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The 2015 Utah Utes: Getting To Know Week One's Opponent

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Taking a look at last year's match-up and more in preparation for Thursday's game.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the season during game week, we will be taking a look at what Michigan's opponent that Saturday (in this case, Thursday) has done so far and what the team looks like.  With the game against Utah being a week one opponent, we automatically go to last year's match-up when the two teams played at the Big House.

2014's matchup: Utah 26, Michigan 10

Michigan entered last season's game against Utah as a 3-point favorite. It lost by 16 points in a hideous game.

Utah was outgained by Michigan (308 yards to 286) and had fewer first downs (13 to 19) but managed to pull out the win with superb special teams play and defensive efforts.

The Utes took advantage of the turnover-prone Wolverines to the tune of three interceptions and one fumble recovery. Michigan's offense was filling the stat sheet but couldn't get anything going against Utah. On top of four turnovers, the Wolverines punted four times — one that came back to haunt them — and failed to convert on fourth down twice.

Kaelin Clay returned a punt 66 yards for a touchdown and turned back the clock 23 years for a trolling celebration. He struck the Heisman pose in the end zone, just as Desmond Howard had done in 1991. Clay is with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers now so there won't be any Heisman poses out of him in this year's game.

Another salt-in-the-wounds moment for Michigan: a former alpine racer on the United States ski team — Utah kicker Andy Phillips — single-handily beat one of the most iconic college football teams of all time...with his leg. He outscored Michigan by himself, converting on 4-of-5 field goal tries. You can't make this stuff up.

The 2014 matchup between the two teams also featured a 2-hour, 24-minute lightning delay midway through the fourth quarter. Michigan Stadium rapidly filled with rain and drenched parts of the field. Oh, and Dominos pizza was served in the press box. Again, you can't make this stuff up.

Utah returns its top-three offensive players from last year's win over Michigan in quarterback Travis Wilson, H-back Bubba Poole and running back Devontae Booker.

Wilson went 14-for-20 passing with a touchdown against Michigan. He had limited action in Utah's wins over UCLA and Oregon State but played well in victories against USC and Stanford.

Poole rushed for 40 yards on nine carries and caught three passes for 75 yards. He had 18 receiving yards outside his performance against Michigan.

Booker had the most carries (11) in a crowded Utah rushing attack, but it didn't show for much. He totaled 34 rushing yards against Michigan, but bounced back with three consecutive 150-plus rushing games.

Last year's matchup between Michigan and Utah was a turning point for both teams. Losing to Utah was the beginning of the end for Michigan as its season spiraled out of control. Meanwhile, the Utes capitalized on the significant achievement, upsetting then-ranked UCLA and USC in October, and beating Oregon State and Stanford on the road.

Three Players To Watch

Devontae Booker, Running Back

There is quite a bit of hype on Booker heading into this season. He is one of the best running backs in the Pac-12 and some see him as a dark horse for the Heisman Trophy. He will present a tough challenge for the Michigan defense as their first true test of the 2015 season.

Hunter Dimick, Defensive End

Pass rushing stud Nate Orchard is off to the NFL, but Utah still has studs on the defensive line that can get to the quarterback and cause an impact. Dimick is one of those gentleman.

Last season, he had 14.5 tackles for loss along with 10 sacks. Mason Cole, or whomever will be tasked with blocking him, will have their hands full.

Andy Phillips, Kicker

Now, I know what you're thinking, but yes, we are spotlighting a kicker here. Not because Utah doesn't have any other good players, but because this could very easily become a game that comes down to field goals. The reports out of Michigan's camp are that its kicking situation is far from settled. Phillips is one of the better kickers in the country, so if the game gets to the point where someone needs to make a big kick, advantage Utes here.

Overview

The Utes won nine games last season and bring back a vast majority of that nucleus. It could be tough for them to replicate that, though. They are in a tough division with USC, UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State, so they will have their work cut out for them. Regardless, they will provide an extremely tough opening week test for the Michigan Wolverines and have the advantage of the game being on their home turf this time around.