Michigan lost its first game under Jim Harbaugh by a score of 24-17 to the Utah Utes on Thursday night. Not a huge surprise by any means there.
Utah is a very good football team and certainly looks the part of a team that is going to be a huge factor in the Pac-12 South. The Wolverines had their fair share of problems -- namely turnovers -- in the effort, but there were some encouraging things to come out of the game.
First and foremost, while the results were mostly the same on offense from last season, like being careless with the football, poor offensive line play, etc., this was a group that never looked lost or out of place. Harbaugh and staff had the team ready to play.
In previous years, this was a team that when down at halftime would come out of the locker room and get steamrolled in the second half. The effort was there, but it simply wasn't good enough.
Jake Rudock is here as a stop-gap for this season. We know that and the coaches knew that when they brought him in. His addition gave the Wolverines a quarterback who is not going to be flashy or make a lot of mistakes, but he had three interceptions last night. It was not a good showing out of him at all, but all three came when he was targeting true freshman wide receiver Grant Perry, who had his fair share of ups and downs, as well. As the game went on, though, he developed a nice rapport with Jake Butt and Amara Darboh.
Rudock was not great, but the calls for Shane Morris came as soon as he threw his first incomplete pass. Let's be careful what we wish for there.
The running game and offensive line were perhaps the most glaring issues on offense. De'Veon Smith ran hard and picked up some extra yards, but missed more than a few opportunities for cut backs where there were open holes. Ty Isaac and Derrick Green did not show much either in limited action. It is very apparent that Drake Johnson is the team's best runner and they need him back and healthy as soon as possible.
The pass protection was solid. Rudock certainly had time to throw consistently all night, but the offensive line was not able to get any push against Utah's defense and the second-level blocking just was not there. Give credit to the Utes, as well, but Michigan has to be better here. We had heard the offensive line was much improved, but we didn't really see it on Thursday night.
Wide receiver was a position of concern coming into this year, but the group overall had an impressive showing given the circumstances. Darboh was very good and showed a quickness and physicality that we have not seen from him before. Perry struggled at times but started looking more comfortable as the game went on and actually had a few really nice blocks. Jehu Chesson was able to get free and open a few times on overthrows that should have been touchdowns from Rudock, but he had chances as well. One thing in particular that stood out though was the lack of Drake Harris. He was a player that has had a lot of hype going into this game and he hardly saw the field.
Michigan did what Harbaugh said they had to do on the road and "packed a defense." That unit was great for the most part and the defensive line was flat-out dominant at times, led by Chris Wormley and Willie Henry. There were times where the pass rush was absent, but the secondary was not giving them enough time to get home. Overall though, it was a very impressive performance and they were for the most part able to hold Devontae Booker in check.
The linebackers were not good, though. Joe Bolden is known for supplying big hits, but there were a lot of times where he would just pinball off of the guy he was trying to tackle. The group overall is good in run support, but they do not move well laterally and Travis Wilson was able to get what he wanted over the middle of the field for a good part of the game.
Jabrill Peppers made his much-hyped season debut, but had a really rough first half. He was getting pushed around and was just a second too late. In the second half, though, he looked much more relaxed and was arguably the best player on the field. Once the jitters wore off, Peppers showed he belonged out there.
Overall, while it was a loss at the end of the day, there is not really a whole lot to be incredibly discouraged about. Michigan lost a game they were underdogs in to a very good football team. All of their problems, except maybe the athleticism of the linebacking corps, are coachable and they should improve as the year goes on. We are still looking at a team that wins 7 or 8 games and now they will watch the tape, come home and prep for Harbaugh's first game at Michigan Stadium against Oregon State.
This team will get better. The bar was set against Utah and now they will have to raise it each week as they keep improving. The box score looks a lot like a game from last year, but there was enough there to suggest they will figure it out.