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MnB Roundtable Week Four: Utes & Ladders

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The last time Michigan played Utah, dreams of the spread 'n' shred were still alive. Michigan almost beat what turned out to be a BCS team, but neither team is in the same spot in 2014. MnB writers talk about the final non conference test, and also beer.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan welcomes in a Pac 12 foe at home, what are we hoping to see this week? Can Michigan compete against another power conference team with their early season growing pains?

Drew Hallett: Of course Michigan can compete. People are still down on Michigan after the blunder in South Bend -- and understandably so -- but, if we have learned anything about the Wolverines in recent years, it is that they are a much different team in the Big House than outside Ann Arbor. Michigan has won its last 18 non-conference home games and 21 of 23 home games played under Brady Hoke. And it is not as if the opponent coming into town this Saturday is a world-beater like Alabama or Florida State. It is Utah, a team that went 2-7 in the Pac-12 and 1-4 on the road last season. The Utes are improved, but the idea Michigan cannot compete with them is outlandish.

Kevin: Okay, perhaps compete is the wrong word. How about: "dominate a smaller opponent-who-happens-to-be-from-a-power-conference-which-the-Big-Ten-has-one-measly-win-against-so-far-this-season?"

In week one's roundtable I said I was hopeful that this year Michigan would finally stop playing down to their level of competition, and now is as good a time as any. Utah has had two weeks to prepare for this trip, and I want to see an even more-prepared and motivated Michigan team to remove any doubt that they are moving in the right direction.

Peter: I agree with Drew--of course Michigan will compete on Saturday. I've heard a lot about how many points the Utes have scored this year. Okay, they're averaging 57.5 ppg, but one of those games was against a Fresno State team that hasn't given up less than 52 yet this season. The other game was against the Fighting Jared Allen's of Idaho State. So, yeah, Michigan's facing a PAC-12 opponent, but in name only.

Zach: I mean, Utah really hasn't beaten anybody, right? Idaho State was a 3-9 Big Sky team a year ago and Fresno State has gotten waxed in all three of its games, including losses to USC and Nebraska, teams that have shown struggles of their own.

I'm not happy about what happened in South Bend, but if anything that game probably keyed the coaches in on some of the glaring weaknesses that need to be addressed, and while last week's game against the Redhawks had a few down moments, Michigan is a team that is still figuring things out. I trust that the talent and athleticism is there, and that each week Michigan is going to get a little bit more out of this group of players. Michigan has the talent to win this game, provided we see this team grow up a little more on the field Saturday.

Atticus: Well, it's a little early for that designation. Michigan hasn't ‘beaten anybody,' either. It's just Week 4. These are the measurement games.

I'm really, really hoping for something to be optimistic about, quite simply. I want Michigan to show progress and play to its potential. I had high hopes for this season, but we've been playing ourselves into a corner a little bit as a football program. We have all the tools to be dominant, seriously dominant, but it's not happening. I want to see Michigan go out and start proving what it can do.

Kevin: My dad rewatched some of last week's game, and pointed out that Michigan really didn't play poorly, and I agreed somewhat. The freak turnovers and odd clock management during that fourth down aside, there are some definite positives.

Anthony M: I agree with every point made, save the one about "freak" turnovers. I like what Zach had to say about Michigan gradually turning more and more out of its talent as the season progresses, but the only player I don't see improving greatly happens to be the most important player on the roster. This ties back to my point about "freak" turnovers: Devin Gardner's tendency to make crucial mistakes isn't going away anytime soon, and his mistakes aren't random or freakish -- they're baked into his game.

Michigan is going to come out looking much better against Utah than it did against Notre Dame, but it won't be due to improvement from DG. The defense is going to be much better off without Blake Countess playing man-on-an-island coverage (give us Lewis and Peppers full-time, damnit), and the running game will look markedly improved despite only having one game and two weeks of practice between its Notre Dame showing.

