In a game delayed for over two hours by lightning strikes in the area, it's appropriate that lightning struck twice for Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham, who improved to 2-0 against Michigan in the Big House. Whittingham is also now 3-0 head to head against Michigan head coach Brady Hoke. But, most importantly, Whittingham's Utes improve to 3-0 on the 2014 football season with a 26-10 victory over the Michigan Wolverines.
Utah quarterback Travis Wilson was largely ineffective in the first half of play, and the 6-7 junior left the game after a nasty spill along the sidelines in the second quarter. For a player who had already suffered a concussion and an unrelated condition that threatened his career, being upended and falling on his head was the last thing he needed. Wilson didn't return until the second half of the game.
Punt returner Kaelin Clay took a Michigan punt 66 yards to the house, and the confident senior even had the temerity to strike the famous Desmond Howard Heisman pose in the end zone. That put the Utes up 10-3 and gave Utah a little breathing room.
While Wilson was in the locker room getting evaluated, backup quarterback Kendal Thompson, a junior transfer from Oklahoma, proceeded to be hesitant on the field and even threw a pick six from the seven yard line into the hands of Michigan defensive lineman Willie Henry. However, Thompson did settle down and lead the Utes on a 16-play, 54-yard drive resulting in an Andy Phillips field goal, which put the Utes up 13-10 at the half.
Then, to the surprise of many, Wilson returned to the field in the second half to immediately move the Utes 67 yards down the field in just five plays for an opening drive touchdown. Wilson actually looked sharper than in the first half, throwing crisper passes, and Utah's running game began to get some yardage. It was almost as if the second quarter hit knocked some urgency into the long-haired Californian.
Wilson finished 14 of 20 passing (70%) for 172 yards and one touchdown to Dres Anderson on a drag route. Once Anderson had cleared the linebackers, he sped untouched into the endzone for the lone offensive touchdown of the game for either team. Wilson also ran eight times for 25 net yards, but had some nice runs off scrambles and the read-option in the second half to extend drives.
Utah wide receivers Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott registered just 10 catches for 78 yards between them, but Anderson's score was a game breaker.
In the second half, it was apparent that Utah's tempo was beginning to get to the Michigan defense. Michigan started to look out of formation and rattled.
On the other side of the ball, Utah's defense held the power running scheme of Michigan to just 10 points and a 3.3 yards per rush average, as well as notched eight tackles for a loss. Along with the hitting in the backfield, the turnovers came in bunches for the visiting Utes. Utah defensive end Hunter Dimick forced a fumble, which was recovered by linebacker Gionni Paul. In his first start in a Utes uniform, former Miami Hurricane Paul also recorded an interception. Joining him with a pick were free safety Tevin Carter and strong safety Brian Blechen. Paul was all over the field, racking up 14 tackles (10 solo), and linebacker Jared Norris and defensive end/linebacker Nate Orchard each registered two sacks.
Blechen also record the hit of the game, blowing up 6-5 Michigan receiver Devin Funchess on a wicked tackle after a catch. Funchess would drop the ball and popped right up after being leveled.
Speculation before the game was that Michigan's Hoke was on the proverbial hot seat, and the boo-birds and detractors will only increase after the hometown Wolverines were soaked by the rain and the scoreboard. After the game, however, Hoke was both classy and complimentary at mid-field when shaking hands with a victorious Whittingham.
Utah has now completed the non-conference portion of the season 3-0, and Whittingham's Utes have proven to be one of the Pac-12's most reliable teams when facing out-of-conference compeition. Next up is a home date Saturday, Sept. 27 at 6 p.m. MT against Washington State to start the Pac-12 portion of the schedule. Washington State a game that could provide the Utes with some momentum for their following week against a ranked but beatable UCLA Bruins squad in Los Angeles.