With a trip this week to The Big House
Utah’s schedule is not Mickey Mouse
From this point on the games will be tough
Here’s hoping the Utes have the right stuff
COMMENTARY — For the first time this season, Utah leaves the friendly confines of Rice-Eccles Stadium and takes its show on the road to The Big House in Ann Arbor to face Michigan.
Certainly, Michigan Stadium can be intimidating, with more than 100,000 screaming fans in attendance.
“It’s a great venue. We expect 106, 108, 110 thousand, whatever they can pack in there,” Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said at Monday’s press conference.”Our guys are excited to go over there and play one of the most storied programs in college football.”
Ah, the Big House. I just love saying it: The Big House. I think it is such a fitting name for a college football stadium. I wish the Utes had a catchy nickname for their home field. Personally, I think the “Muss” is a much more fitting name for the stadium itself than the student section. Think about it — no other gang of college men dare meet us in the Muss — is this a reference to fans sitting in the stands or teams facing each other on the field of play? I know, I know, some people got their panties in a bunch and tried to change the lyrics to the fight song, but hopefully the original lyrics will continue to be the fan favorite. If anyone out there can think of a better name, I am all ears (for the stadium that is, please stop messing with the fight song).
True, Michigan is one of the great college football programs of all times, and has played in the collegiate football spotlight much more often and for a longer period of time than Utah. The Wolverines even opened the week as a one touchdown favorite. But make no mistake about it, the Utes will not be star struck when they take the field this Saturday. To the contrary, Utah is going in to The Big House knowing it can beat Michigan, and I am betting they will.
Utah kicked off the 2008 season with a 25-23 win over the Wolverines in The Big House, and proceeded to run the table. I know it will take a major miracle for Utah to go undefeated again this year, and I seriously doubt that the Utes will even come close (I’m just hoping they get to six wins and are bowl eligible). However, I do believe that Utah has what it takes to top Michigan this week.
Unlike last year, Utah is finally clicking on all cylinders on offense. The rushing attack is a two-headed monster with both Bubba Poole and Devontae Booker more than capable of taking the rock to the house (and this week they will do so in The Big House). Travis Wilson also has a number of weapons in the passing game with standout wide-outs Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott, not to mention tight-end Westlee Tonga more than capably filling the shoes left by Jake Murphy.
I will be the first to admit that Utah’s first two opponents were mere shadows of the teams looming on the schedule from this point forward. Nevertheless, it was still great to see the Utes hang 56 and 59 points on the board in their first two games. I would be stunned if Utah scores more than 50 against Michigan, but the offense will score enough to take the pressure off of the defense.
Thus far, one of the weaknesses in the Utes’ defense has been the cornerbacks. With Michigan checking in at 101st in the nation in passing yards, it is probably not the team to really challenge Utah’s corners. If the Utes can contain the Wolverine rushing attack, the game is over and Utah walks out with the win.
Even with the great venue, I don’t believe Utah will be intimidated at all. Neither does Whittingham.
“A few years back it would have been a highlight game of the year, I guess you could say,” he said. “But playing in the Pac-12, it’s week in and week out, so now it’s just another one of a lot of challenges that are on the schedule.”
Speaking of wins, and getting back to undefeated seasons, can I just say how sick I am of hearing about the possibility of BYU going undefeated and whether they should be involved in the inaugural playoff matchups? If it happens, fine, but can we at least play the games first?
The specter of the Cougars going undefeated is one of the big reasons I am so disappointed that Utah is not playing BYU in football this year. In both of the Utes’ undefeated seasons, they trounced the Cougars — a 24-point victory in 2008 and a 31-point beat down in 2004. If BYU can go undefeated with Utah on its schedule, then my hat is off to them; otherwise a big, fat asterisk will overshadow any undefeated season in which BYU does not play Utah.
The worst aspect of this whole scenario is that it is Utah’s fault BYU is not on the schedule this year. Dr. Chris Hill, I get it, Utah can’t play 12 tough games and has to schedule a break in somewhere. But if BYU is such a tough opponent, then why schedule Michigan to the exclusion of BYU when most Utah fans have no emotional attachment to a rivalry with Michigan? Admittedly, a win over Michigan would be nice. But spoiling what the Cougar faithful had hoped would be an undefeated season would be a gem to treasure for years to come. Excluding BYU from Utah’s football schedule is a disservice to Ute fans, and quite frankly the state of Utah as a whole.
Okay, I’m done ranting from my personal soapbox. Getting back to the game at hand, this week is one of those barometers which will allow us to measure what kind of team we can expect the Utes to really be this year. While there are still nine games left on the schedule after Michigan, the sledding is not going to get any easier for Utah from this point on.
Here’s hoping for another W for the Utes in The Big House!
Dwayne Vance is a columnist covering the Utah Utes. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.
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