The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 185 4 UTAH • SEPT. 20 BY RYAN TICE Kyle Whittingham is the winningest coach in Utah history, but the 2008 National Coach of the Year is on the hot seat after two straight 5-7 campaigns. Since moving into the Pac-12 Conference, the Utes are 18-19 overall and 9-18 against foes in their new league. To help spur the offense that ranked 10th in the Pac-12 with an average of 29.2 points per game, Whittingham demoted Dennis Erickson, last year's co-offensive coordina- tor and a former head coach at numerous stops around the country, and brought in Dave Christensen, the former Wyoming head coach who expects to utilize an up-tempo attack. The hope is that junior quarterback Travis Wilson is recovered from the injuries that plagued him in 2013. The 6-7, 240-pound signal-caller led the Utes to a 27-21 win over Stanford, which won 11 games, but hurt his hand in the contest. He was limited in the next three games, then suffered a concussion and his season came to an early close. He re- claimed the starting job this spring, but must be cleared by doctors for full contact in July. Utah stood 4-2 after the win over Stan- ford, while Wilson had gone 119-of-193 passing (61.7 percent) for 1,640 yards with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in that span. The Utes completed just 45 percent of their 198 attempts for 1,195 yards with nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions the rest of the way while finishing 1-5. Wilson — or Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson — will have the entire left side of the starting offensive line back, as well as the center. The group will be complemented by big-play receiver Dres Anderson, who led the nation with seven receptions of 50 yards or longer and notched 1,002 receiving yards last season — but another pass catcher must step up to help the senior. Redshirt junior Kenneth Scott has had trouble staying healthy, but he finished second on the team in 2012 with 360 receiving yards and three touchdown catches. Leading rusher Bubba Poole also returns after he logged 607 yards and two touch- downs on the ground. In addition, he fin- ished third on the squad with 29 receptions and totaled 836 yards from scrimmage. The defense was good against the run last year — Utah ranked 20th nationally with an average of 130.3 rushing yards allowed per contest — and got to the quarterback an average of 3.25 times per contest, which led the league. However, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Senior defensive end Nate Orchard is the lone returning starter up front, but the 2012 All-Pac-12 honorable mention could see time as a hybrid end/linebacker. He totaled 50 stops, including nine for loss, last fall and boasts 102 career tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, five forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries — numbers greater than the com- bined career production of the rest of his linemates. After struggling last year, the back seven should be improved. All three starting line- backers return, including redshirt junior Ja- son Whittingham, who finished second with 81 tackles despite two missed games, and fifth-year senior Jacoby Hale, who was lim- ited to four starts but still racked up 6.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss — both marks were second on the squad. Hale's status for the fall is unclear after a spring knee injury, but his return would be huge. The secondary is also chock full of re- turning starters with safety Eric Rowe — a veteran of 35 starts, 21 passes broken up and 202 tackles — and cornerback Davion Or- phey back for their final campaigns. Deco- rated fifth-year strong safety Brian Blechen also has 35 starts to his credit and should return after a medical redshirt in 2013. Utah enjoyed a promising eight-win debut in the Pac-12 during the 2011 season, but has been stuck in a 5-7 in a rut since. With some coaching changes and 17 returning starters, it's now or never for Whittingham and company. Notes The 2013 squad went 4-3 in games decided by a touchdown or less … Utah forced 25 fumbles and recovered 12 of them in 2013, but notched just three interceptions — which was tied for the lowest mark in the land … The Utes' 15 takeaways were tied for 109th nationally … The squad is very strong at kicker and punter with returning starters at both positions. ❑ 2014 SCHEDULE Date Opponent 2013 Result Aug. 28 Idaho State — Sept. 6 Fresno State — Sept. 20 at Michigan — Sept. 27 Washington State L, 49-37 Oct. 4 at UCLA L, 34-27 Oct. 16 at Oregon State L, 51-48 OT Oct. 25 USC L, 19-3 Nov. 1 at Arizona State L, 20-19 Nov. 8 Oregon L, 44-21 Nov. 15 at Stanford W, 27-21 Nov. 22 Arizona L, 35-24 Nov. 29 at Colorado W, 24-17 QUICK FACTS All-Time Series: Tied 1-1 First Meeting: U-M 10, Utah 7 (Sept. 21, 2002, at Ann Arbor) Last Meeting: Utah 25, U-M 23 (Aug. 30, 2008, at Ann Arbor) Head Coach: Kyle Whittingham, 76-39 at Utah and overall (10th year) Off./Def. Systems: Spread/4-3 2013 in Review: 5-7 overall, 2-7 Pac-12 (5th South Division) Final 2013 Ranking: Unranked Returning Starters: 17 (8 offense, 7 defense, 2 specialists) Last Bowl Appearance: 2011 (Sun, vs. Georgia Tech, W 30-27 OT) Pac-12 Conference Championships (last): 0 (24 in five different leagues during school history, including the Mountain West in 2008) RETURNING LEADERS Passing: Travis Wilson (1,827 yards, 16 TD, 16 INT) Rushing: Bubba Poole (607 yards, 2 TD) Receiving: Dres Anderson (1,002 yards, 7 TD) Tackles: Jason Whittingham (81) Sacks: Jacoby Hale (6.5) Interceptions: None PLAYERS TO WATCH O ffense: Bubba Poole, Jr., RB — The former transfer from Saddleback Community College started nine times and led the Utes in rushing (607 yards) … The 6-1, 197-pounder rushed for 100 yards against Oregon State and Stanford … Also finished third on the team in receiving and totaled 956 all-purpose yards. Defense: Brian Blechen, 5th-Sr., DB — The three-time all-conference honorable mention has started since his freshman year, but missed last season with an injury … The 6-2, 215-pounder was originally re- cruited to play quarterback, but has totaled 203 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 12 passes broken up, eight interceptions, six forced fumbles and 3.5 sacks. Wide receiver Dres Anderson led the nation with seven receptions of 50 yards or longer on his way to a total of 1,002 receiving yards last season. PHOTO COURTESY UTAH Utes Still Searching For Pac-12 Success 182-193.Opponents.indd 185 6/19/14 1:11 PM

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