|Utes visit Michigan for just second time|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 28 August 2008 23:11|
The Utes were willing to forego the usual home-and-home scheduling agreement and accept a one-game deal with the Wolverines, all in the name of getting the national recognition that can be difficult to come by in the Mountain West.
Ready or not, here it comes.
Utah opens the season Saturday at Michigan, which will play its first game under new coach Rich Rodriguez. It's the first coaching debut at Michigan since Lloyd Carr in 1995, so the game is bound to get even more attention than a typical Wolverines' season opener.
It could backfire on the Utes if they don't play well, but the potential gain is much greater.
``Why not go play one of the perennial powerhouses every year and really see where you measure up?'' Utah quarterback Brian Johnson said.
A win on Saturday could keep Utah's name among the potential ``BCS Busters,'' the unofficial title the Utes created in 2004 with a perfect regular season and win in the Fiesta Bowl.
Coach Kyle Whittingham said it has been easier to explain who - and in some cases where - Utah is to recruits since the Fiesta Bowl team, but games like this one will register with players who may not otherwise see the Utes all year and may not remember the 2004 season. That's why Utah agreed to visit Notre Dame in 2010 without getting the Fighting Irish to come to Salt Lake City.
M and won Whittingham's debut a year later by beating Arizona. But the Utes stumbled at UCLA with a 31-10 loss in 2006 and lost again last year at Oregon State, when Johnson separated his throwing shoulder.
``We have to play better in our opener,'' Whittingham said. ``Last year we were playing well early. We lost a couple of guys to injury and we didn't react well to that adversity.''
Whittingham said the Utes also didn't react well when they played UCLA in the Rose Bowl two years ago. He hopes they do better in Michigan's famed ``Big House.''
The Utes haven't had much of a chance to worry about playing in one of college football's most storied venues because they aren't quite sure what to expect from the Wolverines in Rodriguez's first game since he was hired away from West Virginia to replace the retired Carr.
Rodriguez said the same can be said of Utah, which hasn't had Johnson completely healthy since he blew out his knee late in the 2005 season. Johnson redshirted in 2006 and was never completely healthy last year after his shoulder injury.
Now that he's healed, Johnson is more of a threat to throw the ball and can still tuck it and run while leading Utah's version of the spread offense.
``A lot of people say there's a lot of unknowns with what we're going to do. Well there's a lot of unknowns any time you play a first game. They've had all summer and spring practice and fall camp to add a few things in there,'' Rodriguez said. ``You've got to be very quick to adapt in your first game more than any other game. That concerns you when you have some inexperience, but at the same time everybody's going through it.''
The questions about what Rodriguez will do give the Wolverines a break from facing much talk about last year's season opener, when Championship Subdivision Appalachian State stunned Michigan 34-32.
Rodriguez said there are lessons to be learned from the past, but doesn't think there is much correlation as Michigan opens a new era against a school that's been to a bowl game five straight years.
``That's a different deal,'' Rodriguez said. ``It's not like you're playing a I-AA team and you're worried about your guys overlooking somebody.''