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Things We Learned in Ann Arbor

We chat about Utah's performance in Ann Arbor, and we grade what we saw.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

After two games, Utah looked improved, but how good were the Utes? That was a question all fans of the crimson and white were asking heading into the Michigan game in Ann Arbor. Certainly, Utah had rung up points, yards, and defensive stats against Idaho State and Fresno State, but, by all rights, they should have. Both games were in the friendly confines of Rice-Eccles Stadium, and both were against lesser division or lesser conference opponents. But Michigan is Michigan. The Big House is the largest collection of rabid college football fans in the nation. Still, the Utes rose to the challenge and kept the Wolverines from finding the end zone on offense, holding the home team to just 10 points all game.

The debut of Gionni Paul was massive, Travis Wilson came up big after a scary fall, and Utah's secondary has been improve each and every game, especially against Michigan.

Here are our grades for the first quarter of the 2014 Utah football season:

Offense - B

The Utes previously high-powered offense nearly suffered a power outage in the first half of the Michigan game, scoring just six points on two Andy Phillips field goals. (Realistically, Bubba Poole should have scored a touchdown with one man to beat on the pass out of the backfield. Shane believes he should have set up the block better. Steven believes his two companions, especially wide receiver Kenneth Scott, need to actually block the one man to spring Poole.) In the second half, almost looking like Willis Reed for the New York Nicks or Reno Hightower, Utah quarterback Travis Wilson strode back onto the field and under center to lead a third quarter, opening possession touchdown drive on a drag route to Dres Anderson. If lightning and the accompanying two and a half hour delay (not to mention the unplayable field conditions) hadn't saved Michigan, the Utes might have mopped up the Big House with the Wolverines.

What does this tell us for the Washington State game?

  • The Utah offense needs Travis Wilson under center (as backup Kendal Thompson struggled mightily and may have proved he can't throw the ball well enough at this time). But Wilson, too, needs to make smarter decisions on third and long situations today or the Wazzu D-line, which is formidable, may reintroduce him to the Rice-Eccles Stadium artificial turf.
  • Devontae Booker needs to make plays. The dynamic tailback should be called upon a lot today to help Utah control the ball. He needs to run through tackles for tough yards, as the Washington State front seven could be every bit as stout as Michigans.
  • Kenneth Scott and Dres Anderson are like novacaine. Give them time. They always work.

Defense – B+

A B+ may seem a bit harsh for a unit that racked up 13 tackles for loss, three interceptions, a forced fumble, a fumble recovered, and held Michigan in their own building to zero offensive touchdowns and just three total points. However, while this unit got immeasurably better just by starting Jason Fanaika at defensive end and moving stud Nate Orchard to outside linebacker, not to mention the introduction of linebacker Gionni Paul, we believe they have better games in them.

What does this tell us for the Washington State game?

  • Wazzu must account for Gionni Paul. In his debut for the crimson and white, Paul racked up 14 tackles (10 solo), an interception, and a fumble recovery. Even when he wasn't doing something highlight worthy, he was making first-down saving tackles or standing up an offensive player to be finished off (read: obliterated) by strong safety Brian Blechen.
  • Tevin Carter was worth the wait.
  • Brian Blechen may be back to what he was about three years ago. After watching film of Blechen laying the wood on Michigan's Devin Funchess, Wazzu receivers have to be sure they really want to go over the middle. We may see some alligator arms on crossing routes today.

Special Teams – A

Andy Phillips kicked 4-of-5 field goals, including two over 45 yards. The last, missed field goal came after sitting in a locker room for nearly three hours. (We think that one can be excused.) Punter Tom Hackett continually pinned Michigan deep, and... well... what more needs to be said about Kaelin Heisman... uh... Clay? Some national pundits this week were calling Utah's special teams the best in the nation, and we think that's pretty accurate.

What does this tell us for the Washington State game?

  • Some are thinking field goals won't get this one done. Defense is going to be much more important. Hold Wazzu to field goals, and Utah has this game won with one of the best (if not the best) kicker in the nation in Phillips.
  • Starting field position matters. If Phillips and Hackett can continually give Washington State long drives to the end zone, the Utes defense has more opportunities to make plays, especially on the short "dink and dunk" passes Wazzu likes to employ. With Kaelin Clay in the return game, Utah should win the field position battle, maybe even score an additional touchdown to really put the pressure on WSU quarterback Connor Halliday.
  • After watching Reggie Dunn torch him, I doubt Mike Leach will give Clay anything to work with; however, they could make a mistake. Clay makes special teams pay for mistakes.

We chat about Utah's performance at Michigan - give a listen and let us know your thoughts!