he] will not be available this week."
On Nate Orchard
In this week's depth chart, it was revealed that Nate Orchard is now a starter at both right defensive end and stud linebacker. Orchard saw time at linebacker in the last game when Utah ran a 3-3-5 defense against Fresno State. "Right now [Orchard's] going to be able to play outside linebacker in our base package, which we haven't found ourselves in much so far this season or last season, but Michigan, with some of their personnel groupings, Nate will be playing a little bit of linebacker," said Whittingham. When I spoke with defensive end Hunter Dimick, he told me that the team utilizes the 3-3-5 defense to stop the run, which Utah expects to see a lot of against Michigan.
On stopping the run
"In order to play good defense, you have to be tough against the run. It goes hand in hand. [Michigan] is averaging over six yards per carry. There was a more power run game in their game on Saturday than had occurred during the first two games. I attribute some of that to them not having their premier receiver on the field [wide receiver Devin Funchess was out with an injury]. But you have to be able to stop the run. If you can't stop the run, every game is going to be hard. You've got to be able to stop the run, and conversely, we've got to be able to run the ball with our offense to a certain degree of success or everything is going to be hard with our offense as well," Whittingham said. I think that given offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier's philosophy of power running, Utah will need to stop Michigan's rushing attack to be successful in the game
On running backs Devontae Booker and Bubba Poole
In last week's depth chart, Devontae Booker became a co-starter with Bubba Poole. "It's been equal through two games [between Booker and Poole]. Troy McCormick was in the mix as well in game one. [Booker and Poole] separated themselves from Troy after that week and have put more distance in between them in game two. Right now they are on equal footing. If one of them becomes the hot back, we'll feed him the ball and see what happens, naturally. They will both play against Michigan. It doesn't really matter who starts, they are interchangeable. They are both going to get equal opportunity early in the game then we will see how it goes from there," said Whittingham. As Whittingham mention, Michigan has a tough front seven, so while it may be tough to run the ball, Utah will have to establish the run and remain balanced on offense to win the game.