Utes prepare to do it big in Michigan

By Chris Kamrani, Asst. Sports Editor

Here are some guidelines on how to crash a party: Dress well and stylish, while being yourself; walk in with confidence; and, finally, introduce yourself to the host, making eye contact while offering a nice, firm handshake.

The U football team will be fervent on doing those things this Saturday in Ann Arbor, Mich., when they take on Rich Rodriguez’s Michigan Wolverines.

Over the past week, the hoopla surrounding the game has been apparent for both teams. U head coach Kyle Whittingham and his coaching staff practiced all week with speakers blaring to simulate the loudness of the Michigan Stadium. The Utes even had Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” bumping at the practice field at one point this week.

This game certainly has the potential to play up to that billing.

Whittingham has been to Michigan before and knows the magnitude of what this game means to his team8212;one that has been receiving rave reviews from some of the nation’s top experts.

“It is a great opportunity for us to be able to go to the `Big House,'” Whittingham said. “We had a chance to go there in ’02 and it was a hard-fought game and a defensive struggle, but we played very well. We will have our hands full with Michigan… They are steeped in tradition and have great resources. It is going to be very challenging for us.”

The Utes had a very successful practice this week, being very active and attentive to what the coaching staff wanted them to do. Most notably, the defensive backs and wide receivers looked as sharp as possible. Quarterback Brian Johnson resembled his old self with both his timing and accuracy.

With this being their second trip to the Big House, the Utes will need to be on top of their game in order to escape Ann Arbor with a victory. The offense, which is as healthy and fluid as possible right now, will look to set the tone early by moving the ball and leaving the defense with fresh legs.

“I love our depth and I love where we are as an offense,” Johnson said. “Now it’s just time for us to take our scheme to the next level and, you know, I think we’ll be able to do that.”

When Rodriguez took over for longtime Michigan head coaching legend Lloyd Carr, many critics wondered how Rodriguez would use his versatile spread offense at a traditionally strong power-running team.
After losing out on highly-touted recruit Terrelle Pryor to rival Ohio State, Rodriguez and his staff went back to the drawing board to find the essentials for his offense.

The reviews were out all spring, summer and now fall, but the success of the offense has come down to two quarterbacks who have yet to start a college game. Nick Sheridan and Steven Threet will be sharing snaps Saturday against the Utes, so, while the Wolverine offense gets familiar with one another, the U defense will be licking their chomps.

“They have explosive players and they have some of the fastest corners we’ll play against,” Rodriguez said.

The Ute secondary, which entails Texans Joe Dale and Brice McCain alongside Southern Californians Sean Smith and Robert Johnson, has received praise and is regarded as one of the best in the nation.
The most intriguing matchups will be how the Michigan spread offense faces up against the U’s stifling secondary and how the Ute offense faces up against the intimidating and monstrous Wolverine defensive front.

The Michigan front-four are led by players such as Tim Jamison and Terrance Taylor and have terrorized offensive lines in the past and will look to continue on doing that this season.

“Three of their front four starters are returning,” Whittingham said regarding Michigan’s defensive line. “I like their speed and physicality. They have good corners. Just a great deal of athleticism on defense.”

The Michigan secondary also features a couple nationally respected cornerbacks in senior Morgan Trent and sophomore Donovan Warren. Both will be also be a key concern for the Utes when it comes to kickoff and punt returns.

Johnson believes that a victory in Ann Arbor would bend some watchful eyes toward the U and, more importantly, in the Mountain West Conference’s direction.

“I think (a win) would be huge for us,” Johnson said. “Not only for the program, but for our conference in general. You know, I think we definitely have the ability to go out there and play well and the ability to make plays and compete. I think we’re gonna go out there and do that and try to win.”

Johnson and his offensive cohorts will need to gel early and often against the tough Michigan secondary. He will be looking to senior wideouts Bradon Godfrey, Freddie Brown and Brent Casteel to make those big plays the Utes need in order to compete well offensively.

Darrell Mack and Matt Asiata will be banging with the Michigan defense all game and will be sharing the snaps.

“(Mack’s) an explosive guy,” Rodriguez said. “I think they have the other tailback, Asiata, those guys can play for anybody.”

With the defense led by the secondary linebacker Stevenson Sylvester and defensive end Paul Kruger, the clamps will have to be made on the Michigan offense in order for the Ute offense to wear and tear on the Wolverine defense.

The Utes are one impressive road victory away from crashing Michigan’s open-house party, and it could spell a sign of things to come.

“We treat this like a business trip,” Whittingham said. “No doubt playing at a place like the `Big House’ is a great experience for them. But we go on the road to try to win a football game and that’s where it ends.”

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