John W: Anthony makes a great point about Gardner and the turnovers in better, although I really wonder how the defense is gonna stand. We all know Michigan's run defense has been great under Hoke against non-Option teams but the pass defense has been anywhere from great to bad. My question is will we see a similar game to the Indiana game last year or will it be a solid defensive performance? I am sure Michigan will compete and probably win, but I'll be paying big attention to the defense with the Big Ten schedule in mind.

Zooby Q: Can Michigan win? Sure.

If it does it another story entirely. Utah used to be coached by that douchebag Urban Meyer, so if there was any reason to hate the Utes, that's reason enough. I expect Derrick Green and Deveon Smith to pound the ground game and help Devin Gardner limit his mistakes.

It's pretty simple when it comes to Michigan's winning formula: Limit the turnovers, Win the day.

Assuming the team has a good week of prep and some key players return from injury, what's something that MUST happen in order to beat the Utes?

Peter: Basically, this just needs to be a clean game. No turnovers and no stupid penalties. I know, that's a boring answer.

Zach: So boring that I'll repeat it: Michigan needs to play clean.

/looks around warily

I mean, Michigan has to do better than three turnovers in five minutes, right? Three turnovers in the span of three offensive plays is just a freak occurrence, isn't it?

/ducks

Kevin: Never can be too sure with these guys.

Drew: I will reiterate what Peter and Zach said: no turnovers. To be fair, the three against Miami were quite fluky: a wide-receiver fumble forced by a defender's buttocks, an interception tipped at the line of scrimmage, and whatever the heck that was on the kickoff return. Those will not -- or should not -- continue. But, while Michigan can get away with them against a patsy like Miami, it will not be so fortunate against Utah.

To add some variety, I will mention that the Wolverines should continue to play more zone tomorrow than the Cover 1 Nickel Press used in Weeks 1 and 2. Utah wideout Dres Anderson is scary fast and scary good -- 53 catches for 1,002 yards (18.91 avg.), including seven for 50-plus yards, in 2013; seven catches for 195 yards (27.86 avg.) in 2014. And, not only is Anderson a speedster, he is adept at playing the ball in the air, which is not something Michigan's defensive backs can claim. He would torch the press. And his partner Kenneth Scott is nothing to laugh at, too. A softer zone is the way to go.

John W: Just better execution from top to bottom. The Miami game may have been a win but it was really stained by an onside kick and the debacle towards the end of the first half. I'm of the football mind that punting is fairly dumb more often than not, but especially on fourth and 1 in opponents territory. Well Hoke upped this level of stupid by adding two delay of game penalties and then punting. That kind of ineffectiveness can't happen on a weekly basis. Michigan needs to be a well executed machine if it wants to compete with tougher schools.

Also Gardner needs to have more TDs to Turnovers. Gardner will probably always turn the ball over, but as long as he has more explosive plays who cares? This is college ball, turnovers aren't quite as costly as the NFL and run and gunners like Vince Young made a living off this type of game. If you can't stop throwing picks at least throw more TD's.

Kevin: Can we finally get some explosive special teams plays? Yes, we had the blocked punt against App State returned for a touchdown, but when is Dennis Norfleet going to do something spectacular? DO IT, DENNIS.

Secondary has got to show it can take away drive-sustaining plays, because we haven't seen a ton of variation in Mattison's coverage schemes. A little zone goes a long way, so I'm hoping they work out the kinks in this game.

Anthony M: WE'RE ALL TYPING RIGHT NOW AND IT'S ALL ABOUT PLAYING CLEAN.

John W: ^^^^ Yup

Zooby Q: I agree with the main point emphasized by all above, but I want to be original. The one thing Michigan needs in order to win the game is for Brady Hoke to wear his headset.

Too soon?

Does Michigan finally start to show real improvement and get the W? What's the final score?

Peter: the running game has been a nice surprise, and we saw how this team can perform without Funchess on the field. In my mind, those two things are already an improvement. However, if they can follow my advice in the previous question, that will be all the improvement I need to see. Until next week when we find some other bugaboo to focus on. 49-9 will be the final.

Drew: 49-9, Peter? Is that a typo?

Kevin: Looks like Peter is hoping for some field goals and/or a safety!

