It’s a new season with a new coach but the same old problems for Michigan’s offense. The Wolverines fell to Utah 24-17 in Michigan's first game under head coach Jim Harbaugh, largely because of turnovers and the lack of a consistent running game.
Much of the lead-up to Thursday’s night game in Salt Lake City centered on who would take the first snap for Michigan -- a team that finished last in the Big Ten in turnover margin last season. Jake Rudock, a graduate transfer from Iowa, got the nod in part because of his track record of avoiding mistakes.
Rudock threw only five interceptions in 345 pass attempts as Iowa’s starter in 2014. He threw three interceptions in his Michigan debut, including a pick-six in the fourth quarter that essentially iced a Utes victory. Outside of the interceptions, Rudock finished with a respectable stat line of 27-of-43 passing for 279 yards and two touchdowns. The running game contributed 76 yards on 29 carries, never finding a rhythm.
What the win means for Utah: The Utes should creep closer to the Top 25, if not into it, after fending off the mountain of hype surrounding Michigan’s first game under Harbaugh. The defensive front that earned the nickname “Sack Lake City” last season was stout against the run, and running back Devontae Booker was as advertised when it came to being a versatile threat on offense.
What the loss means for Michigan: Perhaps a dose of reality for those anticipating an immediate turnaround for the Wolverines. That might not be the worst thing in the world for a team dealing with high expectations while trying to re-establish a culture of success. The offensive line still needs to take a step forward before this group is ready to compete in the Big Ten.
Player of the game: Utah quarterback Travis Wilson was his team’s most effective weapon Thursday night. Wilson completed 24 of his 33 passes for 208 yards. His only interception came on an irrelevant end zone heave at the end of the first half. Wilson also ran for a 14-yard touchdown on what would end up being the game-winning drive. Wilson ran for a total of 53 yards.
The game turned when: Utah junior Justin Thomas stepped in front of freshman Grant Perry’s out route on a third down, intercepted Rudock's pass and raced 55 yards in the opposite direction early in the fourth quarter. Michigan had pulled within a touchdown on its previous drive when Rudock threaded a pass to tight end Jake Butt (eight catches, 93 yards) in the end zone. Momentum was swinging in the Wolverines’ direction before Thomas ended any hope of a happy ending to Captain Comeback’s first game back at his alma mater.