Hopefully, finally, this is the game. Something will happen. It has to, right? Through the first three weeks, despite talent that could go toe-to-toe with some of the best, this team has been a frustrating mixture of progress, lack of progress, and overall meh. The running game has exceeded expectations, the defense has kept all of its run stuffing and been fortified by young talent on the back end, and still, it feels like watching a team in neutral. When will the 'yeah, but's be gone? This is a very young team still, that's for sure. But that's not enough anymore. This is the year.
And for Utah, this is a season of opportunity. The Pac-12 South is looking weaker all the time, with ASU's Taylor Kelly suffering a leg injury last Saturday and being seen on crutches, and Brett Hundley injuring his elbow in the Texas game. Utah is still one of the new boys, and a winning campaign would show that they belong. After going 9-18 in-conference the last three years, and 5-7 each of the last two years, they're starting to need it. All that starts with Michigan; it only gets harder for them to rack up victories the deeper into the season they go - especially since two of the four Pac-12 North foes they meet this year happen to Oregon and Stanford.
How to witness
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC.
Radio: WWJ, AM Radio 950, in addition to Sirius Radio, Channel 119, and XM radio, Channel 195.
Online streaming: Available on MGoBlue.com.
Michigan is still perfect in the red zone, going 8-for-10 with touchdowns, while Utah has been fairly prolific itself. Against Idaho State and Fresno State, Utes receivers put up 16.7 yards per reception, Utes runners have put up 4.96 yards a tote, and two different quarterbacks have been productive: Travis Wilson, the starter, has 6 touchdowns and 0 interceptions, while his backup, Kendal Thompson (an Oklahoma transfer), has more pedestrian numbers but a 5.2-ypc average. On the flip side, since entering the Pac-12 the Utes have put up barely more points (26.9) than they've allowed (24.3), so as the Utes enter the heart of their schedule, those numbers will fall back to earth.
The Wolverines, meanwhile, are led by Derrick Green, who is averaging 6.6 yards a carry (25th in the nation) and has the third-most rushing yards in the Big Ten. The quarterback situation is a bit trickier. Devin Gardner has a wonderful 68.2% completion rate, but he also has 5 touchdowns to 4 interceptions. Collectively, the quarterback position has produced more turnovers than it has touchdowns. They will try to get things going against a defensive line that currently ranks #1 in sacks and #1 in tackles for loss.
Three names to know
Utah's Travis Wilson has been an enigma during his two-plus years in Salt Lake City. He has thrown for 5 touchdowns and no picks against Fresno State, run for 142 yards against Oregon State, thrown 6 interceptions against UCLA, and gone 8/23 for 42 combined yards against Washington. He has 22 career interceptions, which was one less than his touchdowns until this season. But so far, he has yet to throw a pick. Wilson's ceiling is quite a bit lower than Gardner's, but the 6'7" signal caller has the potential to be damaging to Michigan's defense. Then again, he also might self-destruct if Michigan's front line can get to him.
To that end, how Michigan's defensive line fares will go a long way to deciding the game. It's been mostly dominant so far, and all the while Michigan fans have been imploring Frank Clark to finally find the quarterback, Brennen Beyer has quietly stepped up and delivered some timely and powerful sacks. He's strong enough to hold the edge and let Michigan's cornerbacks work on their assignments. Expect him to also make a disruptive play that Michigan's defense needs.
Finally, this is an important game for the Maestro, Devin Gardner. This isn't about the threat of benching - but instead the threat of failure, the threat of leaving plays on the field. Gardner is prodigiously talented, and it's time he show it on a week-to-week basis. His decision-making in this game is the single most important factor to how it ends. Then again, maybe you could say that most games.
If Michigan wins, dare to hope. This team is young, talented, growing every week, and determined to prove something. Pasadena? New Orleans? Beaches? Gold? Dream away there, Michigan fan. And if Michigan loses to Utah, then, take cover. It will get ugly. Luckily, both scenarios go perfectly with a Mai Tai, a delicious mixture of rum, pineapple juice and orange juice. There are a number of recipes and ways to dress it, but it always looks great and tastes better.
Also, if it feels like the second time in four weeks that I've recommended alcohol, well, it is. It's been a rough football season.