Running game continued to look promising last week, and as long as Gardner doesn't descend into head case mode and fall down the bad mistakes wormhole, Michigan should be fine against a smaller defense. I'm optimistic for a sound, dominating performance if the Wolverine offensive line can keep up the good work. 37-14.

Peter: I'm just trying to be a super-optimist to counter all of the negative things that have been said during the threads and in the comments in other posts. Someone in the comments somewhere else saw my prediction and figured that a couple rogues would be in there somewhere. I like that idea; we should bring that to college football.

Zach: I think this is the first game when we will be genuinely impressed with the defense. The offense can put enough together to get Michigan over the top. I think the game finishes with Michigan winning by a touchdown, something like 28-21.

Atticus: Yeah, I think that's spot on.

Drew: Much of the focus this week has been on the status of Devin Funchess. While his presence on the field is monumental, I actually think the return of both Raymon Taylor and Jarrod Wilson is more imperative. This game will be decided by Michigan's secondary, which is facing a Utah pass offense that is fifth and sixth nationally in passer rating (189.99) and yards per attempt (10.5), respectively, albeit versus inferior competition. If the Wolverines are going to contain this potent aerial attack, they need to be at full strength in the secondary. Unfortunately, I have not tapped any inside sources to retrieve Taylor and Wilson's status, so I am just going to assume that both
play and that Michigan continues its success in the Big House. Michigan 31, Utah 21

Anthony M: I think Michigan already has shown improvement. The secondary and running game both looked improved against Miami; and yes, you can chalk up the secondary's improvement to its playing slower receivers, but Derrick Green's ability to read holes and bounce to them was undeniably better. I don't see him putting up massive numbers against the Utes, but I do think he provides enough of a spark for the Wolverines to win by a score of 27 - 13.

John W: Lockheed Martin will have a flyover before the game which will inspire Michigan to conquer Utah with an explosive offense and powerful defense. Michigan wins 42-28 but it's closer until... A LATE PICK SIX BY PEPPERS! My Peppers first touchdown pick was voided by his injury vs Notre Dame so I have changed it to this saturday. Expect #HotPeppers to finally be trending on twitter.

Zooby Q: Michigan 1. Utah 0.

Oh that's not possible? Shoot.

Let's hope that Funchess missing last week allowed Gardner to see the value in Darboh and Chesson. Gardner can throw deep and often to these types of guys. Michgan's wide receiver corps are underrated. If the Michigan defense has enough healthy bodies in the secondary, they'll win. Michigan 27, Utah 17.

Not the greatest slate of games around the rest of college football this week, but what's one you'll watch and why?

Peter: I'll be traveling from Holland to Ann Arbor on Saturday and won't be able to catch anything other than the Michigan game. I'll be too tired to watch any of the late games when I get back to the hotel, too, so it will be one game and sleepy time for me. If I were to pick something, though, I'd probably watch the Cal/Arizona game just to see what Jared Goff can do.

Zachhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5DZexDYyuU

Honestly I think West Virginia-Oklahoma might be one of the best games, but Cal-Arizona should be worth staying up for (if you have the Pac-12 network).

Kevin: I shake my fist at the Pac-12 network. It has taken away all those awesome late-night west coast games that ESPN normally carried, and I couldn't get enough of Brock Huard commentating on them. Cal-Arizona should be amazing, I second that choice.

Drew: Last week, I willingly said that the game I was most looking forward to was Penn State-Rutgers. And, oh boy, did it deliver by being one of the most entertaining terrible football games I have seen in awhile since the Big Ten season last year. Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova outdid his "wrecking ball" self with five interceptions, which is not even a single-game career high for him. Seriously. He also spectacularly failed with this magical play. Never leave us, Gary Nova.

This week, I will spare you by also recommending Oklahoma-West Virginia. Although the Sooners are 12-1 in their last 13 games as a road favorite, when these two teams met in Morgantown two years ago, the Sooners escaped with a 50-49 win thanks to a touchdown with 24 ticks left. I think we could see similar fireworks tomorrow night.

