Pick Six Powers the Utes past Michigan, 24-17

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The Utes won their home-opener against Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan squad 24-17 in a game that was certainly no “cupcake” for either team.

When Utah’s Andy Phillips missed his second field-goal from beyond 40 yards in the fourth quarter, Michigan looked poised to make the most of the no-score. Then, Michigan QB Jake Rudock threw his third interception of the night, which Justin Thomas returned for a pick-six, putting the Utes up 24-10 following the point-after-attempt.

The pick-six was the first of Thomas’ career and secured the game for the Utes.

“It felt great,” Thomas said. “It was a phenomenal play.”

Junior nickel back Justin Thomas (12) runs toward the end zone after intercepting a pass in the second half against the Michigan Wolverines at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Thursday, September 3, 2015. Utah won the contest, 24-17. Chris Samuels, Daily Utah Chronicle. Photo credit: Chris Samuels

Junior nickel back Justin Thomas (12) runs toward the end zone after intercepting a pass in the second half against the Michigan Wolverines at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Thursday, September 3, 2015. Utah won the contest, 24-17. Chris Samuels, Daily Utah Chronicle. Photo credit: Chris Samuels

While the defense did get three interceptions, the last one turning the game in favor of the Utes, head coach Kyle Whittingham was a bit disappointed in their overall play. They did not record any sacks, which is unlike them. Whittingham attributes this to Michigan’s offensive line, their intensity and the fact that Rudock threw the ball out quickly.

Gionni Paul registered 14 tackles, for which he thanks his teammates, but had a couple of costly penalties. Paul is in his fifth year at Utah and knows this is surely something he can benefit from.

“I messed up early in the game,” Paul said. “It was a learning experience for me.”

Whittingham had a chat with Paul about the penalties to make sure it will not happen again. Paul will still keep up his energy and enthusiasm but will need to make a couple of better decisions next time around.

The Wolverines were secretive leading up to the game and barely shared anything about their gameplan heading in. Utah watched film of all the teams the coaching staff at Michigan were previously at and were not surprised by any plays from the Wolverines. Players and coaches felt confident in their preparation for the game, and it paid off.

After Michigan missed a field goal on their first drive of the third quarter, Utah made the most of it. The Utes took it all the way down the field to score themselves as Wilson ran it in from 14 yards out to give them a 17-3 lead.

But Michigan did not cower when down just two touchdowns,

Instead, the Wolverines made a drive of their own. After Rudock missed several open receivers throughout the game in the end zone, he was finally able to connect with Jake Butt for a touchdown to make the score 17-10.

While the Utes played well for the majority of the first and second quarters, they ended the half on a sour note. Wilson attempted a Hail-Mary from about 50-yards out, only to have it picked off at the last second, but Whittingham does not put any blame on Wilson for this. The quarterback finished the game 24-for-33 passing the ball for 208 yards.

The first drive of the game lived up to some of the game’s hype, with Utah taking the ball almost all the way down the field, scoring a field goal right from the get-go. Things settled down from that point, but Utah added another touchdown in the first half to provide some cushion.

As Wilson led the Utes down the field, hitting receiver after receiver, Booker finished the drive when he ran the ball in from one-yard out in the second quarter. But before this, it appeared that Britain Covey had secured the six points just the play before.

“I’m glad Book got it because I want Heisman for this guy,” Covey said.

However, Booker feels differently. He thinks Covey was more deserving of his first collegiate touchdown and all that he did was finish the play.

“I just got it in for him,” Booker said.

Michigan’s defense did limit Booker to 22 carries for 69 yards, but Whittingham was expecting this and will need his offensive line to run-block better. One play of Booker’s that Whittingham really did enjoy was his one-handed catch.

Whittingham thinks Booker could have, and should have, used both his hands but recognizes that is not the type of player Booker is.

“Devontae has a flair for the dramatic,” Whittingham said.

Overall, Whittingham is happy with the start to the season and is even happier that the hype is over.

“So glad you can’t believe,” Whittingham said. “Glad to get this one under our belt. It was wearing me out with all the hype.”

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