Kevin: I kept texting a friend who wasn't near a TV that evening about how horrendously entertaining that PSU-Rutgers game was. I'm looking at Miami-Nebraska this week, purely for the Big Ten desperately needing some more wins against the power conferences (1-20 as of this writing. Thanks, Rutgers!). Nebraska has looked good, and so has Miami at times, but I'm picking the Huskers to win big. Ameer Abdullah is some kind of man among boys. 40-10 Huskers.

John W: Ugh... well seeing as I completely failed with my last two picks (thanks Central) I think I'm gonna have to do a little better this week. First off though, don't watch any college football this weekend before Michigan starts. The Tigers are in Kansas City for an epic matchup of playoff hopefuls and yours truly will be there in his Cabrera jersey cheering from the sidelines. This game will be epic and should be some of the best baseball to see this side of October.

As for college football check out Northern Illinois (I swear I'm not secretly a MAC fanboy) at Arkansas at 7:00 on ESPNU. Northern Illinois has looked sharp in their first three games and they having the coaching talent and systems to hang with anybody if it goes right. Arkansas could easily be caught looking ahead to Texas A&M and drop a key one at home to a team playing in its biggest game of the year. So yes, for the third week in a row here is your MAC upset: Northern Illinois 28 Arkansas 21.

Atticus: I'm going to go and predict Mississippi State over LSU, something like 34-24. Keep an eye on wide receiver do-it-all Jameon Lewis, who had another touchdown throw last week.

Zooby Q: My fiancee is a HUGE Florida Gator fan. Unfortunately, their offense has been about as effective as Michigan in recent years. Florida visits Alabama Saturday and I'm hoping the Gators are more effective than the Wolverines were a few years ago. The game is at 3:30, same as the Michigan game, so I'll be doing some multi-tasking. If anything, Will Muschamp getting angry on television is the best thing to ever happen to college football.

Fall is here, and true to Maize 'n' Brew's namesake, what beer are you drinking this month?

Peter: I had some of Sierra Nevada's Narwhal Imperial Stout, but my fallback position will probably be the Tallgrass Buffalo Sweat Oatmeal Cream Stout that I can't get enough of. No drinking on Saturday, though; I'll be with my daughter. Drinking responsibly in this case includes only water or pop.

Zach: As I write this I am drinking Brew Free Or Die IPA, so blame the 21st Amendment Brewery for the diminishing quality of my responses.

Kevin: I hadn't noticed a decrease in quality.

Drew: I am a lover of amber ales, so my bottled beer of choice for quite some time now has been Fat Tire. When I go out to dinner or the bar, I will switch it up and see what is on tap. But, when the Wolverines take the field against the Utes tomorrow afternoon, you can bet that there will be an open Fat Tire standing right next to me.

Kevin: Michigan is getting a lot of pumpkin/spiced ales in early this year, and I recently had Mad Hatter's Pumpkin Ale and New Holland's Ichabod Crane ale. This Saturday at my small tailgate, however, I think I'll pull out Bell's Amber, unless something new catches my eye.

Anthony M: I've tried more beers in the last month than I had in my entire life, but the only beer great enough to make me a regular has been the Two Hearted IPA. I'm convinced that you're a lunatic if you live in the state of Michigan and haven't given it a try.

John W: I've been drinking pretty much anything brewed by Bells lately, especially Bells Amber. This weekend though I'll be sampling the best beers Kauffman Stadium has to offer, which will probably be something like Royal Blue Lite.

Zooby Q: I like a good cider or a seasonal Sam Adams beer this time of year.

Before you say anything, yes you can put an umbrella in my beer and I'll be damn proud of it.

I have been drinking Angry Orchard Crisp Apple and Sam Adams Octoberfest. Double-fisting is a must for Michigan football these days. Stay thirsty my friends.

Peter: Zooby, Zooby, Zooby--say it isn't so, man! Angry Orchard Crisp Apple? That's just...it's so...I mean...y'know...it...you...ugh!

/slams the door and walks out